We're home again after visiting Vytas and Sally in Basingstoke.
The journey down on Friday took 4 hours due to heavy holiday traffic and a 40 minute crawl past Stonehenge which at least gave me the chance to take photos through the window. Peter and I still remember the days when you simply stopped in the lay-by and were able to go right into the henge and even climb on some of the fallen stones. Nowadays there's a hefty entrance fee and the public are kept away from the stones apart from when it's the Solstice. There are plans to put the A303 in a tunnel which would speed up the traffic and stop anyone getting a free view but the landscape would be a lot more open and it would be possible to take in more of the other Neolithic structures in the area.
We spent Saturday afternoon walking around Basing House. The whole site covers 14 acres and although only a tiny proportion of the original buildings remain it was very interesting. Nothing remains of the 11thC wooden motte and bailey castle apart from the circular ditches. That castle was replaced by a brick castle built within circular walls. A few of the farm buildings (above and below) remain from that time most impressive of which is the great barn, below right.
In times of peace the barn was used for storage but was also built with defence in mind hence the arrow slits and lack of windows. During the Civil War in 1645 the barn was the scene of a fierce battle when the Royalist defenders inside were slaughtered by the Parliamentarians. You can still see holes in the outside walls caused by cannon balls.
Prior to all that the old brick castle within the circular walls was extensively rebuilt by its noble owner who then decided that it wasn't big enough and built a second house outside the walls but connected to the first house by walkways. There were 360 rooms in this grand establishment which was often visited by the kings and queens of the time who would come with up to 2,000 people. Eventually the cost of these visits became so great that the owner pulled up the floorboards in the new part to discourage royal visits.
Everything went downhill in the Civil War when Cromwell attacked the place. Cromwell first attacked the new house and in 40 minutes had fought his way through the walkways to the old house inside the defensive walls. The new house burnt down during the following looting and Cromwell gave permission to the local villagers to dismantle the old house and use the bricks to build houses for themselves. All that remains now are the lower parts of the walls and the cellars which were used as kitchens and for storage. The Sealed Knott put on a battle re-enactment each year which Vytas usually attends. This year however the battle will be next weekend when Vytas and Sally will be on holiday in Peru.
One of the local houses built from the recycled bricks.
After the war another house was built nearer the barn and gardens laid out. A lot of damage to the site was caused by the digging of a canal and a great railway viaduct was built in Victorian times. There was so much for us to see including a small museum of finds and Lego models of the earlier buildings. We had a picnic lunch surrounded by wildflowers and butterflies in the wonderful sunshine. Though not flattering I was glad I had brought a sunhat and the loose trousers were just right for the weather.
Sally and Vytas live in a house just on the outskirts of Basingstoke and although it is on a little estate we still had peaceful nights. Today Sally's parents came up and we enjoyed a delicious lunch outside in the sun. We left in the afternoon and for the first 2 hours driving due west the sun blazed down from a cloudless sky. We only encountered 5 minutes of slow traffic at Stonehenge which was a relief. As we came down from the Salisbury Plain we could see a haze over the land ahead and soon the sun was almost obscured by clouds. On the final section of our journey carrying on westward along the Link Road the sky became greyer and greyer and arriving home after only 3 hours of driving it felt very cold indeed.