The United Kingdom has always been one of our favorite places. It was our first posting as young newlyweds, living in a small village outside Witney near Oxford. We have returned numerous times since and over the course of the years we have revisited most parts of the island. We enjoy its history, its varied landscapes and its people. With the limestone of the Cotswold’s, the shorelines and ports of Cornwall, the rolling hills of Wales, the glens and lochs of Scotland and the Yorkshire moors, there is always something we haven’t seen, or relish to return to. So when an opportunity arose for us to return, we thought long and hard about what we wanted to do and see on this visit.
We mostly enjoy getting out into the country exploring and staying in small villages. Consequently, we planned this trip as somewhat of a walk down memory lane. After a week in the Salisbury area for work meetings, we headed out to revisit Southern Wales and the Cotswold’s. Both were our old stomping grounds when we lived there, and we had not been back to these areas in over 30 years. Our goals were to do a lot of walks (hiking), relax in some country pubs and restaurants, and enjoy the slower, tranquil pace of life in the country.
Our first stop was Salisbury. We were here three years ago and really enjoyed it, so we were looking forward to our revisit. It is a couple hours drive from Heathrow, and after a 30 hour travel day, we always try to find some stops to see something and get out and walk. As many of you know we are movie buffs and enjoy going to filming locations. This time we took a short detour to Amersham northwest of London to see “The Lucky Boatman” from “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. The Lucky boatman hotel, where Charles spends his first night with Carrie. It is actually the Kings Arms hotel that was used as the outside of the hotel. It was the Crown Hotel that was used for the interior. We went into the Crown. The inside was very similar to the movie, but it has been 25 years since so it was not exact. Still fun.
Our next stop was Winchester to see Winchester Cathedral. The current cathedral was built in 1093! It stands next to the foundations of the original church dating to 648! That is not a typo. The original foundation dates to the 7thcentury and the cathedral itself to the 11th. We were there on a Sunday, so the bells were playing, and they were starting Evensong, an afternoon service centered around singing. The cathedral is still an operating church, so there were people attending service as well as families in the gardens enjoying a beautiful sunny afternoon day. It is a truly magnificent cathedral with a massive round-arched crypt and transepts .
Our time in Salisbury was split during the day with Craig working and Jennifer touring and walking. The weather was absolutely perfect. We stayed in the Kings Head Inn, right on the bridge along the River Avon. It was a good central point for walking around the town. There is a very nice walk along the river we took each day, even some swans with goslings calling it home.
We enjoyed some of our favorite pubs and restaurants. The Haunch of Venisonwas originally built in 1320 to house the craftsman building the cathedral. It has enormous oak beams said to predate the building. In the front is a small enclosed bar called “The Horsebox”; referred as a “Ladies Snug” dating back to the times where public houses were for men only. The “Horsebox” was reputedly used by Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower during the planning of D-Day landings back in 1944. The Ox Row Innis on the market square along historic Butcher’s Row and is a great place for a pint while sitting outside and people watching. And of course Reeve the Bakeralso along Butcher’s row; our go-to place for coffee and a roll in the mornings.
Salisbury is probably most famous for its cathedral. Like many cathedrals in England, the current cathedral is actually the second major building. The first settlement, Old Sarum, was built in the late 11thcentury on a hill a few miles away. In the early 13thcentury, it was decided that a new cathedral be built and the settlement relocated to the valley below. The foundation was laid in 1220, and the main body completed in 1258, only thirty years to complete the entire structure. Truly an amazing accomplishment. Salisbury Cathedralis truly a landmark of biblical proportions. It was also the model for Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth”. Within the cathedral is the world’s oldest working clock. Not to mention one of the only remaining actual copies of the Magna Carta. The grounds around the cathedral, called Salisbury Cathedral Close, are also just as magnificent. The Bishops Grounds is actually a pasture designed to be flooded in the early spring so the Bishop’s sheep and cattle would have the first green grass of the spring.
Within the Cathedral Close is the Salisbury Museum. There are two main parts to the museum. The Wessex Gallery is an archaeology gallery of the area around Salisbury. There is the skeleton of a Neolithic archer from around 2400 BC found near Stonehenge. The remains of a Roman villa mosaic floor from the 4thcentury. The other part is a history of Salisbury. Everyday items dating from the 13th-15thcentury found during an excavation. Famous art and paintings of the area from the 18thcentury.
Our last evening there, the city centre was closed to traffic for a bicycle race. Now we were not sure exactly what this was, but the streets were cordoned off and traffic was diverted. As we walked to dinner, we heard the cheering and walked over to see what was happening. The race was actually part of a Tour Series. It is a short route through the city centre. It takes about a minute and a half to complete the route, and they ride the route for 60 minutes. Riders compete as teams with each competitor riding the circuit, and the winner is the team with the shortest cumulative lap time. It was amazing how fast they rode and the rate they took sharp corners. Fascinating.
As we left Salisbury, we reflected on what a great visit we had. We have really come to enjoy the city and the surrounding area. But after a week, our nomadic genes were catching up with us and we were getting anxious to move on with the rest of our journey. Next stop, Wales.