As some of you may recall, Salisbury Cathedral and the surrounding area is one of my most favourite places in the whole world. In all honesty, it’s one of those places where I honestly don’t think I will ever get tired of going to. After all, I’ve been there probably five or six times now and it STILL amazes me and still strikes me with such awe that I don’t think any other British cathedral ever has.
The cathedral that today sits in the city of Salisbury (or New Sarum as it’s actually known as, and on many city documents is actually called New Sarum) wasn’t actually the original building. Just a few miles to the north lies the old Iron Age hillfort of Old Sarum and it was there that the first cathedral was built – however due a number of reasons including lack of access to water and dodgy weather, the Bishop asked Rome if he could move the building down into the valley where two rivers joined. Legend states that one of the soldiers based in the keep at Old Sarum stood upon the ramparts and fired an arrow, the Bishop stating that wherever the arrow landed would be where the cathedral would be built. Except the arrow hit a white deer who ran until he died – the spot now being where the cathedral now stands! The building sat within The Close was started in 1220 and it took 38 years to build the entire thing without the spire and the beautiful West Front that is so iconic. The spire itself was added and finished by 1320.
Today, the other half and I took ourselves off to Salisbury for a visit. Originally we’d planned to visit the Cathedral, museum AND Old Sarum however once we got to the Cathedral we were just so enamoured with the place we found ourselves there for hours. This wasn’t just wandering around the building itself though. We also booked up for a tour of the tower which finished on a balcony just below the iconic spire.
I have to say that I found it particularly interesting about how the cathedral was built – the whole thing has foundations of just 4ft, and it sat on a bed of gravel and water. Amazing that the massive building can be held up on just that! Not only that but the amount of stone it took to build – thousands and thousands of tons worth of stone being transported from quarries not all that close.
It truly was a wonderful visit, and I’ll be spending a bit of time soon writing about the history of the building itself as well as the surrounding area as it truly is fascinating. As well as that, we had the opportunity during our guided tour to see the best surviving copy of the Magna Carta – a truly amazing piece of work, which still holds sway in many countries laws today – so expect something on that soon.
I have to say that I was particularly impressed with the guided tours, all of which are done entirely by volunteers. The gentleman who took our group around really knew his stuff, telling us all about how the place was built, pointing out the really interesting parts of the cathedral such as the tomb of one guy who had been a big part in the Wars of the Roses.
My highlight HAD to be the tour of the tower. We went up in a very small group and our tour guide was brilliant. I even managed to catch him out on something to do with Charles II, ending up in him asking me if I was a history teacher. Gotta say though? 332 steps is a HELL of a long way to climb and it’s not for the faint of heart – but it’s definitely worth it to get a bit more information on the tower itself and how it was built. It’s amazing how the builders managed to work out ways of keeping the timber supports up without nuts and bolts, using a simple peg method instead. They even used this on the iron supports used higher up the tower! A very simple method and yet? It worked. The medieval builders were definitely very very clever people.
All in all, a fantastic visit and one that will be repeated soon. Next time, hopefully we’ll be able to get up to Old Sarum and elsewhere in the city. If you like medieval religious structures as well as the history behind them then I definitely recommend heading to Salisbury as it is particularly beautiful and really good value for money.
Keep an eye out for upcoming posts on the monastery of Alcobaca in Portugal, as well as bits and bobs on Chantry Chapels, The Magna Carter and other interesting bits and bobs I’ve picked up.