Salisbury is a beautiful medieval town in Wiltshire just eight miles from Stone Henge. It is chiefly famous for its magnificent early English gothic cathedral which has the highest spire in England and the best preserved copy of Magna Carta.Last Saturday our walking group met at Salisbury railway station and set out to explore the historic centre of the city. We began by walking along one of Salisbury’s five small rivers to find the water meadow where Constable painted his famous view of Salisbury cathedral. Unfortunately the trees have grown since and I could not find a hay cart or rainbow.
The origins of Salisbury
Salisbury is very unusual. It was built as a new town in the 13th century and does not have Saxon or Roman origins. The county town of Wiltshire was originally Wilton and there was also a wooden fort at Old Sarum nearby. In 1217 the bishop decided to create a town on the plain. We don’t really know why he chose to move away from old Sarum, but the new site would have had better access to trade routes and water and there may have been friction with the local soldiers. The towns of Old Sarum and Salisbury continued side by side for centuries.
Salisbury was allowed to hold a weekly market and an annual fair. The new town was laid out in a grid pattern which still survives. Work on Salisbury cathedral began in 1228 and continued until 1254. The famous spire was added a century later. This quick build means that like Wells Cathedral it has a uniformity of style missing from most other cathedrals.
There is a suggested donation for visiting the cathedral but there is a lot to see including the oldest working mechanical clock and some beautiful stained glass windows. When we visited the organ was being repaired. You can see the scaffolding in my photo but it gave us a chance to see some of the pipes and other parts up close.
Salisbury cathedral is also famous for its beautiful cloisters.
We strolled through the cloisters to the chapter house where the best preserved copy of Magna Carta is on display. In 1215 the barons who were unhappy at paying high taxes to finance King John’s wars with France met him at Runnymede just outside London and forced him to sign Magna Carta. This set out the limits of his power. It is said to be the foundation of the British constitution and one of the forerunners of the American declaration of independence. You can read more about it and visiting Salisbury cathedral here.
Unfortunately I was not allowed to take photographs. We also enjoyed coffee and cake in the cathedral refectory.
Edward Heath a former conservative prime minister was a famous resident of the cathedral close and often played the organ in the cathedral.
Arundells is open to visitors and houses Heath’s sailing memorabilia and a collection of political cartoons.
Although we did not visit this time it is easy to combine a visit to Salisbury with a visit to Stonehenge. You can even catch a hop on hop off bus from the railway station. To find out more about visiting Salisbury click here
If all goes well we will be visiting Gloucester on Saturday.