Visit Salisbury by Mouse
Salisbury, in Wiltshire is 88 miles southwest of London, 35 miles west of Winchester and 42 miles northwest of Portsmouth. And it is 10 miles south of that very famous and mysterious leftover from a very long distant past, Stonehenge. Between Salisbury and Stonehenge is Old Sarum, a ruin that dates from the iron age.
Salisbury has a magnificent cathedral (web site), which is why we visited Salisbury twice. We did not get to see the cathedral the first time in 2003. (See 2003 letter)
The town center has some very pretty half-timbered buildings and an interesting stone cross, called the Poultry Cross because it was built large enough to have an enclosed space in its center in which poultry was sold. The cathedral is in a beautiful close, that has a number of stately buildings. The cathedral itself is set off with lots of empty space in front of it. So you can get a very good look at the whole from different angles. And, across from the cathedral is a very interesting archeological museum, the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum with a sign in front of it that says something like, "Bill Bryson says that you must visit this museum immediately". Having great faith and interest in anything Bill Bryson (web site) writes, but especially anything he writes about the British Isles, we fully desired to follow his order. Of course it was an absolutely sound order.
But first, the cathedral, a previous version of which started out life in Old Sarum. The Wikipedia article in the link above opens with "The cathedral has the tallest church spire in the UK, the largest cloister in England, and one of the four surviving original copies of MagnaCarta. Now how is that for several reasons to want to see it. And the Magna Carta is on display, although you actually cannot read it. The photos on our photo page will show you many other reasons to visit this cathedral. And there also is an on-line gallery of photos of the cathedral and the environs.
That it exists at all to be enjoyed is kind of miraculous. The water table in the area is very high, so the cathedral is built on only a 4 foot foundation. A docent told us that it floats on water, a claim that we are not prepared to believe. Another great cathedral in Winchester also was built on wet ground and suffered major damage because of it. (Expensive and heroic efforts were needed to save this cathedral from collapse, as was documented in a BBC series about 5 cathedrals.) Apparently, Salisbury has not suffered a similar fate.
The cathedral was completed by around 1280,  only 38 years after it was begun.  This has to be near or at a record pace  for cathedrals.  So it is no surprise that it looks like a single complete structure, not a collection of different architectural styles.
The museum across the street from the cathedral claims to be the repository of the Pitt-Rivers collection. Indeed it has a special exhibit devoted to that collector, and many artifacts from his collection, but we are under the impression that most of his collection is in the Pitt- Rivers Museum in Oxford. At any rate the museum is devoted to the history of the area and contains artifacts from the area covering the time from Stonehenge, through the iron and bronze ages, the medieval period to the present day. Follow Bill Bryson's order. You won't be sorry.
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Intrepid Traveler
Photos of: Salisbury Cathedral     Stonehenge and Salisbury     Slideshow
and 2003 letter     2006 letter
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