My favourite travel writer, Bill Bryson, said in his book ‘Notes from a Small Island’, that “There is no doubt in my mind that Salisbury Cathedral is the single most beautiful structure in England and the Close around it the most beautiful space”, and who am I to argue with Bill Bryson? It’s only his opinion of course, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who would agree with him.
If you’ve been to Old Sarum, you would have seen the Iron Age Hillfort where William the Conqueror built a castle, and successive Bishops built the first Salisbury Cathedral, but conditions were less than ideal for the clergy who lived here. It was windswept and cramped, and they didn’t get on too well with their neighbours in the castle either, and so early in the 13th century they decided to relocate down to the valley below.
Thanks to the generosity of King Henry III and the vision of Bishop Richard Poore, the foundation stones were laid in the meadows near to the River Avon in 1220, and apart from the tower and spire which was to come later, this Gothic masterpiece was finished in just thirty eight years.
In 1310 the original Lantern Tower was removed and work started on a new tower and spire which, when completed twenty years later, was the tallest in Britain. At 404 ft (123m), it’s not only tall but also graceful, and its position in the centre of The Close makes for the perfect setting.
It’s the setting that makes Salisbury Cathedral so special, and it wasn’t just Bill Bryson who could see it. John Constable painted a famous picture from the Water Meadows in 1831 which The Tate paid £23.1m for in 2013.
Whether viewed from the Water Meadows, The Close, or even up on Old Sarum, the decision to build this architectural wonder down here in the valley has given England one of its true gems.