It was raining this morning, so we hung around in the boat, then headed for the tourist hotspots of Devizes. The covered market has a drone shop, Wadworth brewery still uses a horse and cart for beer deliveries, and then there’s something called the Wiltshire Heritage Museum. That doesn’t sound like much, until you remember that Wiltshire is the location of Stonehenge, and so there is quite a bit of heritage in this part of the world. Celts, Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans have all lived here, not to mention some earlier folk.
No Druids, though. Druids were pretty much a Victorian invention, based on travelers tales told by the Greeks and Romans, which makes them every bit as real as werewolves, unicorns, and mermaids.
Here’s some Celtic gold work from burials in the area around Stonehenge.
Interesting that the Celtic designs back then were mostly linear, and did not have the knot work that we think of as being Celtic today. They seem to have picked that up from the Saxons.
This one is a gold cover for a pendant.
It is almost certainly not a divining pendulum used by Druids to find mistletoe in the forest, because there was no such thing as druids. Actually, the Welsh word derwydd (pron: der-oo-ith) meant anyone who wasn’t covered in shit, and those people were smart enough to work out that divining didn’t actually work, and mistletoe was poisonous, so why bother looking for it.
After the Saxons and the Vikings, the Normans came and conquered England. William the Conqueror’s grandchildren, Stephen and Matilda fell to arguing about who should rule the country, and much of the fighting centered around Devizes. The people of Devizes refer to this as the First Civil War, though the rest of the country has entirely forgotten about it. Matilda’s gratitude to the people of Devizes resulted in a royal charter, commemorated in this much later 17th Century manuscript.
What cracks me up is the way the calligrapher misjudged the space needed to write Matilda Imperatrix, and had to cram in the last few characters. Perhaps he was going to write Matilda Imperator and some classically educated pedant insisted that he use the feminine form.
Just as I was being amused by this little bit of human fallibility in gold leaf, the director of the museum came around and invited everyone to see the basement. Um, OK. Down in the basement (mind your head) were shelves and shelves of boxes and boxes and boxes. The museum has been around for a century and a half and has samples from every archeological dig in Wiltshire in that time. He pulled a box off the shelf and handed round some flint hand axes. “How old do you think those are?” he asked. Guesses ranged from about five thousand to twenty thousand years. They were actually half a million years old, made by homo heidelbergensis.
So yes, Wiltshire has heritage.
The weather cleared up while we were in the museum, so we pumped out the holding tank, a process which involved turning the boat around so the pump out hole was on the right side of the canal, and reversing the boat about 150 yards. I managed this without hitting anything, though I wasn’t always pointing where I wanted to go. Then on for a few miles, mostly to charge the batteries and get hot water for showers. In the distance now we can hear the faint sounds of artillery from an army training camp on Salisbury Plain. Perhaps in the morning we will hear an armadillo singing to an armor plated tank.