Next stop on my trip was Salisbury. I do admit that the only reason I went to Salisbury was the fact that two of the places I wanted to see were close by. Number one being Stonehenge, which is only about 8 miles north of Salisbury, number two being Bath which is about 38 miles to the north west and which was included in my itinerary as a must-see, mainly because of my admiration for the writings of Jane Austen. Thus Salisbury was a perfect stop-over, even more so, because it turned out to be yet another beautiful town, that I unhesitatingly recommend for a visit, regardless whether you like Stonehenge or Bath.
So, after a little more than two hours, the train from Brighton stopped at Salisbury and the lovely lady from the tourist information, which keeps a tiny outpost right at the trainstation, didn’t take very long to get me booked in a new Bed & Breakfast close to the town center. Not only that, she also made sure, that I would be put up in one that satisfied my need for a wireless web connection. In this respect I have to admit that among all the positive stereotypes one attributes the English with, the one that holds them to be the politest people on this planet, certainly holds much truth – on my entire trip I didn’t have one unpleasant encounter, in every single instance I was treated with a most charming friendliness. As for some of the quirkier clichés…yes it’s true, no matter how cold, the English will still run around in shorts, T-shirts or skimpy dresses. Admirable!
After a 10 minute walk from the station I found myself in front of 50 Trinity Street, the B&B of Ms. Stephanie Paul, which would be my home for the next two nights – and a home it was. Stevie, which is how Ms. Paul introduced herself, provided an extremely pleasant accommodation. Among other things, it was furnished with a table, that was armed with all necessary ingredients to observe the traditional English tea-time and a perfectly functioning (free) wifi access.
The first excursion took me to Stonehenge. Special buses leave Salisbury every 30 minutes, in addition they also stop at the site of Salisbury’s earliest settlement, which is called Old Sarum. I have to say that the reason I was interested in Stonehenge is partly owing to the fact that I have a certain propensity to myths and legends. Not because I feel that something supernatural hovers over these places, but because all the stories that surround certain monuments or people, are what I consider early forms of literature. That’s why I believe the knowledge of the myths that have shaped England, such as the legend of King Arthur, is essential for understanding literary developments in the country itself.
So, yes, when visiting Stonehenge, there is a certain aura to the monument, but only insofar as it admirably represents the technical skills of mankind, being able to erect these stones without the means and tools that one would think were neccessary to do so. And this is why I would like to give out just one piece of advice to anyone who intends to visit Stonehenge: Stay away from the audioguides! I am by nature sceptical of audioguides and I usually never take one. At Stonehenge they were included in the entry-fee, which made me make the mistake of grabbing one. If you would like the condensed version of the explanations offered on this device, three words suffice: Why, oh why?! For anyone interested in more detail, here’s a list of the most important words heard throughout the tour: „Possibly, potentially, maybe, is not certain, cannot be proven scientifically, perhaps, we don’t know, most likely, but not sure etc. etc.“ The only one sentence in the entire litany, which by the way also included horribly stupid soundbites (yes, there were „druidic chants“ and „mystical music“ in between the spoken passages…) was the final quote. A passage of Thomas Hardy’s „Tess of the d’Urbervilles“. Excellent book, great writer, a pity to be thrown into a silly audioguide.
Nevertheless, Stonehenge is worth seeing, and if you don’t care to walk around the stones, want to save the entrance fee and are in possession of a car – just take the local A303 or A344, stop at the side of the road and you will have a great view of the monument.
On the way back to Salisbury I found that the inner circle of Old Sarum was already closed to visitors (if you’re very interested to see the settlement, check for the opening hours, to make sure you don’t miss it), those parts of Old Sarum where the remains of the first cathedral of Salisbury can be seen, were open to the public after closing time. A walk around the structure is well worth it no matter if the inner circle is closed or not.
The next day in Salisbury was dedicated to the town and even more so to the Cathedral. Another beautifully constructed gothic church, which was erected in 1220 and which boasts England’s tallest spire (404ft). The medieval megalomania turned out to be almost catastrophic for the church. It was built as a later addition to the church and the spire proved to be too heavy for the construction. The whole building thus had to be fortified with buttresses, arches and iron ties. To this day the spire is slightly leaning, if the windspeed passes a certain limit the entire church gets closed off. Another interesting sight in Salisbury Cathedral is the Magna Charta. One of only four remaining copies can be admired. The document which was signed in 1215 is an inspiring witness of legal history, for the first time containing clauses that entitle free citizens to something like a presumption of innocence and the right to protect them from unlawful imprisonment (habeas corpus).
Worth mentioning also is the extremely helpful service of guides at Salisbury Cathedral. These volunteers, most of them senior citizens, proved to have an exeptional knowledge of historical facts and never seemed to get tired of answering questions or providing information. They did so in a way that was always entertaining and informative, and thankfully they never forgot to add a few anecdotes or samples of greatly appreciated British humor. This system of senior citizens as tourist guides proved to be working very well in all the other places I visited along my trip, every single guide I subsequently toured sights with turned out to possess an above average knowledge of historical facts, was generally very charming and even when groups were small would tour the respective sight for up to two hours. All this of course free of charge, or included in the general entrance fee – I still am, moderatly speaking, very much impressed.
The rest of my stay in Salisbury was spent wandering the town, which, considering English towns in general, was usually delightful as there always seemed to be some pleasant river nearby that invited you to stroll along its banks or provided beautifully restored town centers, that never ceased to be interesting. That way I found out that Nobel Prize winner William Golding resided as a school master in Salisbury and even wrote a book about the cathedral’s spire – fittingly titled „The Spire“, and I discovered a lovely pub called „The Wig and Quill“, which serves excellent food, local ales and for colder days offers a cozy fireplace. Definitely one of the best ways to end a long day of sightseeing – a pint of ale, a huge serving of fish&chips and then lean back and relax.
Next stop: Bath
To get to Salibury from London, take either train or bus, the train being considerably faster (about 90 min), the bus being the cheaper means of transportation (rountrip available for as low as 10 Pounds).
Additional Information on Salisbury, its sights and nearby attractions can be found on Wikipedia, as well as on Salisbury’s official website. There you will also find information on accommodation, personally, I can highly recommend Ms. Paul’s B&B, which is centrally located, offers every comfort at a reasonable price and includes free wifi access.
Bustours to Stonehenge and Old Sarum depart from Salisbury every 30 minutes, more information can be found here.
Susanne, 21 July 2009