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In 1549, when the infamous Henry VIII was on the throne, Salisbury was the 7th biggest city in the country and its cathedral was the tallest building – some must of predicted great things for the city at the time…
Today, Salisbury is the UK’s 262nd largest settlement- but it still has the UK’s tallest
cathedral, which itself possesses the largest cathedral close and the longest cathedral cloisters. Besides, Salisbury is still alive with the history of its former glory, every street steeped in intrigue or beauty of some kind, a truly delightful place to visit. Wandering the streets, you will give thanks that it hasn’t maintained its position in the top ten cities, but what will you see?
Since 1258 Salisbury cathedral has been the most important building in Salisbury. And since the spire was added in 1320 it has towered over the city, standing at 123m. It is the unignorable pride of the city (The only reason we can call Salisbury a city at all).
A fine example of early gothic architecture, as a spectacle, the cathedral in itself is reason enough to visit. Those with a keener eye will also notice the tilt of its spire; caused by shallow foundations (and inspiration for William Golding’s The Spire)
Yet, inside the cathedral is where you can find one of the most valuable treasures of all – an original copy of the Magna Carta. Displayed in the cathedral’s chapter house, the 804 year old document is shielded from any natural light. The document represented an agreement to lessen the powers of the King, still considered an important early symbol of liberty today.
Salisbury’s market is a crucial part of its identity – and has been since it began in 1219! Today, the market runs twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays and is still as varied and vibrant as it has always been.
Salisbury also contains a variable treasure trove of antiquated buildings.
One of the most famous is John a’Port’s House and William Russel’s House, located in the Market Place next to Guildhall. They are regarded as the oldest buildings in Salisbury – instantly recognisable by their twinned white and black timber frames.
Everywhere you go you encounter history – The Salisbury Tourist Information Centre on Fish Row occupies a 14th century former fishmonger. Even the Odeon Cinema on Salisbury’s New Canal inhabits a 15th century Tudor mansion.
And if you fancy some refreshments but still want to remain an antiquarian- The Haunch of Venison, a pub, is over 800 years old- complete with its own folklore – a severed hand and a secret tunnel leading to a church.
As old as it is, Salisbury wasn’t always here! In fact, it was preceded by Old Sarum, a near prehistoric site, the remains of which are still visible today. 2 miles north of Salisbury or New Sarum, the settlement it was abandoned for in 1190- the walls of the cathedral close are built from stones taken from the site! Hand in hand, Salisbury and old Sarum bridge over 2,000 years of history. It is worth the walk up the hill to visit the ruins of Old Sarum – which hosted both Romans and Saxons in its time.
So why not visit Salisbury? Take a walk-through centuries of British history, see how it has blended with the modern day, see the magnificent cathedral that still towers over us, see the pubs, the market, the beautiful cathedral close, take a walk up to old Sarum and cast your mind back thousands of years- doesn’t sound like such a bad day?
Salisbury Guided Tours offer tours from Salisbury, Bath, London or Southampton.
We are a small family-run business based in Salisbury. We offer discreet, bespoke and entertaining private guided sightseeing tours in the comfort you deserve. Our tour itineraries are original, imaginative, well-paced and carefully balanced.
The Stonehenge Travel and Tour Company
Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours
The Local Travel Experts
Attraction-packed Wiltshire cuts a verdant swathe through southern England. High chalk downs and gentle valleys characterise the landscape, which is home to chocolate box villages (Lacock, Tisbury, Castle Coombe) charming market towns (Malmesbury, Devizes, Bradford-on-Avon) and a top-notch cathedral city (Salisbury). 40 per cent of the county is classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. English Heritage have produced this wonderful inspirational guide for visitors to Wiltshire, please visit their website for full details.
Wiltshire is famous for its ham, white horses and, above all, for its many prehistoric monuments. In fact, it’s got more than any other county in England. In this guide, we’ll explore some of these places that shine a light on our ancient past, visit a couple of castles, and point out a few other fascinating places along the way.
DAY 1 – AVEBURY AND DEVIZES
The remarkable village of Avebury can be found between Swindon and Devizes. It’s part of the same UNESCO World Heritage Site as Stonehenge.
The main stone circle here is around 4600 years old, and it’s the largest in Britain. It’s thought that it would have taken 1.5 million man hours to construct the ditch and bank and to transport the stones.
Today, the vision of its original builders can be hard to appreciate. The circle is bisected by roads, and the stones rub up against a medieval church, a timber-framed pub, rose-covered cottages and flocks of friendly sheep. But this jumbled palimpsest is part of Avebury’s unique charm.
And we’re lucky that there’s anything to see at all. In medieval times some of the stones were pushed over or buried, and in the 18th century many of those that survived were broken up for building materials. Alexander Keiller restored some of the stones in the 1930s, and he gives his name to the village’s museum, which tells the story of Avebury and its nearby monuments. The National Trust has also recently refurbished and opened up part of Avebury Manor.
There are toilets, a shop and a café near the museum. On the high street you’ll find a quirky gift shop, a community store and the Red Lion – quite possibly the world’s only pub inside a stone circle.
You can walk around Avebury’s stone circle and see the museum in about an hour and a half. But it’s worth exploring some of the other sites around Avebury to really get a sense of how important this place was to our prehistoric ancestors.
The oldest site in the area is Windmill Hill. It’s a ’causewayed enclosure’, built around 3675 BC. It’s thought that people gathered here for trading, festivals or feasts, or all three. Much later, Bronze Age barrows were built on the hill.
West Kennet Avenue joins the stone circle at its southern edge. Once, 100 pairs of stones lined a 2.3km course joining Avebury to the Sanctuary. Today there are 27 upright stones, again restored by Keiller. The Sanctuary itself was begun in about 3000BC, and its purpose is unclear. Circles of timber posts once stood here, and human bones and food remains have been found buried beneath them.
West Kennet Long Barrow is one of the best examples of a long barrow in the country, and you can actually get inside it. This was the resting place of at least 46 people, buried here between 3000 and 2600 BC.
From the top of the barrow you can see East Kennet Long Barrow, and also the enigmatic Silbury Hill, one of the most mysterious remnants of prehistoric Britain. 30 metres high, it’s the largest man made mound in Europe, and was built around the same time as the pyramids of Egypt. There’s a viewing area next to the car park, but to protect the site, you can’t walk on the hill itself.
WILTSHIRE MUSEUM, DEVIZES
One of the best places to dive into the prehistory of this part of the country is the brilliant Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. It tells 500,000 years of Wiltshire’s story, and it contains two thirds of all the Bronze Age gold found in Britain.
Its standout treasures were excavated from the Bush Barrow, half a mile from Stonehenge. It’s Britain’s richest and most important prehistoric burial. An adult male was buried in a crouched position with spectacular grave goods, including a dagger with 140,000 tiny gold studs in its handle, a mace made from rare fossil stone, and an exquisite sheet gold lozenge.
But just as fascinating as the Bronze Age bling is what the finds tell us about the people of Stonehenge. Cases tell the stories of characters like the Shaman and the Marlborough Lady, pieced together from their burials. These small glimpses into the lives of our ancestors help us remember that prehistory isn’t just about pots – it’s about people.
Other galleries cover the later history of Wiltshire and Devizes. Children can follow a stamp trail, dress up in period costumes and get hands on with interactive exhibitions dotted throughout the galleries. There’s a small shop selling gifts and books.
Devizes itself is a pretty market town, with over 500 listed buildings and the largest market square in the west of England. There are plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants. You can also visit the red brick Victorian Wadworth Brewery, where shire horses still deliver beer to the town’s pubs every morning.
DAY 2 – SALISBURY AND OLD SARUM
Seated high above the bustling city of Salisbury is Old Sarum. With its origins as an Iron Age hillfort, it’s almost brand spanking new compared to Avebury and Stonehenge. The Romans used it as a fort and as a temple, and after William the Conquerer built a motte and bailey castle a town grew up around it. A cathedral was also built here, but it moved down the hill to Salisbury in the early 13th century.
Salisbury attracted more trade and more people, and was the largest town in Wiltshire by the 14th century. Old Sarum dwindled in size and importance until it gained widespread notoriety in the 18th and 19th centuries for being a ‘rotten borough’ – it still sent two MPs to the House of Commons, despite being almost entirely abandoned.
Today it’s the perfect spot for a picnic, a walk or even a spot of kite flying. There are 29 acres of rare grass chalkland to explore, with wildflowers and ancient trees. The outline of the old cathedral is still visible, and the castle, although well ruined, is still impressive. You’ll get the most out of your visit with a guidebook in hand, but it’s worth the trip just for the stunning views over Salisbury.
There’s plenty of free parking at the site and a small shop by the entrance selling gifts and refreshments.
SALISBURY – CATHEDRAL AND MUSEUM
Venture down the hill to Salisbury’s Cathedral Close and you’ll find an array of attractions. The Cathedral houses the best-preserved of the four surviving copies of Magna Carta. English Heritage members can get two for one entry on Tower Tours on weekdays.
A variety of impressive buildings line the close, including the National Trust’s Mompesson House, Arundells (the former home of Sir Edward Heath) and The King’s House, which now houses the Salisbury Museum.
The museum is another fantastic repository of local prehistoric finds. Its new Wessex Galleries contain objects from Stonehenge and the surrounding area. Standout exhibits include the jadeite axehhead, coins from the Bowerchalke Hoard and watercolours by JMW Turner. There’s also a brilliant interactive exhibition that explores how archaeology has shaped our understanding of the past.
Other galleries explore the town’s more recent past. Highlights include a surprisingly interesting collection of objects found in the city’s drains, and the remarkable 3.6m tall Salisbury Giant, a towering figure used in pageants for hundreds of years.
The museum puts on temporary exhibitions and hosts events and talks – check the website for details. There are interactive exhibitions and trails for kids.
The King’s House Café can be found inside the museum buildings, and Salisbury city centre is a few minutes’ walk away.
DAY 3 – STONEHENGE AND OLD WARDOUR
Famous across the world for its iconic stone circle, Stonehenge is a real Wiltshire must-see.
Its visitor centre has a short but sweet exhibition that introduces the development of Stonehenge and sets the stones in their prehistoric context. Have a go a moving one of the huge sarsens, and poke your head into the Neolithic houses. You can walk the one and a half miles to the stones themselves, or catch the bus. It’s well worth plugging into the audio guide as you walk around the stone circle – you can borrow a headset at the visitor centre or download the app from Google Play or the App Store.
The monumental mystery of Stonehenge has fascinated us for thousands of years, and it’s impossible not to be drawn in by it as you get close to the stones. Try to solve the puzzle of the circle’s purpose, or to imagine the immense effort that went into its construction. Or simply marvel at its survival through thousands of years of change.
Back at the visitor centre you’ll find a café serving up locally sourced food and drinks. We serve our snacks and lunches in sustainable takeaway packaging, making it perfect for picnicing.
THE STONEHENGE LANDSCAPE
Many people who visit Stonehenge are happy to see the stones and take a few selfies, but you’ll be missing out if you don’t explore the surrounding landscape and its monuments. Barrows, henges and earthworks fill the fields, and visiting them helps give you a better understanding of just how important this area was for our ancestors. The Stonehenge visitor centre gives a great overview of the story of the landscape, and you can use our interactive map to orient yourself before your visit.
The National Trust owns most of the land and looks after the monuments in it. Take care with dogs, as livestock grazes in the fields. Check their pages for restrictions.
DAY 3 – OLD WARDOUR CASTLE
Old Wardour Castle is hidden at the end of a single track lane, deep within a lush, secluded valley. It’s a world away from the wide open spaces of Salisbury Plain.
Perhaps surprisingly, Old Wardour has been a tourist attraction for longer than it was a working castle. It was built in the 1390s after John Lovell found favour with Richard II. He built his unusual hexagonal castle to confirm his status. In 1596 the godson of Elizabeth I called it ‘the wonder of the west’, but a large chunk of it was blown up during the Civil War in the 1640s.
It was never rebuilt, and 100 years later the owners decided to build a new, grander house a mile away. Old Wardour was preserved as a folly for the enjoyment of the family and their guests. Members of the public probably started visiting from the 18th century, and people have been flocking to Old Wardour ever since.
To this day, these are ruins to have fun in. Over the last few decades, we’ve restored floors and staircases so that you can wander the castle’s rooms and towers, and poke around its nooks and crannies. A brilliant audio guide breathes life back into the ruins with characters and stories from the past. There’s a shop selling gifts and refreshments and plenty of space for picnics. It’s also a good base for walks through the local countryside, which is part of the Cranborne Chase Area of Natural Beauty.
GETTING HERE AND AROUND
The M4 skirts the north of the county and the M3 connects London to the A30 and A303 in the south. There are mainline rail stations in Salisbury, Swindon, Chippenham, Tisbury, Bradford on Avon, Trowbridge, Westbury and Warminster.
There are plenty of places to stay in Wiltshire, but Salisbury is a particularly good base for exploring many of our sites. By rail it’s just an hour and twenty minutes away from London, or an hour and ten from Bristol.
You can get buses to Avebury from Swindon or Trowbridge. Buses connect Devizes with Bath, Chippenham, Swindon and Salisbury, and there’s a coach from London.
Old Wardour Castle is not too far from Tisbury, which is ten minutes from Salisbury by train. You may be able to get a taxi to the castle. Alternatively, Discover Nadder have designed a circular 5.5 mile walkfrom the village to the castle.
MORE IN WILTSHIRE & BEYOND
If you’re in Wiltshire for longer you can dive even deeper into the past.
Beautiful Bradford-on-Avon has a spectacular medieval tithe barn you can visit for free. Just over the border with Somerset is Farleigh Hungerford Castle – we’ve come up with a great circular walk that joins the two, making this a great car-free day out. Bratton Camp and its famous White Horse is also nearby.
We also look after the picturesque remains of Ludgershall Castle and Cross, one of the largest Neolithic henges in Britain at Hatfield Earthworks, the thatched Chisbury Chapel and the 18th century Netheravon Dovecote.
English Heritage Members can get two for one entry at Wilton House, as well as discounts at Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury Museum and the Wiltshire Museum.
Please visit the English Heritage website for full details
We specialise in private guided tours of Stonehenge and Wiltshire and would be happy to help you organise a custom tour for your family or small group. Our bespoke tours can depart from Salisbury, Bath, Southampton and even London
The Stonehenge Travel and Tour Company
Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours
DISCOVER the magic of Stonehenge and the fun of an off-road safari on a trip to Salisbury Stonehenge attracts tourists from across the globe to Salisbury.
But the attractions of the city don’t start and end with the incredible prehistoric monument.
Go on safari across a chalk plain, watch polo and test your fitness on a climb up the tower of Britain’s tallest church spire.
There so much to discover on a trip to Salisbury in Wiltshire.
1. Look up to discover Salisbury Cathedral – it has the tallest spire in Britain at a whopping 123 metres tall. Inside you’ll find one of the most significant churches in the country as it houses one of the original copies of the Magna Carta. For great views, take the Tower Tour. It’s a 332 step trip to the top and the reward is stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
2. Find yourself steeped in legend on a visit to Stonehenge. It’s a magical place shrouded in history steeped in legend. If you stand on Salisbury Plain at sunrise or sunset it’s easy to understand why the ancient Britons believed Stonehenge was special. Its orientation on the rising and setting sun is one of its many outstanding features, but why it was built in this way remains a mystery. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/
Join the local Stonehenge experts for a guided tour: http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/plan-your-visit/stonehenge-guided-tours-p1550943
3. Watch polo, or even sign up for a beginners’ lesson at Druids Lodge Polo, which is open all year round six days a week (closed on Mondays). From October to March polo takes place in the floodlit arena which is hidden away in a sheltered area near the main house and stables. Druids Lodge provides pony hire, polo livery and high quality tuition for all levels and is the home club for a number of school and university teams. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/druids-lodge-polo-p1938583
4. Go for the ultimate race car experience – on a virtual car! Kids over 12 can have a ago and it’s a great experience to keep them happy during the half-term week. The Ultimate Race Car Experience (URCE) is an exciting brand new, purpose built facility, providing the very latest in full motion race car simulators. You’ll find it at Sarum Business Park,Lancaster Road, Old Sarum, in Salisbury. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/ultimate-race-car-experience-p1827763
5. Get up close to aircraft and see restoration taking place at Boscombe Down Aviation Collection.. It’s a great thing to do when the weather’s bad as it’s mainly all indoors. The collection of aircraft, cockpits, replicas and models weapons and equipment show the story of flight and flight test in the UK. Many of the cockpits are open and you can sit in and use the controls. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/boscombe-down-aviation-collection-p1416553
6. Explore the streets of Salisbury by following the Murder Mystery Walking Treasure Trail of the city. It’s a self-guided fun and imaginative way to explore the city. As you follow the route, there are clues to solve and spot on the buildings, statues and monuments you pass. A great way to keep the kids happy on a walk. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/salisbury/things-to-do/treasure-trails-the-salisbury-murder-mystery-walking-treasure-trail-p1773823
7. Get on your bike! Cycling around is a great way to discover a new area. Hire yours at Hayball Bike Hire and peddle away. Flat, safe traffic-free trails, make Salisbury a cycle friendly city and you can even cycle all the way up to Stonehenge.http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/hayball-bike-hire-p1957623
8. Go carting! Take the kids and try your hand around the track at Wessex Raceway Indoor Carting centre. It’s got a unique a700-metre indoor asphalt track, free of pillars with no ramps or bridges – which allows ALL our adult karts to reach a maximum speed of over 50 miles per hour! http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/wessex-raceway-indoor-karting-p547143
9. Learn how to juggle at the Discovery Day Circus Workshop at Salisbury Museum over half-term on February 16. Experts will be on hand to teach this top skill at a drop-in session from 10am-1.30pm. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/whats-on/discovery-day-circus-workshop-p1953053
10. Go off road and on safari with Salisbury Plain Safaris for an exciting trip to discover wildlife and local history. Go on tour in a luxury Land Rover Defender 110 that takes groups of up to six. Tours include a refreshment break and chances to get out and explore areas and tracks to parts of the Plain that are simply not accessible to cars and buses.
Spectacular views of Europe’s largest chalk downland and the UK’s largest military training area. http://www..visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/salisbury-plain-safaris-p1960783
Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours
Plans are under way to mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in the town linked to the most famous conflict in English history.
The events aim to mark the significance of the battle which altered the course of history in medieval England and led to the Norman Conquest.
William the Conqueror established a royal castle at Old Sarum (Salisbury, Wiltshire), in the middle of the earthworks, shortly after 1066. This, says English Heritage, transformed the site, effectively dividing the hillfort in two: an inner set of fortifications, which became William’s castle, and a huge outer enclosure, within which a cathedral was built in 1075
Here, we tell you everything you need to know about Old Sarum in Wiltshire…
1) Old Sarum is the site of the earliest settlement of Salisbury. It is two miles north of where the city now stands
2) The Romans, Normans and Saxons all left their mark there: Old Sarum was used as an Iron Age hillfort between about 400 BC and AD 43 – one of the largest in England – before being occupied shortly after the Roman conquest of Britain, when it became known as Sorviodunum. The Romans occupied the site until about AD 410.
William the Conqueror established a royal castle at Old Sarum, in the middle of the earthworks, shortly after 1066. This, says English Heritage, transformed the site, effectively dividing the hillfort in two: an inner set of fortifications, which became William’s castle, and a huge outer enclosure, within which a cathedral was built in 1075
3) The royal castle, created shortly after 1066, was “a major administrative centre”, says English Heritage. The sheriffs of Wiltshire were established in the castle, and the cathedral later provided a body of clerks who assisted with major projects
4) Old Sarum is historically important as the site of the Oath of Sarum of 1 August 1086. Facing revolt and invasion, William I [aka William the Conqueror] gathered the powerful, landholding men of the realm to a ceremony in which they swore allegiance to him. The ceremony, described by English Heritage as “a striking assertion of royal power”, underlined William’s position as the source of tenure of all land across England.
5) Between 1173 and 1189 Henry II’s queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was kept under house arrest at Old Sarum for having incited her sons to rebel against their father
6) The cathedral was demolished during the medieval period: dissatisfaction with the site and poor relations with the garrison in the castle caused the cathedral to be moved to its present site in Salisbury (New Sarum) in the 1220s. After this time, royal interest in the castle waned. English Heritage explains: “The castle seems to have limped on as an administrative centre into the 15th century, the end finally coming in 1514, when Henry VIII made over the ‘stones called the castle or tower of Old Sarum’ to Thomas Compton, together with the right to carry away the materials.”
7) Old Sarum lived on as a famous ‘rotten borough’ that continued to elect members of parliament until the Reform Act 1832. The parliamentary constituency had a very small electorate and could be used by a patron to gain unrepresentative influence within the unreformed House of Commons. Thomas Pitt became the owner of the site, and the votes attached to it, in 1691. Arguably, had it not been for this, Pitt’s famous grandson William might never have entered the House of Commons, because he first sat in parliament as a member of Old Sarum.
8) Today, people visiting Old Sarum can see the earthworks of the Iron Age hillfort, the inner stronghold of the Norman castle on the motte at its centre, and the remains of the cathedral
Source: English Heritage
A great year to visit Old Sarum Castle Website
Old Sarum can be visited independently or it is easy to arrange a private guided tour from Salisbury with the local experts.
Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours
Historically a centre of the cloth industry, Salisbury – the county town of Wiltshire – is situated at the point where the Rivers Nadder and Bourne flow into the River Avon. The city is famous for its cathedral, a masterpiece of the early Gothic style that dates to 1220 when the building’s foundation stone was laid.
A checkerboard layout, with enclosed gardens between the houses, was a model for medieval town planning. On receiving market privileges from the king, a bridge was built across the Avon in 1244, thereby creating perfect conditions for Salisbury to become a major trading center.
1 Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral was built in a relatively short time – from 1220 to 1266 – in a typically English style consisting of a nave, long choir, retrochoir, main west transept and east choir transept (shielded from the choir by false arches). The interior of the cathedral, which is of bright-colored limestone and darkly gleaming Purbeck marble, displays the horizontal sequencing of the trusses, strengthened by continuous ledges. The construction of the walls is divided into three zones, with arches, a gallery-like triforium and a passageway above. A ribbed vault in four parts encloses the nave at a height of only 82 ft. The interior fittings of the cathedral, considerably altered in the 18th century, include elaborate tombstones dating back to the 13th century.
Although there are a few medieval fragments, the stained glass – primarily 19th and 20th centuries – is exquisite, particularly the Gabriel Loire window in the Lady Chapel. The Gothic cloister and the octagonal chapterhouse both date from the 14th century, the latter having a single central pillar acting as a vault support, a fine wall-frieze with pictures from the Old Testament and tracery windows divided into four sections with 19th century glass. Items stored there include one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta, the foundation of the British constitution, as well as other Anglo Saxon documents and the inspection report on the cathedral tower written by Sir Christopher Wren in 1668.
Address: Chapter Office, 6 The Close, Salisbury
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Salisbury – TripAdvisor.com
2 Cathedral Close
Within Salisbury Cathedral Close and separated from the rest of the town by three gateways, a number of notable Elizabethan and Georgian houses have lovely green lawns and date from the 14th to 18th centuries. These were the residences of the dean, ecclesiastical officers and teachers at the cathedral school. Of special interest is Mompesson House, with its elegant interior fittings and wonderful collection of glass. Another nearby home worthy of a visit is Arundells, residence of former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath.
Address: The King’s House, 65 The Close, Salisbury
The old city center includes the 15th century parish church of St Thomas of Canterbury as well as the wide market place with its 15th century market cross, the Guildhall (1788) and the 15th century Plume of Feathers Inn. Nearby is the Red Lion Hotel with its fine 1820s facade and pretty inner courtyard, and Joiner’s Hall, an attractive half-timbered building dating from the 16th century.
Through the North Gate are the meadows of the River Avon with their fine views of the cathedral. John Constable captured these on canvas in his famous painting of 1820.
Address: Pennyfarthing House, 18 Pennyfarthing St, Salisbury
Old Sarum was the precursor of present-day Salisbury, built two miles to the north of the city center on a hill, which even in prehistoric times was fortified. The Romans built the camp of Sorviodonum here, while under the Saxons a town settlement grew up on the site. William the Conqueror chose this strategically favorable spot to build a castle in 1075, and in 1220 the inhabitants of Old Sarum were moved to New Salisbury. Today, only a few remains of the castle within the inner circumference wall can be seen, and the cathedral ruins within the outer wall.
Location: Castle Rd, Salisbury
5 Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum
The Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum has permanent displays and special exhibitions throughout the year that highlight the art and history of England and the Salisbury area. This is one of the most fascinating areas in Britain, rich in mediaeval history and home to the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge. The award-winning museum is home to the Stonehenge Gallery, Monkton Deverill Gold Torc, as well as unique costume, glass and chinaware collections.
Address: 58 The Close, Salisbury
6 Larmer Tree Gardens
The Larmer Tree Gardens, set in the ancient forest known as Cranborne Chase, were established by general Pitt Rivers in 1880 as pleasure grounds for “public enlightenment and entertainment” and were the first privately owned gardens to be opened for public enjoyment. You’ll find Indian buildings, a Roman Temple and an open-air theatre amidst acres of gardens inhabited by pheasants, peacocks and other exotic birds.
Location: Rushmore Estate Office, Tollard Royal, Salisbury
7 Salisbury Festival
Salisbury Festival takes place in spring with a different theme each year, and includes orchestral, choral and chamber concerts, recitals, film screenings and lectures. Numerous venues are used, including St Thomas Hall, the cathedral and other historical buildings.
Another important event is the Southern Cathedrals Festival, an annual festival that rotates every year between the cities of Winchester, Salisbury and Chichester. The festival takes place mid-July and includes daily concerts and a program featuring a mix of orchestral, choral and chamber concerts, recitals and fringe events. The repertoire is equally varied and includes classical and sacred music as well as newly commissioned works performed in the host city’s cathedral. Another great event, The Salisbury Arts Festival, runs for two weeks each May and features dance, music, street performances and art exhibitions.
Address: 144 East Main St, Salisbury
8 The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum
The Wardrobe is an elegant building housing The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum, an award-winning museum detailing the history of English County Regiments. The building dates to 1254 and contains exhibits on the Royal Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiments.
From the gardens you can stroll down to the River Avon with its views of the Water Meadows. Another military museum to visit is the award-winning Museum of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment.
Address: 58 The Close, Salisbury
9 Cholderton Charlies Rare Breeds Farm
Cholderton Charlies Rare Breeds Farm has breeds dating back hundreds of years, reflecting an animal heritage as interesting as its buildings and monuments. In addition to the many animals is a nature trail, water gardens, a picnic area and adventure playground for children. Also popular are the many opportunities to feed piglets and other young animals.
Location: Amesbury Road, Cholderton, Salisbury
10 Malmesbury House
Malmesbury House is located on The Close near Salisbury Cathedral where many of the city’s historical attractions are found. The house has seen many faces, both architecturally and in its visitors, and was originally a canonry in the 13th century before being enlarged.
The west facade was added decades later to accommodate rooms displaying magnificent rococo plasterwork, and notable visitors included King Charles II and the composer Handel. (Although privately owned, tours are occasionally permitted.)
Location: The Close, Salisbury
Built by architect Inigo Jones in 1653 after the original Tudor home was destroyed by fire, Wilton House is a masterpiece of the Baroque style and most notable for its huge white Double Cube Room. Decorated with gold-painted flowers and garlands of fruit and rounded off with a brilliantly colorful painted ceiling, the room is also fascinating for its portraits by van Dyck, as well as portraits of Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria and their three children. Equally impressive is the Single Cube Room, its painted ceiling having scenes from Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, written in 1590 while a guest at Wilton House, as well as paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Reynolds. The landscaped park surrounding the house harbors a magnificent stock of old trees. Another unusual feature is the Palladian bridge (1737) over the River Nadder.
Be sure to visit the picturesque Village of Wilton, the old capital of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex, and later of Wiltshire. It is famous for its carpets, plus home to antique shops and a weekly market.
Location: The Estate Office, Wiilton, Salisbury
Located 19 miles southwest of Salisbury, Shaftesbury is a picturesque little market town famous for its ruined Benedictine abbey. Only the foundation walls remain as a reminder of the abbey’s existence, while in the Shaftesbury Abbey and Garden there’s a model of the building as it once was as well as finds from the Middle Ages.
Shaftesbury is also a notable tourist destination due to the steep cobbled streets of Gold Hill, picturesquely lined on one side with tiny houses dating from the 16th to 18th centuries, while on the other side there’s a 13th century ochre-colored wall. Visitors enjoy superb views across the Blackmoor Vale to Somerset.
St Peter’s Church is the only one of the 12 medieval churches that’s been preserved, and possesses an interesting crypt and a fine doorway. Also of note, the Shaftesbury Gold Hill Museum has many exhibits detailing local history.
Location: Gold Hill, Shaftesbury
Stourhead, 26 miles west of Salisbury, is one of the finest landscaped gardens of the 18th century and unchanged since its inception. The unique design of the garden includes an artificial lake with caves, classical temples and landing stages surrounded by hills planted with trees. The park and the stately Palladian mansion were designed in 1721, with elegant period furniture provided by Chippendale, while the gallery contains paintings by Canaletto, Raphael, Nicolas Poussin and Angelika Kaufmann. King Alfred’s Tower, erected to commemorate the Saxon king, towers over the surrounding parkland and affords fine panoramic views.
Location: Mere, Wiltshire
Old Wardour Castle
Old Wardour Castle, near Tisbury, is a 14th century structure on the edge of a beautiful lake. A battle was fought here in 1643 when Parliamentarian forces besieged the castle causing extensive damage. More recently, Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves starring Kevin Costner was filmed here. The castle’s unusual hexagonal ruins are surrounded by landscaped grounds, and are a picturesque location for picnics or a relaxing day out.
Location: Tisbury, Salisbury
Legend has it that in 1220 the Bishop of Salisbury shot an arrow high into the air from the ramparts of Old Sarum castle vowing that he would build a new cathedral wherever the arrow landed. He must have had arms like an ox or some seriously impressive divine intervention for Salisbury Cathedral is actually several miles from the castle.
Little matter. The reality is that the Cathedral he had built is probably the finest example of Early English gothic architecture in the country. It is perfectly positioned on the beautiful water meadows beside the slow-moving River Avon and topped by the tallest spire in the country (which you can climb if you have the knees and lungs for it).
It is also home to the best-preserved of the four remaining original Magna Cartas which guarantees the city a starring role in the document’s 800th birthday celebrations throughout 2015.
Salisbury and surrounding areas of Wiltshire, including Stonehenge and the market town of Trowbridge, make up one of six designated Magna Carta trails. These guide visitors through some of the most historic and picturesque parts of England from Durham and York in the north to Worcester and Hereford in the centre, Norwich in the east and Dover, Canterbury and Pevensey in the south west.
Events kicked off in February when the four surviving original Magna Cartas — from Salisbury, from Lincoln Cathedral and two kept at the British Library — were brought together, the first time this has ever occurred, for three days in London.
For the rest of the year the Magna Carta is at the heart of a myriad of festivals, fetes, exhibitions and displays, literary and academic gatherings in every city, town and village with even the flimsiest link. And a few without any connection at all.
The Magna Carta, literally the Great Charter, was essentially a political device, drawn up to settle an increasingly violent dispute between King John and 25 rebel barons. Much of it referred to specific grievances. Its enduring legacy was that it outlined basic human rights, setting the principle that no-one was above the law and everyone had the right to a fair trial.
It not only became the cornerstone of the British constitution, it influenced subsequent documents like the US Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In March the Salisbury Magna Carta was returned to a redesigned interactive display in the Cathedral Chapter House along with other historical treasures from the extensive archives.
And the Cathedral itself is well worth a detailed exploration: from medieval tombs and effigies to the arched supporting pillars bent inward under the weight of the tower. There’s a beautiful modern baptismal font which spectacularly reflects the ceiling and the brilliantly coloured stained glass windows and the bumping stone, worn away from the centuries of traditionally “bumping” the heads of new choirboys to welcome them.
It has wide vaulted cloisters and boasts the oldest working clock in Europe. Built in 1386 it’s an ingenious series of weights and pulleys that has no traditional face but sounds the hour.
Running parallel to the building is the eye-catching Cathedral Close where the clergy lived. It still has a number of the original medieval buildings as well as some elegant Georgian town houses such as the impressive Mompesson House and featured in a film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
Stonehenge, just 13 kilometres from Salisbury, remains one of the world’s great mysteries. Religious temple? Astronomical clock? Ancient burial chamber? Alien landing zone (that’s my favourite)? Truth is, nobody knows for sure. The mesmerising prehistoric circle of monolithic stones, dating back to between 3000-2000 BC and one of the most distinctive monuments in the world, still baffles experts and attracts more than a million tourists each year.
The new visitor centre, designed by an Australian firm of architects, is modern and eye catching yet sits surprisingly sympathetically in the rolling Wiltshire countryside.
Consisting of two main “pods” one of glass and one of wood, under a soft wave metal roof balanced on slender, unevenly angled metal poles. Inside, it contains an engaging interactive education centre, a cafe, shop and toilets.
The original “facilities” have been removed from their position much closer to the stones, and an access road grassed over which means Stonehenge can now be viewed not as an isolated structure but as part of a broader sweep of ancient mounds and barrows.
Visitors must walk through the gently undulating fields the approximately 2kms from the centre to the stones or take the official land-train. It always was an awesome site but now, with less clutter, it seems even more impressive.
There is more mystery at nearby Avebury which has the largest stone circle in the world, more than 100 stones believed to have been erected about 4,500 years ago. Or Woodhenge, with the remains of six concentric rings possibly part of a structure used by an early community.
From Avebury you can also see Spilbury Hill, the largest man made mound. What the circle and the mound were for, and who created them, is still unknown. Another mystery.
Trowbridge is impressively credentialed for inclusion on the Magna Carta trail. Mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1200 the town was granted one of the earliest market charters from King John.
But by 1215, Baron Henry de Bohun, tiring of the King’s constant demands for increased taxes, joined with 24 other barons to force him to seal the Magna Carta at Runnymede near Windsor. Henry, clutching the charter, is immortalised in a stained-glass window in the parish church.
Through the centuries, Trowbridge forged itself a position as a centre of weaving, first fine woollen cloth, largely for export to Europe then, when that dwindled, into coloured cloth made from the wool of Spanish merino sheep. Quick to adapt to new technology, first the spinning jenny and then the power looms, at one stage the town’s industry was so dominant it was dubbed the “Manchester of the West.”
Although not as cutesy as many of the villages and towns in Wiltshire, Trowbridge has numerous important historic buildings across a wide range of eras. Its museum, which focuses heavily on the town’s nationally important textile heritage, is a kids’ paradise. Established in one of the old cloth mills it has that real feel of living history which many of the newer and more high tech museums have lost. Here you are transported back in time in a series of historic tableaux.
No visit to any part of England is officially complete without a pint of the best local brew. Wadworth Brewery is based in the pretty town of Devizes, roughly 40 kilometres north of Salisbury and has been serving up specialist regional beers for more than 125 years.
It runs regular tours that include the opportunity to meet two of the brewery’s most popular workers, the gentle giants Max and Monty, two magnificent Shire horses who still deliver the beer to local pubs pulling the distinctive drays.
But the highlight has to be dropping in to the brewery’s own private “pub”. Here, visitors can compare the various brews like the popular 6X and the Bishop’s Tipple. Or go for something a little different like the Swordfish, created for the 100th anniversary of the Fleet Air Arm, where beer blended with Pusser’s Navy Rum. Cheers.
The writer was a guest of Visit England and travelled with British Airways.
The story of a dragon-slaying hero is legendary, but how much do we really know about the man behind the myth?
The Real St.George.
Much of St George’s life remains shrouded in mystery and mingled with myths and legend, so it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction.
◾It is thought that St George came from Cappodocia in Asia Minor, and lived at the time of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (AD 245 – 313), and became a high-ranking cavalry officer in the Army of Rome
◾To Christians, George is a historical figure who was beheaded in Lydda, Palestine (in AD 303) for refusing to carry out Diocletian’s orders for Christian persecution
◾He was canonised in AD 494, with Pope Gelasius proclaiming that he was one of those “whose names are justly revered among men but whose acts are known only to God”
So Where Did the Dragon Come From?
The dragon-slaying hero we celebrate every year didn’t actually become well-known until the 14th century, during the reign of Edward III. The story goes that St George rode into the city of Silene (modern day Libya), to find the people terrorised by a dragon which was fed daily with one of the citizens. St George rose out, slew the dragon and freed the people from their oppressor.
It is highly unlikely that St George ever visited England, but he was known here from as early as the eighth century. His reputation for virtue and chivalry became the spiritual inspiration for the Crusaders, and by 14th century the story had gained widespread popularity.
Did You Know?
◾St George is also the Patron Saint of Bavaria, Beirut, Portugal and Hungary, to name but a few. He’s also patron saint of soldiers, archers, cavalry and chivalry, farmers and field workers, riders and saddlers, and sufferers of leprosy, the plague and syphilis.
◾Baden Powell also named St George is also the patron saint of Scouts, as “St George was typical of what a scout should be.”
◾At the Synod of Oxford in 1222, St George’s Day was declared a public holiday.
◾Shakespeare died on St George’s Day 1616, and if the story is to be believed, was born on St George’s Day, 1564
English Heritage Events
Calling all knights, dragons and jesters… come and cheer on St George this April as he battles his dastardly fire breathing foe at a historic place near you.
Immerse your family in the action as you learn about England’s heroic patron saint and enjoy the range of fun and games on offer. History hunters of every age will enjoy getting hands-on and cheering our champion as he battles a mighty dragon in a quest to save the fair maiden.
Stonehenge and Salisbury Guided Tours