A stunning hour-and-a-half train ride through the English countryside takes you to Salisbury, home of the famous Stonehenge. It’s an easy day trip, but I found that Salisbury has a lot to offer, and in fact, Stonehenge is the least impressive part of the town.
Salisbury has been an important site throughout human history. Over 5,000 years ago, Neolithic man was dragging huge stones, weighing up to 55 tons from Wales to Salisbury to build Stonehenge. The area was a huge settlement and is surrounded by ancient burial mounds and historical artifacts.
While Stonehenge is impressive and still one of the most important historical sites in human history, Salisbury itself is even more impressive. Beautifully preserved, this picturesque English country town offers a lot to do and will leave a far more lasting impression on me than Stonehenge.
Originally, “Old Sarum” (as the old town was called) was constructed and used by the Romans and early Saxons as a fortification. With the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, the fort and cathedral were moved to the present-day location. The new city never had any defensive walls, as it’s surrounded by rivers on three sides and located on a hill.
The city has been immaculately preserved. During the German Blitz, Salisbury wasn’t bombed, as the Germans used the church as a marker and were under strict orders not to damage it. Around the city, one can see Elizabethan, Jacobin, and Victorian-style homes all squished together down tiny streets. The town market square is very well preserved, and outdoor cafes line the area. (Of course, there’s also a church there too.)
Modernity has crept in, but not at the cost of this scenery. There’s a McDonalds and a Burger King, but you wouldn’t notice them unless you fell upon them. They don’t stick out like eyesores and blend quite nicely with the surroundings. Thank God for strict zoning laws, huh?
The highlight of this whole trip was Salisbury Cathedral. The cathedral was built in 1238 and still stands, albeit with some adjustments, 750 years later. This huge Gothic cathedral is surrounded by grass and cloistered in a little community with a few smaller churches, homes, and other buildings. Of all the churches I’ve seen in Europe, this ranks as number one.
Inside (no photos allowed), this church is laid out in the traditional cross format with an entrance at one end and the prayer area at the other. Huge ceilings and large stained-glass windows adorn the sides, and the choir and seating area line the middle. What made this church really special were the tombs inside. The walls are lined with the tombs of dead bishops, kings, and queens. They are beautifully ordained in figures and symbols from the person’s life. In the Trinity, there is a tomb that dates back to 1099. Walking past the tombs of so many historical figures, including some that signed the Magna Carta, was breathtaking, especially to a history geek such as myself. The church also houses one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta left in existence. Seeing it and the church are both free.
Salisbury can make a great day trip from London, but to truly appreciate the area, it’s better to spend a night or two. Walk around this historical town, visit Stonehenge, its little cousin Avebury, the cathedral, and journey into the country. There’s a lot to do in Salisbury, and it’s a great respite from the chaos of London.