Three nights in Salisbury, Wiltshire

Trip Start May 12, 2012
Trip End Jun 06, 2012

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Where I stayed
The Old Rectory Bed & Breakfast Salisbury
Read my review - 4/5 stars
What I did
Salisbury Cathedral
Read my review - 5/5 stars

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

DAY 1 IN SALISBURY - May 27, 2012

As we were traveling on a Sunday, there was no train service continually along the south coast from Hastings to Salisbury. The best we could arrange was to travel east as far as Brighton before transferring to a train going north to Clapham Junction on the outskirts of London.  This train was very crowded with people returning to London after a weekend at the beach.  Then another transfer put us on a train going southwest to Salisbury where we arrived at about 2:45pm. 

We took a taxi to our B&B and after checking in, we walked over to Castle Street and had a nice lunch at an interesting pub.  We continued on towards town and the Salisbury Cathedral.  You can see the spire from almost anywhere in town.  As you get closer to the cathedral the size of it will amaze you.  We noticed some tiny figures high up in the tower; they were people who were on the tower tour, a climb of over 300 steps.  The condition of our feet prevented us from doing that climb.  We walked around the cloisters and the outside, looking at the many statues and gargoyles. 

As we entered the inside of Salisbury Cathedral, we were invited to stay for the evensong service.  That sounded like a nice experience, so we started to sit in the main room of the church, where chairs had been set up in rows between the new font and the pulpit and altar at the front.  As we were early, an attendant came over and invited us to sit in the quire area (where the choir sits) along with the all male choir.  A lot of people ended up attending this service, but we were lucky to be one of about 50 people who had this experience. The cathedral has such excellent acoustics that the high clear voices of the boys and the rich deeper voices of the men were quite wonderful to hear and quite moving. The service started at 4:30pm and only took an hour. 

We walked through various streets sampling ales and finally stopping at the Chough Pub for some dinner.  We bumped into a couple of CAMRA members, Simon and Bernie, who we had met in Bath a couple of weeks earlier.  They just happened to be in town for the night for a concert. Small world, small country!   We walked back to our B&B for an early evening and to back up our photos on the small computer we brought along. 


We got up early and after a cold breakfast of cereal, fruit and toast we walked back to the cathedral and arrived just after the doors opened, as we wanted to see more of this magnificent and historic building.  Some years ago I had read the popular novel "Sarum" by Edward
Rutherfurd, about the founding of the City of Salisbury and the building of the cathedral etc.  I wanted to see some of the things that were mentioned in the book and was not disappointed.

We paid the voluntary admission and were provided with a private guide (Mike) who showed us all over this amazing building. The main part of the cathedral was built in medieval times and was finished in only 38 years.  That meant that the whole structure is of one architectural style. The spire was added several hundred years later.

It was nearly noon when we left the cathedral, and we walked back into town and had a quick snack before heading over to the bus depot. There we bought tickets for transportation and entrance into Stonehenge and Old Sarum, an iron age hill fort and former castle site that predates Salisbury.  We were just in time for the bus so we were soon on our way across the Salisbury plain to these famous sites. 

Stopping first at Stonehenge, the weather was sunny and warm.  We showed our tickets, were loaned an audio guide devices, and walked through the tunnel under the road to the site.  Crowds of people lined the walkway that circles the stones, but you can't get close enough to touch he stones or wander among them.  We could take as long as we wanted to look at everything and listen to the audio tour.  Stonehenge was a scene of contrasts: the large gray stones contrasted with the bright green fields and nearby hills, the stillness of the stones contrasted with  the movement of the tourists around the stone, the traffic on the nearby roads, and even the sheep grazing in the fields, and the amazing age of this man-made stone monument contrasted with the modern technology of audio players and motor vehicles now invading the landscape.  The stone circle was serene and majestic in spite of the modern intrusion, and we couldn't help but feel awed by it.  So much history!

When we were ready to leave, we boarded a bus towards Salisbury and stopped at the ruins of Old Sarum.  We had to walk up into the site, which is a man made hill with a huge ditch circling it.  Printed signs took the place of audio guides and, even though you could see Salisbury in the distance, the site was peaceful and quiet.  Old Sarum was built in the iron age as a ceremonial site and later used by the first son of William the Conqueror for his castle and cathedral.  Because the site did not have a good supply of water of its own, it soon fell into disrepair and the cathedral was abandoned and moved to it's present site in the valley. Again we had as long as we wanted to view the site, then we walked back to a bus stop to catch a ride to town. 

Once back in Salisbury, we walked over to the Avon River and walked along its bank at the edge of town; we saw lots of swans on the water. We enjoyed a pint at the Avon Brewery Pub that backs on the river. Later we found a pub in the village square and had a seafood dinner.  We walked back to the B&B and ironed some clothes in preparation for tomorrow's celebrations. 


We got up early again and after a nice breakfast of fruit, yogurt, cereal and toast we walked back to Salisbury Cathedral to meet up with Alan Compton, a distant relative of Claudia's.  As we had never met before, and as arranged by phone, we carried a small Canadian flag to identify ourselves.  He arrived soon after we did, and we visited while we waited for the citizens of Great Wishford to arrive.  We were about to witness a short ceremony that would reassert their right to gather firewood on the private lands of the Earl.  Alan's Compton ancestors were born in Grovely Wood, and a John Compton, brother of his great-grandfather,  worked as the "woodard" (a woodsman that worked for the Earl) on Grovely Farm in the late 1800s.  So we felt we had a personal connection to this celebration.

Over 400 years ago, some peasants were caught gathering firewood in Grovely Wood by the woodsman who worked for the Earl.  They were charged with the crime and taken to the court of that time.  The judge ruled in their favor and to this day they celebrate their right to gather wood in Groveley Woods at their annual Oak Apple Day festival, which is one of the oldest surviving festivals of its kind in England, we were told.

The Oak Apple Society organizes this little festival in a farmer's field in the little village of Great Wishford, which is located about a half hour drive north of Salisbury. It  includes dressing up in period costume, dancing and a short ceremony at Salisbury Cathedral, a parade through the small village of Great Wishford, a VIP lunch, a fair filled with booths and amusements for the kids, and probably more dancing and entertainment.  This year, school children from Great Wishford and another neighboring village were granted a day off school to participate in the celebrations, including the trip to Salisbury.  It was great to see them dressed in caps and period costumes for the occasion.

Alan provided tickets to the VIP lunch, and after driving to Great Wishford with him, we sat in a tent set up on the field, at a table covered with a white tablecloth and nice china, and were served a lovely lunch of cold roast beef, salmon, potato salad and green salad.  The people were very welcoming.  One of the older men at our table remembered meeting some elderly Comptons on a local farm when he was a boy - this was unexpected and exciting because it had been quite a number of years since any Comptons had lived in this town.

Later we walked into the village and looked in the local church.  We watched a little parade through the village, which included all the children and the four women who had danced at the cathedral, some Morris dancers who we had talked to earlier, and other folks who were just having a great time.  Almost everyone in the village was either watching the parade or in it.  An oak apple is a deformed acorn that grows to the size of the walnut, by the action of a parasite worm that infects it.  Most of the people wore a sprig of oak leaves on their lapel.  The local church tied a large branch of an oak tree to the top of the church tower. 

We decided not to stay for any further activities, so we drove instead to a pub beside the stream a few miles away so Claudia and Alan could share and look over their family history notes.  He then drove us back to our B&B and we said our thanks and farewells.  It was a wonderful day!

After a late afternoon rest, we walked back into town for some dinner.  On the way back we walked through the grounds of the Salisbury Arts Centre housed in an old stone church not far from our B&B.   The rest of our evening was spent packing our suitcases for the morning.  It was almost time to head to London!

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