Welcome to the third visit of our Bucket List Challenge to Visit 12 UK Cities in 12 Months and this time we’re in Salisbury and Stonehenge.
On the 5th of January we set off on a day-trip to Salisbury, a city of about 40,000 inhabitants situated in Wiltshire. Salisbury has an extremely rich history, not least, Stonehenge which stands just a few miles North. Obviously we could not visit Salisbury without including a visit to this renowned World Heritage site.
As it’s January, we expected the weather to be cold and overcast…and we weren’t disappointed! Dressed up warm and prepared for the weather, and a Bad-Hair-Day, we set off for the 100-mile outward journey, which was easy and uneventful.
As we approached Stonehenge I felt an increasing feeling of excitement, and even though I was hoping to see ‘The Stones’ from the road as we approached, the landscape was giving nothing away.
Stonehenge has a brand new Visitor Centre (opened in December 2013) which is sleek and modern. The car park was already busy when we arrived at about 10.15am on this cold January morning, which gives you some idea of how popular this monument is. We were told (via the free audio) that Stonehenge receives around 1 million visitors a year and if our experience was representative, then it’s clear that people come from all over the world to visit.
From the Visitor Centre we were taken by small, regular buses to The Stones. It is possible to walk up to The Stones, but since it was so cold, damp and muddy, we decided the bus was the best option.
The Stones are immediately visible from the drop off point, and you are encouraged via path markers to switch on your audio tour as you enter the ‘park’.
The Stones are striking in appearance and this is further enhanced by use of the audio which helps to bring the story of their existence to life. However, despite many years of research, there is still no agreement on the reason for their existence. Some believe that they were magic or had powers of healing, others believe that the Stones are sacred and still others believe the Stones are a primitive calculator for plotting the movements of the sun and planets. In a lot of ways, this disagreement only adds to the mystery and appeal of the place.
In terms of size, the circle itself is more compact than I was expecting, but this in no way detracts from the size of the Stones. Some of the larger Stones, known as Sarsens stand 9 metres high and apparently have two meters also buried beneath ground. They weigh approximately 25 tons each and it is believed that they were brought to this location from Marlborough Downs, about 20 miles away. The smaller ‘Bluestones’ enclosed within the circle are much smaller and are believed, by some, to have magical properties.
Despite not being able to enter the circle, the whole experience was remarkable. There is definitely something magical about Stonehenge, from the rich but mysterious history, to the fact that the Stones have stood there, through civil unrest and World Wars for thousands of years and continue to bear the testament of their importance. For me, this was a wonderful and enlightening visit.
Tip: Take a set of earphones, it’s easier to listen to the audio through headphones, although it is possible to hold the audio set to your ear like a phone and listen this way too.
As we arrived within sight of the Cathedral, there’s no doubting the importance of the building to those who built it. The Cathedral is a huge and imposing structure, set apart in a picturesque park. On this particular day, with the gloomy weather, it had quite an ominous feel.
The Cathedral has an interesting history, having started out life in a different location, about two miles North from its current site in a place known as Old Sarum (Old Salisbury).
Old Sarum is the site of the ‘original’ Salisbury which had been established in about 400 BC as an iron age hill fort. By the medieval age, William the Conqueror, recognising its strategic importance strengthened the fort by adding a motte and bailey.
From 1078, major work was undertaken on the cathedral on-site and further building and furnishing work was continued under the patronage of various bishops until around 1180. However, by about 1220, dissatisfaction had grown with the site and in 1226, the new location was ceremonially founded in its current setting.
On entering the Cathedral, the warm welcome was in contrast to the cold, gloomy weather outside! The Cathedral hosts many historical artefacts and there are many staff and volunteers on hand to provide a guided tour, or just to chat with.
Importantly, Salisbury Cathedral is home to one of only four remaining copies of the 1215 Magna Carta. The ‘Great Charter’ is a legal document, issued by King John, which, at the time, was an attempt by the King to avoid civil war. However, its importance remains today as it established guarantees for such things as the right to a fair trial. The document is also significant because it limits the authority of the crown and ensures that the monarch is not above the law.
Unfortunately, on the day we visited the Cathedral, the real Magna Carta had been taken away and replaced with a copy (not that you could tell by looking at it!). The reason for this is because 2015 is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Charter and the Salisbury copy, along with others, will be displayed together in London later in the year.
Despite this, we enjoyed an interesting conversation with one of the Cathedral volunteers who filled us in on the history of the document as well as the celebrations planned for later this year.
As well as the Magna Carta, the Cathedral houses the tombs of the three bishops Osmund, Roger and Jocelyn who had overseen the work on the original Cathedral at Old Sarum, their tombs having been moved to the new Cathedral when the old Cathedral was demolished in 1226.
Another claim to fame is that the Cathedral hosts the highest spire in England at 404 feet, which, from the ground looks incredibly high. However, to give you a better feel for what it’s really like to be suspended from this Spire, I have been lucky enough to discover this video on Youtube which was filmed in December 2014…scary!
…And The Rest
We had intended to visit two other ‘attractions’ whilst in Salisbury – Boscombe Down Aviation Collection, an aviation museum where visitors can sit in the cockpits of the planes as well as view the planes from the ground. Also on our list was a visit to Arundells, the home of the former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath.
Unfortunately both of these places were closed, due to the time of year which was a shame, so instead we finished our trip with a visit to the The Salisbury Museum, a very friendly (and warm) museum where we were able to see more of the historical artefacts, particularly from Stonehenge, Old Sarum and the surrounding area. The museum also houses an interesting collection of historical clothes through the ages, and a collection of WWI/II memorabilia.
Stats and Useful Links
- Mileage – about 210 miles (round trip)
- Fuel, Parking & Bridge Toll = £36.00
- Entry to Stonehenge x 2 = £28.00
- Entry to Salisbury Cathedral x 2 = £13.00
- Entry to Salisbury Museum x 2 = £16.00
- Food & Drinks (approx.) = £40.00
My thanks to Geraint Hopkins for pointing me towards the video.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our latest City Adventure. Is anyone else inspired to undertake a similar challenge yet?!