Archive for December, 2010

Salisbury and Stonehenge are separated by some 20 minutes drive, so after having had visited the prehistoric megaliths, it would be simply unforgivable to not pop in on this medieval town (though it has the status of city), which is first of all famed by its 13th century gothic cathedral.
The construction of Salisbury cathedral became one of those rare examples where only one generation of people was involved. That’s why, having had been erected during less than 40 years, this attired in stone lace structure represents a purest specimen of early English Gothic. The gracefully soared 123 metres spire is deceptively light. Actually its weight (with the weight of the tower) amounts to 6500 tonnes!

salisbury cathedral

Considering the fact that the foundation of Salisbury cathedral extends deep down the soggy ground only for 5 metres, it only remains to wonder how it has been still withstanding such load yet to admire the craftsmanship of medieval builders.
Inside of Salisbury cathedral it is as much mesmerizingly beautiful as outside. The sunlight, flowing through the vibrant stained glass windows, softens that characteristic gothic solemnity and makes it more warm and friendly. Apart from good looks the cathedral prides itself on keeping one of the 4 copies of Magna Carta, having been remained from the time of John Lackland, as well as the oldest working clock in the world dated by 14th century.

salisbury cathedral

In the confines of the spacious Cathedral Close nestle picturesque buildings of different époques and styles. Mompesson House (on the left from the High Street Gate) is a typical sample of English Baroque with gorgeous plasterwork and elegant interior that became the set for “Sense and Sensibility”, starring Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant. Malmesbury House (just by Sarum College) is quite often associated with the name of distinguished composer of the 18th century George Frideric Handel. It is believed that this is where he gave his first concert in Britain, to be exact in the room above the Saint Ann’s Gate. Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, situated in an ancient building of the 13th century opposite Salisbury cathedral, houses not only the curious artefacts having been found in the process of excavations near Stonehenge but also possesses the exhibits of the time of Romans and Saxons, the pieces telling about Salisbury’s social life in the Middle Ages, great collections of costumes and paintings.
sarum collegeSalisbury is one of those provincial towns where no one can help oneself but meander around the narrow little streets enjoying the tranquillity far from boisterous metropolises. Everything is so snugly compact in comparison with the cities with high population. So there is even its own “Little Ben”, though probably “Little Tower” would suited this clock tower better, because it was built on the site of the former prison.
While walking along Salisbury, scrutinizing the old houses, amidst which there is a good deal of colourful timber-framed ones, and dropping in on little souvenir shops, the time unnoticeably flies by. And getting hungry organism suddenly begins to focus attention not on “that lovely little house” but on those with the signboards “pub”, “restaurant” or “café” on them. Though it doesn’t take too long to find a place for having a meal, because there are plenty of pubs and restaurants for every taste.
salisbury wiltshireSome of them can be interesting not only from gastronomic point of view, but also from historic. In this list for instance are: the restaurant at “The Old Mill” placed in the building of an old paper mill of the 12th century, “The coach and horses” built in 13th century, “The haunch of venison” on the Market Place. That last one exists at least from the 14th century and it doesn’t only keep a vivid atmosphere of the past. Between the ground and first floors is yet another one small area for visitors, pretentiously called “The house of Lords”. There, in the tiny baking oven, a cut mummified hand clenching the playing cards has been put on display. It was found during the refurbishment of the restaurant and alleged to be of an unlucky gambler, having had been punished for his cheating. That part of dead body doubtfully raises someone’s appetite but definitely increases the popularity of the place.
salisbury wiltshireAcross from “The haunch of venison” is an unusual stone construction. It’s called Poultry Cross, though visually it looks more like a stone marquee. In the 15th century, when Market Place was wider, there were four Crosses. In those days they functioned as departments in the modern supermarkets. So in the Middle Age there were: Cheese/ Milk Cross, Poultry Cross, Wool/Yard Cross and Barnwell Cross where the livestock was being sold. Nowadays this only remained Poultry Cross is the sort of a town summerhouse, a perfect spot for making a date or take shelter from a heavy shower.
In spite of such worldwide neighbour like Stonehenge, Salisbury, having its own charisma, doesn’t fade in the rays of the megaliths fame at all. Salisbury is like a main spice in the dish, it makes the trip to Stonehenge more complete. Without it that “megalithic delicacy” might be a little bit mild.
External links:
Visit Salisbury and Wiltshire Tourist website – www.VisitWiltshire.co.uk
Salisbury Cathedral – www.salisburycathedral.org.uk
Stonehenge – www.Stonehenge-Stone-Circle.co.uk
Salisbury and Stonehenge Tours – www.StonehengeTours.com

Southern England log : http://thesouthofengland.blogspot.com
Tours from London – www.Welcome2London.co.uk
Needless to say we can organise private guided tours of Salisbury and Stonehenge for small groups.  These tours can depart from Salisbury, Bath, Glastonbury or London

Salisbury Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in ancient Wiltshire

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The Abbey Road zebra crossing in north London – made famous after appearing on a Beatles album cover – has been given Grade II listed status.The crossing – the first of its kind to be listed – is being recognised for its “cultural and historical importance” following advice from English Heritage.

Abbey Road Beatles crossing

Abbey Road Beatles crossing


The Beatles were photographed on Abbey Road in Ian Macmillan’s iconic cover shot for the 1969 album Abbey Road.
Sir Paul McCartney said it was the “icing on the cake” in a great year.
‘Huge cultural pull’The original zebra crossing, where the photograph was taken, was moved several metres for traffic management reasons more than 30 years ago, and no original features remain.

A spokesman for Westminster City Council said: “The detail of exactly when and why the crossing was moved from its original location have been lost in the annals of time.

“But by comparing photographs with the Ordnance Survey maps, we believe that the crossing might have been further north nearer 3 Abbey Road, which was the front house of the EMI Studios, because the steps of Neville Court appear to the right of the crossing in original photographs of the crossing, whereas the present crossing is near the junction of Abbey Road and Grove End Road.”

But John Penrose, Minister for Tourism and Heritage, said: “This London zebra crossing is no castle or cathedral but, thanks to the Beatles and a 10-minute photo-shoot one August morning in 1969, it has just as strong a claim as any to be seen as part of our heritage.”

Roger Bowdler, head of designation at English Heritage, said: “This is obviously an unusual case and, although a modest structure, the crossing has international renown and continues to possess huge cultural pull – the temptation to recreate that iconic 1969 album cover remains as strong as ever.

“Together with the nearby Abbey Road studios, also listed at Grade II on our advice, they remain a Mecca for Beatles fans the world over.”

Sir Paul said: “It’s been a great year for me and a great year for the Beatles and hearing that the Abbey Road crossing is to be preserved is the icing on the cake.”

The crossing is outside the Abbey Road studios, where the Beatles recorded much of their output.

That building was granted Grade II listed status in February.

A Grade II listing, the most common protected status, means that a building or monument is recognised as nationally important and of special interest.

External links:
Abbey Road Live (streaming) Webcam http://www.beatlesradio.com/AbbeyWebCam.aspx
Abbey Road Studios
London Beatles Tour

Wessex Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in British History

The crossing is described as a Mecca for Beatles fans

The crossing is described as a Mecca for Beatles fans

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More than 2,000 people gathered in the snow of Stonehenge to celebrate the winter solstice.

Druids, lead by Arthur Pendragon (centre), take part in the winter solstice at Stonehenge in Wiltshire

Druids, lead by Arthur Pendragon (centre), take part in the winter solstice at Stonehenge in Wiltshire

Despite the actual sunrise, – which took place at 08.09am – being obscured by mist, Peter Carson of English Heritage said: “Stonehenge looked spectacular in the snow and it was a great way for people to start their festive season.”

The Pagan community came out in force to celebrate the annual festival, along with many whom were merely curious to experience the event.

As well as the traditional Druid and Pagan ceremonies, a snowball fight erupted as people enjoyed the cold weather.

“The popularity of the winter solstice has grown over the years as more is known about Stonehenge and the winter solstice and the whole celebration has grown in popularity, ” Mr Carson said.

Lance Corporal Paul Thomas, a serving soldier of 15 years who fought in Iraq, was “knighted” with a sword by a Druid calling himself King Arthur Pendragon.
The word solstice comes from the Latin phrase for “sun stands still”. During the winter solstice the sun is closer to the horizon than at any other time in the year, meaning shorter days and longer nights. The day after the winter solstice marks the beginning of lengthening days, leading up to the summer solstice in June.

The Sun’s passage through the sky appears to stop, with it seeming to rise and set in the same two places for several days. Then the arc begins growing longer and higher in the sky, reaching its peak at the summer solstice.

The solstices happen twice a year because the Earth is tilted by 23.5 degrees as it orbits the sun. Since ancient times people have marked the winter and summer solstices.

The stones at Stonehenge are aligned with the sunlight on both the summer and winter solstices. These times told prehistoric farmers that harvest was coming or that the shortest day of winter had passed.

Recent excavations of animal bones at the site suggest that huge midwinter feasts were held at Stonehenge, with cattle moved there to be slaughtered for the solstice celebrations.
External links:

Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours of Ancient Britain

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The main Christmas customs were those that were common throughout

Morris Dancers

Morris Dancers

the country and which came from a time when farm labourers worked most days of the year, and often on Christmas Day morning. Mummers plays were a favourite and would normally be performed in the evenings in the big houses and farmhouses of the area. The performers would be rewarded with food and drink and, sometimes, with money. Most villages had a group of men who were the mummers and both words and actions of the play and costumes and props would be handed down from one generation to the next. Places from which mummers’ plays are remembered include, Stourton, Cricklade, Limpley Stoke, Amesbury, Maiden Bradley, Horningsham, Wootton Rivers, Woodford, Quidhampton, Stockton and Winterslow. Around Swindon in the 1830s, when it was still a small market town, they are recorded as going from door to door and, more especially, from pub to pub.

Carol singers were often groups of boys, or sometimes the church choir, who would visit the big houses of the neighbourhood collecting money. As with carol singers until the 1970s, these always gave good value by singing the full carol. At the larger houses they might sing two or three. There were some local carols, most of which have been lost, and some of these were original while others were adaptations of well known carols. At Berwick St. James it was the custom to wake up householders on Christmas morn by singing carols, which were learned by one generation from the preceding one.

An earlier tradition was wassail. Originally a fertility rite with live animals this later degenerated into processing around the streets, singing and collecting money in the wassail bowl. This happened at Cricklade where a live ox was once involved; by the 19yth century this had become a withey frame covered with a cured ox hide. In a few parts of the county, such as Everleigh, the parson organised a Christmas Ale for his parishioners, where instead of money being raised for the church the participants were provided with bread, cheese and beer. These seem to have died out in the early 17th century.

(Source: http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/community/getfaq.php?id=194 and http://www.wiltshirefolkarts.org.uk/wfmummers.htm, A Wiltshire Christmas, by John Chandler. Alan Sutton, The Folklore of Wiltshire, by Ralph Whitlock. Batsford)

Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wesse

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Had to share a few Wessex snowy pictures with you………

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Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in bad weather

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History of English Pubs

This is a subject very close to my heart and it saddens me that over 50

Traditional British Pub
Traditional British Pub

pubs per week are currently closing?  I encorage all Brits to visit your local pub at least once a week – not for half a pint but a few drinks and someting to eat.  If you are visiting England please take the time to visit a tradtional English Pub or three. Our tour guides will always recommend a local tavern should you need some guidance.

The English pub, or public house, is an institution in British community life as a place to imbibe, eat and converse with neighbors dating back nearly 2,000 years to the time of the Roman colonization of the British Isles.


  • While the inhabitants of Great Britain are known to have drank ale since the Bronze Age, the English pub stems from Roman colonizers that built places where travelers could get food, wine and rest along the roads of Great Britain.
  • Post-Roman Pubs

  • When the Romans left England they took the early public houses, or tabernae, with them. Still, a love for ale kept locals brewing and selling their own spirits in unsanctioned alehouses.

    Increased Popularity and Regulation

  • By the 10th century so many alehouses had popped up throughout the country that King Edgar the Peaceful created a law in 965 A.D. that only one alehouse be allowed per village
  • Pubs in the Middle Ages

  • The Middle Ages saw an increase in population and subsequent industry that polluted many of Britains waterways. The alehouse grew still more in popularity as Britains looked to ale as a safe source of drinking water.

    Modern Pubs

  • The term “pub” originated in Victorian-era England as a shortening of “public house.” There are currently more than 50,000 pubs throughout England.
    History of the pub Alcohol has been drunk and served throughout the British Isles in one form or another since the Bronze Age. However, the origins of what we may now recognise as the pub began to appear during the Roman colonisation of Britain, as places where travellers could obtain rest and refreshment sprang up along the new road networks.

    These Roman taverns remained even after the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain. During the Middle Ages the pub sign came into existence – the earliest versions being green bushes set upon poles to indicate the sale of beer, stemming from the earlier Roman tradition of vines being displayed to advertise wine. By the fourteenth century, more abstract names were common, as evidenced by Chaucer’s description of the Tabard Inn in Southwark. The ‘Hostellers of London’ were granted guild status in 1446, showing that these medieval inns and hostelries were important in continuing the practice of offering rest and refreshment to travellers.

    During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries these establishments primarily sold beer and ale, until the first half of the eighteenth century when the so-called ‘Gin Craze’ took hold, especially amongst the poorer classes as the production of gin had increased to six times that of beer. The 1751 Gin Act forced gin makers to sell only to licensed premises and put drinking establishments under the control of local magistrates.

    During the 19th Century the Wine and Beerhouse Act was introduced to restrict the hours Public Houses could sell alcohol. This was further compounded by the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 which set the 11pm limit on the sale of alcohol throughout the twentieth century. The Licensing Act 2003 repealed the previous licensing laws for England and Wales, taking responsibility away from magistrates and placing it in the hands of local councils.

    British Tour Guide
    HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in British History

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    Wanted to claryfy that we have not misspelt our tour company name. HisTOURies comes from two words  ‘history’ and ‘stories’ – clever eh?
    We operate guided historical (hisTOURical) sightseeing tours of Britain.  Our expert guides (historians or hisTOURians) bring Britain’s rich history (hisTOURy) alive with tales’s and stoiries (sTOURys or sTOURies) of ancient England.
    ‘It is not spelt incorrectly.’
    Hope thats clear (clear as mud)……………..
    Our award winning tours can depart from London, Salisbury, Bath or Glastonbury.  Please visit our website:
    HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in British History (hisTOURy)

    Histories (Herodotus)

    The Histories of Herodotus is considered one of the seminal works of history in Western literature. Written from the 450s to the 420s BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that were known around the Mediterranean and Western Asia at that time. It is not an impartial record but it remains one of the West’s most important sources regarding these affairs. Moreover, it established without precedent the genre and study of history in the Western world, although historical records and chronicles existed beforehand.

    Perhaps most importantly, it stands as one of the first, and surviving, accounts of the rise of the Persian Empire, the events of, and causes for, the Greco-Persian Wars between the Achaemenid Empire and the Greek city-states in the 5th century BC. Herodotus portrays the conflict as one between the forces of slavery (the Persians) on the one hand, and freedom (the Athenians and the confederacy of Greek city-states which united against the invaders) on the other.

    The Histories was at some point through the ages divided into the nine books of modern editions, conventionally named after the Muses.

    Herodotus seems to have travelled extensively around the ancient world, conducting interviews and collecting stories for his book. At the beginning of The Histories, Herodotus sets out his reasons for writing it:

    British Tour Guide
    HisTOURies UK Stories in History

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    New video explains geophysics, 3D laser scanning and finds processing

    What technologies do modern archaeologists turn to? Mark Langdon speaks to experts at Wessex Archaeology to find out about the modern techniques employed at digs

    Watch our experts explain how the techniques are used and how archaeology works in the supporting video:

    Geophysics is the physics of the Earth and its environment in space. Its subjects include the shape of the Earth, its gravitational and magnetic fields, the dynamics of the Earth as a whole and of its component parts, the Earth’s internal structure, composition and tectonics, the generation of magmas, volcanism and rock formation, the hydrological cycle including snow and ice, all aspects of the oceans, the atmosphere, ionosphere, magnetosphere and solar-terrestrial relations, and analogous problems associated with the Moon and other planets.

    Geophysics is also applied to societal needs, such as mineral resources, mitigation of natural hazards and environmental protection. Geophysical survey data are used to analyze potential petroleum reservoirs and mineral deposits, to locate groundwater, to locate archaeological finds, to find the thicknesses of glaciers and soils, and for environmental remediation.

    External links:
    British Geophysical Association
    Stonehenge Riverside Project
    British Academy – Science and Stonehenge – summaries
    Wessex Archaeology – One of the UK’s leading heritage practices

    Stonehenge Tour Guide
    HisTOURies UK – Private Guided Tours of Wiltshire

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    Vandals have destroyed one of the most celebrated Christian pilgrimage sites in Britain and chopped down a tree said to have sprouted from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea 2,000 years ago.

    The Holy Thorn Tree of Glastonbury, Somerset, is visited by thousands every year to pay homage and leave tokens of worship. Those visiting today were moved to tears on finding the tree cut to a stump.

    The sacred tree is unique in that it blossoms twice a year – at Christmas and Easter – and sprigs taken from the thorn are sent to The Queen each year for the festive table.

    the vandalised holy thorn tree Police tape surrounds the vandalised Holy Thorn tree on Wearyall Hill in Glastonbury as stunned locals look on. The branches were cut off overnight and a police investigation has been launched


    The tree in all its glory before it was hacked apart. Legend says it sprang from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, the man who helped Jesus of the cross. To the right of the tree, in the distance, is Glastonbury TorThe tree in all its glory before it was hacked apart. Legend says it sprang from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, the man who helped Jesus of the cross. To the right of the tree, in the distance, is Glastonbury Tor


    A member of the public gathers sprigs from the vandalised Holy Thorn tree that was cut down overnight
    People come to say prayers over the vandalised remains of the hawthorn tree on Wearyall Hill

    A member of the public gathers sprigs from the chopped branches while (right) onlookers cry and say prayers


    oliver cromwell

    Christian legend dictates that Jesus’s great uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, came to Britain after the crucifixion 2,000 years ago bearing the Holy Grail – the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper.

    He visited Glastonbury and thrust his staff into Wearyall Hill, just below the Tor, planting a seed for the original thorn tree.

    Roundheads felled the tree during the English Civil War, when forces led by Oliver Cromwell (pictured) waged a vicious battle against the Crown.

    However, locals salvaged the roots of the original tree, hiding it in secret locations around Glastonbury.

    It was then replanted on the hill in 1951. Other cuttings were also grown and placed around the town – including its famous Glastonbury Abbey.

    Experts had verified that the tree – known as the Crategus Monogyna Bi Flora – originated from the Middle East.

    A sprig of holy thorns was taken from the Thorn tree by Glastonbury’s St Johns Church on Wednesday and sent to the Queen.

    The 100-year-old tradition will see the thorns sit on Her Majesty’s dinner table on Christmas Day

    Avon and Somerset Police have launched an investigation after locals found that vandals had hacked off the branches of the iconic tree. They were dumped next to the trunk which is protected by a metal cage.

    Locals wept openly today at the foot of the tree, on the town’s Wearyall Hill opposite its world-famous Tor as they struggled to contain their emotion.

    Katherine Gorbing, curator of Glastonbury Abbey, said: ‘The mindless vandals who have hacked down this tree have struck at the heart of Christianity.

    ‘It holds a very special significance all over the world and thousands follow in the footsteps of Joseph Arimathea, coming especially to see it.

    ‘It is the most significant of all the trees planted here and can be linked back to the origins of Christianity.

    ‘When I arrived at the Abbey this morning you could look over to the hill and see it was not there.

    ‘It’s a great shock to everyone in Glastonbury – the landscape of the town has changed overnight.’

    Glastonbury Mayor John Coles rushed to the tree site after he heard the news.

    Mr Coles, 66, said: ‘I’m stood on Wearyall Hill looking at a sad, sad, sight. The tree has been chopped down – someone has taken a saw to it.

    ‘Some of the main trunk is there but the branches have been sawn away. I am absolutely lost for words – I just do not know why people would want to do this.

    ‘This tree was visited by thousands of people each year and is one of the most important Christian sites. It is known all over the world.’

    Deputy Mayor William Knight, 63, added: ‘This is absolutely mindless. We are all devastated.’

    I lived in Glastonbury for many years and this is a sad day……………

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    Few people realize that the origins of a form of Christmas was pagan & celebrated in Europe long before anyone there had heard of Jesus Christ.

    Pagans at Stonehenge

    Pagans at Stonehenge


    No one knows what day Jesus Christ was born on. From the biblical description, most historians believe that his birth probably occurred in September, approximately six months after Passover

    One thing they agree on is that it is very unlikely that Jesus was born in December, since the bible records shepherds tending their sheep in the fields on that night. This is quite unlikely to have happened during a cold Judean winter. So why do we celebrate Christ’s birthday as Christmas, on December the 25th?

    The answer lies in the pagan origins of Christmas. In ancient Babylon, the feast of the Son of Isis (Goddess of Nature) was celebrated on December 25. Raucous partying, gluttonous eating and drinking, and gift-giving were traditions of this feast.

    In Rome, the Winter Solstice was celebrated many years before the birth of Christ. The Romans called their winter holiday Saturnalia, honoring Saturn, the God of Agriculture. In January, they observed the Kalends of January, which represented the triumph of life over death. This whole season was called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. The festival season was marked by much merrymaking. It is in ancient Rome that the tradition of the Mummers was born. The Mummers were groups of costumed singers and dancers who traveled from house to house entertaining their neighbors. From this, the Christmas tradition of caroling was born.

    In northern Europe, many other traditions that we now consider part of Christian worship were begun long before the participants had ever heard of Christ. The pagans of northern Europe celebrated the their own winter solstice, known as Yule. Yule was symbolic of the pagan Sun God, Mithras, being born, and was observed on the shortest day of the year. As the Sun God grew and matured, the days became longer and warmer. It was customary to light a candle to encourage Mithras, and the sun, to reappear next year.

    Huge Yule logs were burned in honor of the sun. The word Yule itself means “wheel,” the wheel being a pagan symbol for the sun. Mistletoe was considered a sacred plant, and the custom of kissing under the mistletoe began as a fertility ritual. Hollyberries were thought to be a food of the gods.

    The tree is the one symbol that unites almost all the northern European winter solstices. Live evergreen trees were often brought into homes during the harsh winters as a reminder to inhabitants that soon their crops would grow again. Evergreen boughs were sometimes carried as totems of good luck and were often present at weddings, representing fertility. The Druids used the tree as a religious symbol, holding their sacred ceremonies while surrounding and worshipping huge trees.

    In 350, Pope Julius I declared that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25. There is little doubt that he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans (who remained a majority at that time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion went down a bit easier, knowing that their feasts would not be taken away from them.Christmas (Christ-Mass) as we know it today, most historians agree, began in Germany, though Catholics and Lutherans still disagree about which church celebrated it first. The earliest record of an evergreen being decorated in a Christian celebration was in 1521 in the Alsace region of Germany. A prominent Lutheran minister of the day cried blasphemy: “Better that they should look to the true tree of life, Christ.”The controversy
    External links:
    Stonehenge Stone Circle

    Stonehenge Tour Guide
    HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours of Stonehenge

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