Aquae Sulis & The Roman Baths

It is believed that the Celts of the land worshipped this spring, in honour of their god Sulis. Sulis was the goddess of fertility and the sun. She was a goddess local to the Bath area, with the only mention of her outside of England is in small German town. Sulis was also known as the deity of healing waters.

When the Romans came in 43AD, they took over the area and the sacred springs. The Romans saw their god Minerva in Sulis; eventually leading the two gods to become Sulis Minerva.

The head of a Sulis Minvera statue, discovered in 1727

A temple was soon built on Britain’s only hot spring in around 60AD, evolving into a bathhouse over a 300 year period. Just over a century after the Romans left Britain [in the 5th century], the baths had been completely abandoned. The site had silted up over the years of neglect, leaving it useless. By the 7th century, Anglo-Saxon Christian converts had began building churches nearby; several versions have existed throughout the ages.

Later, in around the 12th century, the Kings Bath was added on top of what was once the Sacred Spring. This bath differed to the Roman one, as it provided seats for bathers. With this, the bathers were able to be immersed in the water up to their necks; to make the most of the waters healing powers. The seat on the south side was added in the 17th century. As you can see, the water level has been lowered to keep it in line with Roman levels.

The terrace and the statues were added in the 19th century, when the site was being prepared as a tourist destination. Unfortunately, the original statue of Julius Caesar was vandalised. The one you see today around 30 years old and of a different, slightly gaudy style.

Even now it is encouraged to drink the water from the sacred spring, due to the plethora of minerals found in it.

The Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones are located on the border of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, near the village of Little Rollright. They have stood since the Neolithic era and their history spans over 5,500 years.

Their story starts with the construction of The Whispering Knights, a Neolithic Dolmen [a single chamber tomb], it is even believed that this is one of the earliest burial monuments in the UK. It would have been erected by some of the earliest farming peoples to settle in the area.

The site was used from the Neolithic era right up to the Bronze Age in regards to burials. The cap stone has long since fallen and now rests to the side of the standing stones. The Whispering Knights contains the tallest stone of all the Rollright monuments.

The stones lean into one another, as if they are crowed together; plotting. Legend is that the King’s knights were conspiring against him, the witch of Long Compton turned them to stone before they could carry out their plan to overthrow the King. Although, another tale is that the knights were praying as they were turned to stone by the witch.

It is also said that on New Year’s Day, the Whispering Knights awaken to visit the brook in a near by valley and drink from it.

The King’s Men is the stone circle which dates from the Bronze Age. There are around 70 stones, although it is believed that there once was over 100. It is said to be impossible to count the stones, but if you count the same number three times, you are granted one wish.

The King’s Men takes its name from the local legend. A King was marching his army across England, when they were challenged by the witch of Long Compton. He wanted to conquer England in his name, but she would ensure this would not come to pass. The witch proclaimed, “Seven long strides shalt thou take and if Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be!” to which the King replied, “Stick, stock, stone. As King of England I shall be known!”

Upon the King’s seventh stride, the ground before him rose up to obstruct his path. The witch bellowed, “As Long Compton thou canst not see, King of England thou shalt not be. Rise up stick and stand still stone, for King Of England thou shall be none. Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be, and myself an Eldern tree!”

The witch, as true to her word, turned the King and all of his men to stone. She, as an eldern tree, watches over the King’s men. It is not known why the witch wanted to stop the King in his tracks. Did she know something he did not? Was she protecting him? It is said that one day, when the King and his men are needed for battle once more, the spell will be broken.

It is possible that some of the stones were removed in more modern times and reused for other constructions, as is common for standing stones. It is said that the largest stone was taken by a local farmer in order to be used as a bridge over a stream on his land. It took 24 horses to drag this stone, but the stone had cursed him. A farm hand was killed on the way back and once the stone had been placed over the stream, it was found to have fallen in the next day. It was put back in place, but this happened repeatedly, and so the farmer and his horse dragged it back. Taking the stone back required just one horse; perhaps the stone knew it was returning and lifted it’s curse on the foolish farmer.

The King’s Stone is believed to be a Bronze Age burial marker, burial mounds and cairns have been discovered on the site nearby. Cremated remains were found to be marked with wooden pillars. The stone is said to have been an important meeting place during Saxon times. The grave of a 7th century high priestess was found not a few hundred yards away. It is relatively common for ancient monuments to be re-purposed by cultures down the line. Even today, the Rollright Stones have become an important place for new age and more traditional Pagans.

The shape of The King’s Stone has changed over time, much like the other monuments. Whilst weathering has had an impact, the main cause of the peculiar shape of the King’s Stone was down to treasure hunters. During the 19th century, Victorian tourists were notorious for chipping off parts of the stone as a memento. It is also said that a piece of the King’s Stone on your person would keep the Devil away.

The mound behind the King’s Stone is said to be the one that blocked his view of Long Compton. This is where the King has stood, frozen in time. He watches over his men, waiting for the spell to be broken.

The Rollright Trust have the opportunity to finally reunite the King with his men. They have been given the chance to purchase the land from Haine Farmers. If you would like to donate a few pounds, you can do so here. There is also a petition to try and save the Rollright Stones from traffic disruption, if you can sign it here.

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

One Year Today.

They say time flies when you’re having fun.

It has been one year since I decided to make a change for good. I quit the job I didn’t enjoy and left England for a while. At the time, leaving England was the only thing I could do to try and leave the rut I had got stuck in. I didn’t know where I belonged or where I fit in in the world. I knew if I didn’t do it now, I would never do it and forever be stuck in a continuing cycle of monotony and loneliness.

Along came 27th May and time to leave. I had booked a late night bus down to London as I had an early morning flight to Reykjavík, Iceland. It had crossed my mind several times if I was doing the right thing. Was quitting a stable income close to home because I was “restless” the right thing to do? I suppose I was going to find out in due time.

I arrived in Reykjavik on the 28th. For anyone who knows me, they know that this is one of my favourite places on the planet. I had even planned to relocate to Iceland at some point in my life. This time, it just didn’t feel the same. Something was missing and I couldn’t figure out what it was.

Mt Esja, my favourite view.

I spent eight days in Reykjavík, visiting my old haunts and discovering some new ones. Yet still, I felt a lack of something. Perhaps it was because I had been there four times previously; somewhat lacklustre I suppose? This is what I originally put it down to and hoped my feelings would subside when I got to Tórshavn, Faroe Islands.

Elliðaárdalur, about half an hour out of Reykjavík.

Needless to say, they did not. In fact, the loneliness was crippling and there were days where I didn’t even leave my apartment in Tórshavn. I was in an unfamiliar place with no one I knew at my side. I had wanted to visit this country for years but now I was struggling to leave and explore it. At this point I thought about calling it quits and going home.

The harbour of Tórshavn.

I had one more flight booked, it was to Bergen, Norway. I honestly felt some sort of relief when I left the Faroe Islands, although I was tinged with sadness. I hadn’t seen as much of this beautiful place as I would have liked to and I knew that it was fully down to me and the state of my mental health at the time. I needed to learn and grow from this. I couldn’t let my mind defeat me. It had done that for far too long.

Bryggen, Bergen

Once I arrived in Norway, I felt like I could finally rest and settle somewhat. I spent a few days in Bergen and eventually decided to book a bus to travel onto Alesund. The bus journey from Bergen to Alesund was nine hours, but it flew by and I had the most beautiful scenery to gaze upon.

Somewhere between Bergen and Alesund.

It was early evening by the time I arrived and I needed to find my hostel. I grabbed my suitcase and headed towards the town. I eventually bumped into two older English ladies who happened to be looking for the same hostel as I was, although luckily enough they happened to actually know the way. I mention these two ladies because they were really the first people [strangers] to enquire if I was okay in the time I had been travelling thus far. I check into my [female] dorm room and I am greeted by other women around my age. Eventually a few others came into the dorm, but it was never full. People struck up conversation with me and I can honestly say this was the first time I felt human in a while.

In this small moment, I knew I was going to be all-right. With such basic human contact I felt renewed and more confident in myself. My mindset was completely different now, I was finally beginning to enjoy my own company.

Aksla Viewpoint

After four days traversing Alesund I moved onto Trondheim, where I spent just one day. It was probably the most action packed day of my trip to date, I probably saw more in just one day here than I did in a week in Tórshavn. Plus, my new found confidence and motivation certainly helped.

Somewhat exhausted, I moved onto Östersund, Sweden for the Midsummer celebrations. I originally only planned to stay in northern Sweden for two weeks and move down south, but I ended up staying in the area for around five weeks. Here, I felt like I could finally get the mental and physical rest I truly needed with no rush to do so. Whilst I was here I reignited my love of baking and nature again; thus leading me to discover the joy of foraging. I even learnt how to fish!

Midnight sun, Storsjön

I eventually decided that it was time to head back to England [I had an event to attend]. I left Sweden with a heavy heart. I felt like I had unfinished business, as I had not continued down south and headed onto Denmark. I didn’t know what to expect when I got back to England. Would I revert back to how I was? I was heading back into uncertainty.

I flew back to England from Trondheim, Norway [direct flights]. I was awash with emotion when I saw Blighty for the first time in over two months. I had missed her. I had truly missed my homeland. I knew I had changed. This is where I belong.

I settled back into life in England. I easily gained employment once again and eventually even found myself dating, which was certainly unexpected. This eventually grew into a loving, stable relationship.

“You cannot love anyone until you love yourself.”

I suppose it is somewhat of a cliché when people say “travel changes you”, but it is true. It changed me in ways I never imagined. For years I had lived in my own misery but never doing anything to change it. In just over two months, I had grown exponentially. I was no longer a shell of a person. I enjoyed my own company, liked myself as a person and felt confidence I never had before.

Whilst originally I just wanted to leave the job I hated so much and see some of the world, it actually became a journey to better myself. I pushed myself far out of my comfort zone and came out the other side a lot stronger mentally.

One year on I still feel the positive affects of my travels. I look back on who I was as a person a year ago and I am grateful for this journey, no matter how hard it was at times.

Here’s to the next year.