Frome Here to Salisbury

Friday, December 03, 2004 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Bath, England to Salisbury, England
After another wonderful “full English breakfast,” we packed up to leave the B&B. Walking to a nearby internet cafe, we discovered that it didn’t open until 10:30, so we decided to go by the one near the RR station. We tried in vain to locate a parking space, finally giving up and asking Rosie (the name we’ve given to the GPS) to take us to Frome, the first stop on a driving tour of the area described in a book we borrowed from Woodie and Kathy.

Along the way we finally encountered a “service area,” where we filled up the car with gas, bought a couple of Diet Cokes, and used the loo, which was very much in the same condition as a typical service station restroom in the States. But by the time we found it, we were at the “any port in a storm” stage and did not care.

Much relieved, we drove on to Frome (rhymes with loom), a market town of 25,000 on the River Frome. The steep narrow streets are lined with shops, and traces of medieval and Tudor life are abundant.
We parked and walked up the narrow pedestrian-only Cheap Street, surrounded by ancient shops, and dodging a lead gutter that runs like a miniature canal down the steep street. On this Friday noon, the city was bustling with activity.

At the top of Cheap Street, we discovered the entrance to St. John’s Church. Entering this ancient place of worship, we were astonished to find a Christmas thrift sale underway in the sanctuary. Boards had been laid across the tops of pew backrests along the center and outside aisles, covered with tablecloths, and laden with “white elephant” items. Curiously, none appeared to bear prices.
We walked around this intriguing church, parts of which date to the 1100s. The “newer” areas and restorations of older sections were completed in the 1800s. An interesting feature of the church was the Table Tomb. The tomb is that of the Leversedge family, said to be one of the great families of Frome.
A member of that family, Edmund, reportedly lived a dissolute life and dabbled in the black arts. It is told that one day he fell into a coma, his tongue turned black, and his eyes “stood out like organ stops.” He remained in that state for three days during which time he told of visiting both heaven and hell. According to Edmund, he met God, who reprimanded him for the life he had been living. When Edmund begged to be given another chance, he said, God agreed only if Edmund would go to a particular priest for instruction. After his return to consciousness, Leversedge turned over a new leaf and lived a virtuous life.

Before returning to the car, we tracked down the Frome public library, where we were provided free internet access. We checked e-mail and looked at possible places to stay tonight but didn’t book a room.

Last night when we made our plans for the day, we selected a nice 137-mile driving tour from the Woodie & Kathy book, thinking we could easily complete this tour within a day. After all, we frequently drove 200 to 300 miles a day or more on our Lewis and Clark trip. Three problems (at least) with that theory: 1) Out in the U.S. West, we were frequently riding on very long stretches of wide open highways where we might not encounter another vehicle for 40 or 50 miles; 2) There were long distances between sights we wanted to stop and see with very little to distract us in between; and 3) We had daylight well past 4 p.m. out West.

After checking voice mail from a phone booth in Frome, we left and drove about three miles to the small village of Nunney, where we visited the ruins of a 14th century French-style moated castle.  Built for Sir John Delamare in 1373, the design of Nunney Castle is said to have been based on the Bastille in Paris.  The castle has not been lived in since 1645, when Cromwell's men used cannon to blast a great hole in the north wall of the castle during a battle of the English Civil Wars.
Feeling quite chilled upon leaving the castle, we walked to a local pub where we enjoyed hot cups of coffee and tea. Along the way, we read the local community signboards announcing upcoming events.
As we were drinking our hot beverages in the busy pub, we relished our seats near the roaring flames in the large fireplace. Suddenly we realized it was after 2 p.m. and we had no chance of making it on the entire tour we had planned. Instead of pushing on west toward Cheddar Gorge, we decided to turn back east toward Stonehenge.

With assistance from Rosie, the GPS, we made it to Salisbury. Ken thought we would have a better chance of locating a place to stay in a city, even though Jan and Bryan (the Bath B&B owners) had warned us that most facilities in cities would probably be booked for the weekends, especially in December.

Sunset at 4 p.m. is a very challenging adjustment. Naively, we assumed that we’d drive into Salisbury and see signs (OK, probably not neon) advertising hotels. Not so. We didn’t have a map of the city but we drove around a bit and finally decided to try stopping at a Waitrose “superstore,” thinking they might have travel books that would list hotels. They did not, but they did have an information desk where we asked to borrow a telephone directory. We told the two women working there that we were looking for a room for the night. They suggested a hotel nearby, but a call revealed they had no rooms for the night. Their second suggestion paid off as we snagged a reservation for a room at the Rose and Crown Inn.

After checking in, we walked back to the city center and made it to the public library half an hour before closing. We checked email, looked at credit card accounts, and left for dinner at Harper’s, a restaurant recommended by the hotel staff. Most tables were reserved for a Christmas party at 8 p.m. Arriving a little after 7, we assured them that we wouldn’t linger and they agreed to serve us what turned out to be a delicious meal.

Leaving Harper’s, we walked to a nearby grocery store. After purchasing several items, we couldn’t resist the lure of a taxi waiting out front, avoiding the 25-minute walk back to the hotel on the dark quiet streets.
Back at the hotel, we bathed, worked on the journal, and planned for tomorrow. We agreed to get up by 6, have breakfast in the room, and leave the hotel by 7:30.

Miscellaneous Observations to Date:
  • Lots of sheep
  • Thorny hedgerows
  • Thatched roofs on brick houses
  • Green fields (in December!)
  • Parking/stopping anywhere
  • ‘Public Footpath’ signs in rural areas (but we never see the paths)
  • Separate hot and cold faucets on lavs
  • Everyone is in much more of a hurry than we are, even on very rural 1½-lane roads on Sunday morning.
  • Electric outlets must be turned on before use.