The ‘Cathedral City’ of Salisbury – the largest city in the county of Wiltshire – has had some bad press lately, on account of the rather unfortunate poisoning of 4 people (including a former Russian spy and his daughter) recently.

I’d be lying if I said that the aforementioned poisonings hadn’t put at least a little bit of doubt in my mind as to whether to visit, but considering Stonehenge was on my “must do” list as Salisbury is only a few miles away (and on our morning itinerary), I was pretty keen. Add in that Salisbury Council is now offering free parking to all visitors after 12noon (I assume to encourage tourists back to the city), and our itinerary was set.

I have long loved history but it’s gotten somewhat out of control during this trip to England – it’s hard not to become a bit absorbed in the history books when a country is so jam-packed full of intriguing stories, battles and characters.

Beautiful old stores and pubs in Salisbury England

History of Salisbury/Old Sarum

Salisbury doesn’t disappoint in this respect – it’s a medieval city but it’s history dates back far longer. The earliest clear evidence of human habitation is at Old Sarum, where you can still see the remnants of the former walled city about 2 miles from modern-day Salisbury.

Although it is thought that Old Sarum was occupied at least from the days of Stonehenge (about 2500 BC), it was in medieval times when the walled settlement was at its heights. This was also about the time that Eleanor of Aquitaine – who was married to both the King of France and the King of England (albeit not at the same time) – was imprisoned by her husband, King Henry II, for supporting her son’s attempts to overthrow him. Scandalous!

Eventually, Old Sarum expanded and a grand Cathedral was erected in 1219. Today, that is the site of Salisbury Cathedral (more on that shortly). Eventually, the two places had more or less entirely merged and today the town is known as ‘Salisbury’, although you can also visit the site of Old Sarum.

Buildings by the lake in Salisbury

What to Do in Salisbury

I must admit that, considering my head was full of ideas of Novochek and Russian spies, I was hoping Salisbury would be pretty awesome to make having taken my life into my own hands worth it. As we drove through the outskirts of the town, I was not terribly impressed. In fact, when we got to the rather grungey looking carpark at Sainsbury’s, we considered turning back and seeing something else instead.

Luckily the free parking won us over.

The Kings Head Inn across the bridge in Salisbury England

I’m going to be honest, my first impressions of the heart of Salisbury were mixed. There was an absolute picturesque lake – especially with the gorgeous sun that England’s got in spades at the moment – however just next to it, two burly security guards were keeping an eye on three rather shady looking characters. Nonetheless, we wandered on down the Riverside walk it became more and more picturesque.

Not only were the streets filled with those beautiful black and white buildings that I just adore, but there was added interest with many colourful flags and umbrellas which were just made for Instagram. I have to salute whoever decided that they were a good way to “reclaim the narrative”.

Salisbury Cathedral with a blue sky

Salisbury Cathedral and the Magna Carta

After a while, we wandered through the gorgeous city walls and into the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral. I’ve seen some pretty cool stuff on my various trips to England, and a bunch of churches, but this one was particularly spectacular. It is seriously enormous, with the tallest spire in all of England.

As an aside, I did some research into what makes a Cathedral a Cathedral as opposed to a Church or a Minster. Apparently, a Cathedral is an official seat of a Bishop. A Minster is essentially a Church given a honorific for being a particularly good Church, or something like that.

The spire of Salisbury Cathedral

Anyway – back to Salisbury Cathedral. Entry into the Cathedral is by “optional” donation. I say “optional” because there is a ticket box as you enter, and if you can tell them you’re not donating then you’re braver than I am. Despite my stinginess and lack of religious affiliations, I was still prepared to pass over my seven quid.

Nonetheless, someone must have been looking kindly on us as when we got to the booth, we were informed the system was closed for the day (it was about 4:30pm) and could we use the honesty box instead. Uh, sure.

The inside of the Cathedral is just as beautiful as the outside, with amazing stained glass windows, wooden statues and carvings. As well as the huge main chapel, there are several smaller ones specifically devotes to causes such as the ill, the clergy themselves, and refugees. There was also a box where you could put in prayer requests, which I have seen before at the Chichester Cathedral, and always find really touching.

Leadlight at Salisbury Cathedral

As well as the Cathedral itself, there is another room which houses the Magna Carta. Now, despite being a massive and unashamed law nerd, I actually had no idea that Salisbury Cathedral housed one of the only original copies of the Magna Carta. Nonetheless, as soon as I heard this I rushed in to see it.

Sure enough, within a small cloaked off area (to protect it from the sun) was one of just four copies of the Magna Carta. It is, of course, in Latin so I couldn’t read it, but nearby is a handy translation including some information about its influence on the laws of today (notably, the right to habeas corpus and a fair trial).

All in all, I definitely recommend a visit to Salisbury Cathedral. It is certainly one of the most impressive cathedrals I’ve seen in all of Europe, and we all know Europe has some damn impressive cathedrals. Seeing the Magna Carta is also an unmissable experience if you have any interest in history or law (or both, like yours truly!).

Houses in Salisbury England

What Else to do in Salisbury

I really enjoyed just wandering around Salisbury taking it all in. Although it has a population of 40,000, it feels really quite quaint. There are a lot of great charity shops and tea rooms.

It’s also fun to keep an eye out for the random bits of history that just appear in front of you, such as the sign I found marking the spot where three Protestants were burned at the stake in 1556.

Plaque dedicated to three men who were burned at the stake in Salisbury

While I had a great time in Salisbury there’s plenty more on my “next time” list, thanks mostly to Tom and I’s terrible habit of being unable to pull ourselves out of bed at a reasonable hour. In particular, having read this fabulous blog post by Jaunting Jen (a fellow traveller and history love, so, a blogger after my own heart), I’d love to swing by the olde worlde Haunch of Venison pub, and check out the market that has been operating in the same place for almost 800 years (incredible).

One of the gates to the city walls in Salisbury England

Final Thoughts

All in all, I definitely recommend a visit to Salisbury – Novochek and all. All jokes aside, it’s a lovely, lovely city that is reeling a bit from what was a really unfortunate incident. Go support the local businesses and soak in the stunning views for yourself!Like this post? PIN IT!

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One Comment

  1. I love such towns and cities with a rich architecture and heritage. You have captured the essence of the place excellently in your photographs. Beautiful!

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