A day in…Salisbury

By | Category: Travel destinations

part of the facade of the cathedral

At one point, in my wanderings around Salisbury, a signpost had the railway station arm shorn off. Momentarily lost, I only had to walk to the next junction and normal signage was resumed.

I mention the point not to show vandalism in Salisbury because this was the only incident I saw. I mention it because the place is so well signposted that you don’t need a map to get around. In fact a map may be a positive disadvantage because there are so many alleyways, lanes and arcades that provide short-cuts that getting around is quick and nothing is that far away.

Salisbury is quintessentially English. It has craft shops, tea shops by the dozen, pubs (such as the New Inn) that date back to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and, of course, a cathedral known the world over probably because of the painting by John Constable. The cathedral also holds one of the four extant copies of Magna Carta, one of the most important documents in the world.

It would be hard to go to Salisbury and not venture near the cathedral. The spire is so tall, it can be seen from nearly everywhere. (There is a good view if you come by car on the A338 from the north.) The church authorities make no charge to enter- unlike some – but suggest a donation of £6.50. there is a charge of £10 to climb the tower. They say it takes £12,000 per day to keep the cathedral running but that they receive no funding from the government or the Church of England. Can that be true? The Church of England does not financially support one of its greatest earthly assets?

the cloisters; maintenance has to be paid for

Like most cathedrals Salisbury is covered in places with scaffolding. Maintaining a centuries old church takes time and money so whenever you visit expect to see something obscured. But not the spire. That has been restored but its height makes it really difficult to take a souvenir picture of the whole building. You’ll certainly want a shot of the cloisters and the statues adorning the outside of the building. Photography in the Chapter house where the Magna Carta rests is forbidden. Here you can see the 63 clause document upon which so much of our heritage lies and read from one of twenty-one different translations that are available. In the same area you will see a table brightly polished on top but stare at the legs. They are multi-coloured. This is how furniture once was for it is claimed that, upon this very table which dates to the thirteenth century, the workmen were paid their daily penny wage.

Inside it is easy to see that this is still a working, modern church as you pass tombs not just of bishops and deans from centuries ago but also Edward Heath the ex-prime minister who lived in an almost perfectly proportioned house called Arundells in the cathedral close. He died only a few years ago and his wish was that his house be turned into a museum and educational trust. If you are visiting this year you only have until the end of October otherwise you must wait till next March.


But the close has a number of other buildings and it is worth sending the time walking around. For a start there is a photogenic collection of buildings, secondly there are benches on which to sit after tramping around the other sites and thirdly there is the National Trust property, Mompesson House, a Queen Anne building that the Trust delights in saying has a considerable collection of eighteenth century wine glasses! There is also the Rifles Museum and the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum in the close as well. The latter is currently working to keep the 1,000 plus items from the personal collection of the painter Rex Whistler whose life was cut short in WWII.

During the Great Plague, Charles II decamped to the close and ran his court from here rather than risk catching the disease himself by staying in London.

Earlier I said that Salisbury was quintessentially English. That also means that it has a fondness for the arts. There are theatres and studios in the city and a strong “arty” feel to the place. Not far from the station is Fisherton Mill, an old Victorian grain mill which now houses a restaurant, galleries and art studios. And there are others throughout the city. Ad this means you will see “arty” types as well. It has hard not to stare at one man wearing a fetching slouch hat and sporting at least six nose rings. Maybe the other sign of being English is having some eccentrics around as well!

bird feeding - just by the shops

Salisbury is a meeting place for many rivers, five in all including the Avon. Almost jostling for supremacy the waters rush by and I do mean rush. The river is fast flowing, clear, populated by fish and a myriad number of ducks and swans. Save some of your lunch-time sandwiches and you will be deluged by birds noisily demanding their share. I had none to give but as I leaned on a bridge watching their antics in the water below one pigeon came within an arms’ length and gave me a dirty look when he realised I had nothing. Down by the many river edges, it is a popular pastime to bring children down to feed the birds, even children in their strollers. How many have lost things other than food when the birds strike?

the New Inn - one of the other old buildings in the city

As well as having enough to occupy a visitor for a weekend, Salisbury can also be used as a base for visiting nearby attractions, chief of which must be Stonehenge. Less than twenty miles away, it draws visitors from around the world, a large number on coach tours from London but still quite a number of overseas visitors who will book rooms in Salisbury. At times of the year finding a room can be difficult as well as pricey.

Avebury, the largest stone circle in the world, is not much further away the odd thing being that the village is within the circle but closer – just two miles away – is the iron-age hill-fort of Old Sarum where Salisbury’s first cathedral once stood. Wilton House is just three miles away and, apart from being regularly used in costume drams, has been home to the same family for over 470 years.

So my day-trip to Salisbury should have been much longer. Too much too see, too little time. On my next visit, a long weekend is the very minumum of time I’ll need.

For more about Salisbury, click here.

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