Salisbury lies in the valley of the Hampshire Avon, and this chalk river, along with its tributaries – The Nadder, Ebble, Wylye, and Bourne – is what helps to give this ‘City in the Countryside’ its character.
A walk through Queen Elizabeth Gardens and along the Town Path down through the Water Meadows to Harnham is a must if you want to get an even better overall feel for this beguiling city.
This is another short, comfortable walk and suitable for anyone and everyone including families with pushchairs – just watch out for cyclists along the Town Path though.
Start your walk at Crane Bridge in Crane St and walk alongside the river down to where the Avon and Nadder meet. Then follow the Nadder around through the park until you come to a footbridge. Walk over the bridge and keep left until you come to the start of the Town Path. Continue reading →
The Haunch of Venison is reputed to be 700 years old, and without doubt the most well-known pub in Salisbury.
In my experience pubs that have this sort of reputation can often be a let-down, but not this one.
The minute I walked in here I knew I was going to like it. It’s got all the credentials for being a great historical pub, with old oak beams, wood panelled walls, a good-looking bar – and most of all a friendly welcome.
There’s no denying that the Cathedral and its Close are the main attractions in Salisbury, but the small city centre is worth exploring in its own right, and so I’ve devised this short walk with the aim of helping visitors get acquainted with what else there is to see.
For the most part, the points of interest on this walk are places that can be taken in without spending too much time on them, but it will obviously depend on the individual’s personal interests. To give you some idea on how long it will take, it could probably take somebody who was on a mission no more than 45 minutes, but I recommend at least double that.
The walk starts from the Guildhall in Market Square, but before starting off take a look along the row of buildings next to it. If you look up on the wall above Reeve the Baker you’ll see that this is known as Ox Row. Formerly known as Pot Row, this was one of many rows of stalls that originated in the Middle Ages and which later became more substantial permanent fixtures. Other names around here included Cordwainer Row, Ironmonger Row and Wheeler Row.
Between the Guildhall and Reeve the Baker there’s a small passageway which, if you can tear yourself away from the pies, pasties and cakes in the shop window, will bring you out into Fish Row with the Tourist Information Centre (TIC) on the left. If you want any information on Salisbury and the surrounding area this is the best place to get it.
On the West Walk of Salisbury’s Cathedral Close is the former home of British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath.
The house is open to the public, and although its history goes back long before ‘Ted’ Heath moved here in 1985, there’s only really one reason that people come here to visit, and that’s to see where Sir Edward Heath KG MBE spent some of the happiest moments of his life.
From a fairly ordinary background, Ted managed to make himself an extraordinary life. He worked his way through university into the corridors of power and eventually to leader of the Conservative party, a post he held from 1965 until 1975.
In 1970 he became Prime Minister and for the next four years struggled to contain the demands of the trade unions, curtail The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the aspirations of Margaret Thatcher – although he did manage to take Britain into the European Economic Community in 1973.
He probably won’t be remembered as one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers, but he had many attributes, and even though my politics were different to his, I always thought of him as a warm and compassionate human being. Talking to the volunteers around the house I don’t think I was alone in thinking that.
Looking back, I think that maybe his political views weren’t conservative enough for his fellow party members, and not far enough to the left to embrace the working population.
In my Salisbury Cathedral Pt 2 review I gave James Wyatt a bit of a rough time for his so-called improvements to the church, but I’m going to give ’Wrecker’ Wyatt a bit of credit here for a change.
Between 1789 and 1792 he embarked on his mission to improve the Cathedral and its surroundings including the churchyard which was situated in an area of swampy marshland. He removed the tombstones, drained the swamp, and created a landscape fit for a Cathedral.
It now stands in the centre of a large enclosed Green known as ‘The Close’, which is entered by one of three gates – the North Gate, St. Ann’s Gate, and Harnham Gate. Inside these gates is an oasis of peace and tranquillity no matter how many people come to visit the Cathedral. This is the largest Close in England with plenty of room for everyone and the buildings surrounding it are an absolute architectural delight. They’ve evolved over the centuries into a harmonious composition of different styles.
In Salisbury Cathedral Pt 2 I described the different parts of the church, and so for this final part I’m going to explain what there is to see inside – or at least some of the highlights.
Throughout the church there’s a good collection of tombs for anyone who’s interested in this sort of thing. The first person to be buried here was William Longespee Earl of Salisbury, illegitimate son of King Henry II, and half-brother of King John. He died in 1226 and next to his wooden tomb is a plaque stating that he was present at the laying of the foundation stones of the Cathedral in 1220.
The tomb of Bishop Giles de Bridport, who was at the consecration of the Cathedral in 1258 is considered to be one of the finest 13th cent tombs in Britain, but probably the most majestic is the Hertford tomb. The Earl of Hertford (1539-1621) was the nephew of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, and lying above him is the effigy of his wife Lady Catherine Grey, the sister of Lady Jane Grey who was Queen of England for 9 days in 1553.
I should also mention that former Prime Minister, Edward Heath, who lived at Arundells in The Close opposite the Cathedral was buried here in 2005 in a much simpler grave.
Having explained how the new Cathedral came about in Salisbury Cathedral Pt 1, I’d like to talk a bit more about the building itself.
To start with I don’t suppose any building that’s been around for almost 800 years would have been untouched in any way, and of course Salisbury Cathedral is no exception, but the good news is that this remarkable church is still essentially the same as when it was built.
There have been a few hiccups along the way mind you including the removal of many of the stained-glass windows during the Reformation, and even some damage during the Civil War, but as was often the case, well-meaning restorers probably did the most amount of damage.
According to the official Salisbury Cathedral guidebook, the late 18th century saw James Wyatt clear the churchyard, demolish the Bell Tower, lime-wash the vaulting, cover medieval paintings, and remove even more medieval glass.
It wasn’t all bad news though. If you take a look at the West Front, you’ll find that there are 79 statues adorning the façade, and 72 of them have been added since the 19th century. George Gilbert Scott was responsible for most of them during his period of restoration between 1860 and 1876, and I reckon the West Front looks fantastic.
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.
Old Sarum probably won’t be the first place visitors will come to see on their first visit to Salisbury, but it should be the first place to know about, because without Old Sarum there would be no Salisbury.
On a hilltop overlooking the valley where present day Salisbury lies are the remains of Sarum, or Old Sarum as it is now called.
This previous Iron Age hill fort, just a couple of miles north of the city centre, passed through the hands of the Romans, Saxons, and Vikings, before finally falling to William the Conqueror.
William built a Motte and Bailey castle inside the existing fort, probably around 1069-70, and the importance of the site was strengthened even more by the construction of a cathedral which was consecrated on 5th April 1092.
As was often the case during medieval times, the powers that be and the clergy didn’t always meet eye to eye and the decision was made to relocate the cathedral down to the valley below where it still stands.