November 8, 2015

Salisbury & Stonehenge

A day trip to two iconic sites in Wiltshire, a county in England’s southwest.

About a month ago, I was wondering where the tallest church spire in the UK is. I found it to be ∽90 miles (less than 150 KM) from London; moreover, it turned out that the location is just a stone’s throw away from possibly the most famous pile of rocks on Earth: Stonehenge. Well, there was the plan.

I opted to see the cathedral first, to reserve the afternoon light for the Neolithic monument. Arriving in Salisbury in the morning, its streets were lifeless. Yet, seeing the 404ft (123m) tall spire towering above the town was impressive, and I was excited to see it closer.

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Morning streets in Salisbury.

The cathedral was built in just 38 years, completed in 1258. The tower was added by 1330.

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Not just the spire, the cathedral’s cloisters are also Britain’s largest.

I got inside just in time before their service and decided to stay for the mass, leaving the exploration of the interior for later.

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Modern buildings of this scale are nothing unique. But at the time of construction, cathedrals like this were sticking out of cities with small wooden houses and unpaved roads more than anything. That’s always powerful to imagine on sites like this.

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There is also one modern element worth mentioning: the “Font” (2008), a cross-shaped fountain used for baptism.

Although the water is in constant motion, the water surface is completely calm. It works as one large mirror, reflecting all the cool windows.

I was hoping to be able to climb up the tower as well; unfortunately, the only tour for today was already sold out. That being revealed, I checked out another highlight of the place, the Magna Carta, a charter written and signed 800 years ago (!), in 1215.

This is the ceiling of the room where the Magna Carta is stored.

Some years ago, I would care less about some historical writings. Although I am still a while from being a bibliophile, I will admit that I truly enjoyed the exhibited piece. Then I walked around the exterior.

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Last look, and it was time to move towards the second part of the trip: Stonehenge. Getting about 2.5 miles (4 KM) from the monument, there was a massive traffic jam. With no interest in spending the rest of the day sitting enclosed in a metal box on wheels, I stepped out and finished the rest of the distance to the site on foot.

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I really looked forward to the prehistoric set of megaliths, and after a bit of walking through the rural countryside, the icon was in sight.

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Notice the crowds; the turnout here is huge. Considering the prices, £15 per adult... pfff. What a cash cow.

They have sidewalks going to the gate from each side, which is great. What’s not is the fact that they are selling tickets at the visitor centre next to the parking lot, 1.6 miles away from the entrance. I would get over that; however, there was another issue: while the site closes at 5 p.m., they won’t sell you a ticket after 3 p.m., and when I got to the entrance, it was 2:50 – no way for me to reach the centre in time. For a country that promotes green ways of transportation like the UK does, it’s quite a shame to disadvantage anyone who cycles or walks there from any other direction than the car access, as I did.

So, I asked a security guy at the gate if they don’t sell the tickets here – negative. I explained my situation and asked about a possibility of access – negative. “No ticket, no way,” he said. “Ok,” I thought, “I’ll get one,” and started to talk about the issue with some Asian tourists who had just left the site. They had no problem supplying me with the ticket, and with that in hand, I returned to the gate. But, the security, after he saw the ticket, said, “I’ve no idea where you got this, but you didn’t buy it, so you need to get the hell out.” As he said that, he picked up his radio and told the other guards that there’s “a safety threat” and started to describe me. Then he stopped and said, “In fact, you are on private property, get out. Now!”

On the one hand, I understood he tried just to do his job. On the other, the situation could be handled much better. The ways of communication make an enormous difference. “That sucked!” I was annoyed as I walked away. But I calmed down when I got on a small hill on the other side of the valley where I had a picnic with a good view of the ‘henge.

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Eventually, the sun got to the horizon, and a bus took the last bits of the crowd away.

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When the site closed, I returned closer and did something that always brings my mood up: take some pictures.

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Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories

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