History can be measured in years or in feet. It can speak to us through the height of ceilings in old buildings, the depth of archaeological digs, the breadth of empires and the length of cannon barrels.
A week into our English travels, Pamelia and I are standing 12 feet—or 2,000 years—below modern street level in the city of Bath. We are touring the ancient Roman baths. The stone floor beneath us lay at street level during the Roman Empire, but then the empire collapsed and for more than 1,000 years the baths were buried deeper and deeper under layers of new building. The baths didn't sink; 12 feet of medieval and early modern world simply rose on top of them. The once-sacred pools were largely forgotten until one day in the late 1800s, when a Bath resident found water in his basement, complained to authorities, and inadvertently launched the dig that unearthed the baths and eventually turned this city into a spa-centric tourist attraction.
Pamelia and I are here in England to relax, explore, lay groundwork for Sports Illustrated's 2012 London Olympic coverage and do research for future editions of The Naturalist's Notebook. We are bouncing between London and Bath, with side trips to spots such as the rustic Watermill Theatre, where we attended a lecture by one of our favorite naturalists, Mark Carwardine. We've spent many hours at the British Museum of Natural History and the Royal Geographic Society, where we attended the world travel-guide awards ceremony put on by Wanderlust magazine and featuring one of our favorite authors, Bill Bryson.
Pamelia lived in England as a child and I've spent three or four months in the British Isles over the last 30 years, so we feel at home on this side of the Atlantic. We could probably spend three or four months just in the London's Museum of Natural History and its Darwin Centre, but I'll save any discussion of our visits there for a blog later in the trip.
Bryson, one of the most entertaining travel writers of our era, has noted how acute our senses become when we're traveling. We pay more attention to street signs and people's clothing and the types of flowers growing in window boxes. I have enjoyed sitting at breakfast at our hotel watching diners dig into blood sausage and toast heaped high with baked beans. At the local supermarket (an enlightening stop in any foreign city) we noticed that eggs were sold unrefrigerated (with the breed of hen listed on each carton) and that soda shelves included a number of drinks made from botanical ingredients such as dandelions, burdock root and elderflowers.
In a future post I'll show you some of the unusual waterfowl and other natural sights we've seen... and let you in on a few British secrets. My computer has been acting up lately, so I better get this posted before I lose it.
I'm pasting in below a link to a video of the song Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel, simply because we yesterday we passed Solsbury Hill, which overlooks Bath. Gabriel has lived in the area for portions of his life.
Thanks (And Stay Tuned)
The Naturalist's Notebook is now closed for the season, though we hope to open for a couple of Saturdays right after Thanksgiving for anyone who wants to holiday shop. Give us a call if you have any special requests. And keep reading the blog—it has no off-season!