Salisbury Steaks, a Great Letter, and That's Some Steeple!
03.06.2004 - 04.06.2004 75 °F
THE MAD SEARCH FOR A SAFE B & B
Thursday, June 3, 2004. The day was gray, rainy and chilly. Such a cliché, I know; but it is what it is. And it was. Gray. Rainy. Chilly. Mike had not been successful in talking us out f going to Stonehenge, or as he called it,
“A big pile of rocks on the side of a road in the middle of a bloody field!’
Naomi, Vidal and I were about to take off on a 2 day adventure which was based around our seeing Stonehenge. Naomi had rented a car as hers was a 2-seater sports car and Mike needed his. The plan was to hit the road early by 11:00am (that is early for us non-morning folk), find a B & B close to Stonehenge, then explore the coast a bit. Naomi had picked up a book of B & Bs in England, it showed we had plenty of options for the area. It was a lovely 1.5 hour drive to Amesbury, a town with a few more years than Chicago (Amesbury’s church dates back to 979 AD), which is right by Stonehenge (that is to say Amesbury is, not Chicago). A darling town (Amesbury that is; Chicago is a city), but everything was booked. We hit the next town. And the next… Raining on and off, we kept searching for 2 hours. At one point, we drove right past a massive pile of rocks on the side of the road, right in the middle of a field.
WALK THIS WAY! WATCH YOUR STEP!
We turned toward a small town called Bustard; a sign directed us to the end of another road to the Bustard Inn. The road was long; we drove past fields on both sides, only a few houses dotted the surrounding area. The Inn looked charming from the outside, but the owner seemed a bit strange, and she spoke with a very strange accent. Oh, sorry! That would be an English accent she spoke with-I had forgotten where we were! “No rooms”, she said. We went back out, and noticed a few signs across the street from the Inn which warned:
‘Danger from unexploded mortar and shell bombs. On no account should any object be moved or touched. It may explode’.
Huh. You don’t say! Good thing it was booked, as I dearly love to wander barefoot through minefields… Naomi decided it was best to head to Salisbury, 20 minutes away, which we had planned to visit after Stonehenge (at a decent hour when normal people are awake), and probably best to forget about the coast for that day. We agreed.
SAVED BY THE WHITE HORSE
The sun was starting to poke its head out at us when we arrived in Salisbury. We parked on Castle Street first; Naomi said she was going to run in to check a couple of B & Bs; we could just hang out and wait so she could run faster. She came back with good news; the White Horse Inn just a few doors down had 2 rooms. At £55, it was a bit more than we had planned on spending, but at that point none of us cared. We got rooms with large windows that opened up to a great view down Castle St towards Market Square; the Salisbury Cathedral’s famous spire peeking out at us just beyond. As we had all munched on the road with the delicacies Naomi had packed (cheese and sandwiches), we were ready to head out to the famous cathedral. It was about 6 blocks away, but we decided to not pass go or collect $200 on the way and just get directly to our goal.
FRESH OUT OF MINCED BEEF STEAKS IN SALISBURY
Okay, so not all things go according to plan, but I have often found that unplanned adventures can be the most rewarding. I had only researched London and Stonehenge- but not Salisbury; I had not even researched to find out that Salisbury steak was not from Salisbury, but from the good old USA. I had not even purchased a tour guide book on England, so I was going in blind. I had heard of Salisbury, vaguely remembered a blurb somewhere about its cathedral… But we had Naomi, so we were fine, she was a far better tour guide than she gave herself credit for, she knew how to drive on the wrong side of the road with a displaced steering wheel and she could read a map.
SUCH A LOVELY PLACE; SUCH A LOVELY FACE
The town was so lovely, the idea of going straight to the cathedral was quickly scratched, deciding instead to take our time checking out our surroundings. It was a straight shot ahead down Castle Street, but being the first medieval town Vidal and I had been to, we were fascinated by everything. We meandered past the huge Market Square, past gardens and old churches.
We spotted an old Inn, the King’s Head Inn, thought it would be fitting to stop in for a cold drink; it was bloody hot with the sun now out at 72 degrees! The inner décor did not match the charming exterior; it had been bought out by some chain, which in turn converted it into a chic modern bar. We wanted none of that and returned to our wanderings.
PUT ON YOUR CLOTHES, YOUR CUTTING IT CLOSE; GET TO THE CLOSE BEFORE IT CLOSES
We meandered down the narrow brick High Street, enjoying the old buildings and shops around us. Halfway down, we saw what looked to Vidal and I like a bridge connecting some buildings. Naomi explained that it was the High Street Gate, part of the city walls which surrounded the Cathedral Close. We entered the Cathedral Close through the High Street Gate which, dating from 1327 AD, was one of 4 gates and the main entry to the Close. All gates were locked at 11.00pm every night and reopened at 7:00am; the Close closes up early, all night owls beware. So much for nightlife! Entering the Close, we went from a shopping district to a residential area, with homes from modest to stately with lovely English gardens. The Salisbury Cathedral Close is the largest close in England; stones were brought over from the abandoned cathedral at Old Sarum to build a wall around it; designed as a preserved area near the cathedral for priests and other church workers. Based on seniority and importance, they were each given between 1-3 acres of land. Hey, now we all know who ‘they’ is, and where ‘they’ live!!
LIFE IS BUT A WALKING SHADOW: MALEMSBURY HOUSE
Down the North Walk of the Close, we peeked at a few stately homes and gardens. Right before the 13th century St Anne’s Gate, we stopped to read a few plaques posted on the outer walls of the Malmesbury house of historical events that had happened there: King Charles had graced it with his presence in 1665 (hiding from the plague, or something like that), Charles II played hide and seek there during the Civil War, and the young composer George Frederic Handel Slept There, using St Ann’s Gate for his recitals. There was also a Sundial which dated from 1749 and which bears the quote, ‘Life’s but a walking shadow’, and And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.’ -John 17:3, directly below it. I had noted on a few plaques around this town referring to the Glory of God; the words were comforting; how nice it was to be in a place where it was not politically incorrect to give glory to God… Further down the Malmesbury house wall was another plaque, ‘An important timely point of interest to the passer-by’, which spoke of the reformation and adoption of the Gregorian calendar of 1749 and the above wall/dial.
KEEP THE FAITH
Our next stop would be the Salisbury Cathedral. Direct from their pamphlet:
‘…800 years old, built to reflect the glory of God in glass and stone, is one of the ancient holy places in England. Over the centuries many thousands of men and women have come here and discovered the presence of God with them. We hope that you will find God with you… You are welcome here. May God bless you as you come and as you go.’
I would just like to add an Amen and a Hallelujah to that!
THE INSPIRING SPIRE
My first full view of the cathedral took my breath away. A huge immaculate lawn surrounded it, with plenty of room to take photos of the exterior. The surrounding trees were all far enough away to allow me to take a photo and get the whole inspiring spire in. It’s probably a good thing I had not known at the time there was a guided tower tour which takes you 332 steps to the top of the spire, as I would have done it in a heartbeat.
Probably a good thing we did the Stonehenge trip within our first days in Europe and before any side trip to Italy, where we had found that tours to the tops of cathedrals to be all the rage. But we had not been elsewhere and I had not researched Salisbury; but to my delight (and her surprise), Naomi ended up being a better tour guide than she had given herself credit for. As we approached the cathedral, Naomi looked at us and said she remembered having been there before; in fact, she remembered one of the reasons it was so famous: it housed the Magna Carta. But back to the spire… Quite impressive at 404 feet, it is the tallest medieval spire in Europe; it was built about 25 years after the cathedral was finished. It towered over the town, quite literally. The hollow spire, with it’s ancient wood scaffolding, weighs in at a paltry 6,400 tons; which would later cause the great marble pillars which supported it to sag, needing restoration 40, 300 and finally 740 yrs later.
HOLY CATHEDRAL, BATMAN!
The cathedral itself was constructed in only 38 years; the cornerstone dated 1220 AD. As we went inside the cathedral, we were greeted by friendly people, in fact there were many volunteers there handing out pamphlets and offering their services. Will these Brits ever cease to amaze me? The massive gothic exterior was home to many statues- saints. The interior of the cathedral was spacious; the gothic arches seemed to reach up to heaven with their height, and yet it did not give me the eerie feeling felt by the similar aisles at the Guildford Cathedral. Indeed, it was said that the idea of building the arches so high was to have people life their eyes and thoughts to God. There was much natural light there, giving it a peaceful, joyous feeling vs. dark and somber, as many cathedrals I’ve seen have been. There of course were chapels, the organ, medieval tombs, stained glass and high altar to admire, and one other object of particular curiosity: the medieval clock. This was one clock that won’t be making faces at you; in fact, it has no clock face, period. Built in 1386, it’s the oldest working medieval clock in the world, and its bells chime on the hour to summon people to prayer.
ALL CREATURES, GREAT AND SMALL
The cathedral had a leaflet for children, ‘All Creatures Great and Small: An Introduction to the Animals of Salisbury Cathedral’. I picked it up thinking it was about animals on the grounds, but to the contrary, it had a numbered map of the animals carved on the walls. There were drawings of each of the 13 animals found in the cathedral with an educational description of each, e.g.: Picture 1 (drawing of a lion lying at someone’s feet on his tomb):
‘By the Gilder Pilot window is the tomb of Sir John Montecute. He has a lion at his feet. Can you see the gold lines in the lion’s mane? When the tomb was made there was gold paint on the lion but most has worn off. Only people who were part of a royal family were meant to have lions. Sir John had the title of “King of the Isle of Man”, so he could have a lion. Some people used a lion when they were not royal, but this was cheating.’
End quote. I Love it! If I move to England, I want the fun job of writing their pamphlets.
CHAPTER 14: THE CHAPTER HOUSE
This was originally going to be named Chapter 11 of this journal entry, but for those of you non-American readers, Chapter 11 is our filing code for bankruptcy, as are Chapters 12 and 13. Chapter 14 is a project for reformation of education, which appealed to me as a title (in lieu of trying to come up with another catchy or boring title); I added a few more entries above to put this one at 14. There are 14 Virtues on the door of the Chapter House, but more of that in a minute. The Chapter House houses the best of the 4 surviving copies of the Magna Carta, but wait- that is the following chapter! The octagonal Chapter House was built to house meetings of the clergy; they would read a chapter of the Bible at the start of each meeting, hence the name ‘Chapter House’. The interior was small yet roomy and a feast for the eyes.
Around the walls of the Chapter House was a 13th century frieze which portrayed scenes of the Old Testament books of Genesis and Exodus. The inner door had carvings that represented 14 virtues showing defeat with their feet standing upon their vices -Humility over Pride, etc. Carved heads adorned the meeting points of the arches and were supposedly features of the people who worked on it, some with very peculiar expressions. Most interesting was the head with 3 faces that faced the entrance; presumably it was of the bishop who oversaw the work, suggesting that he (or the mason, who supposedly it resembled more!) was surveying his work. The Chapter House was the only part of the cathedral where photo and video taking are not allowed (trying to keep the Magna Carta a secret? Not willing to take the risk someone might copy it to use as the base of their own country’s constitution?). I suppose it was a wise decision for two reasons: #1-big crowds of amateur photographers in small room may cause claustrophobia and/or fist fights, with budding photographers who would under normal circumstances be calm and patient finding themselves losing their cool with outbursts:
That’s my angle, you’re in my field of vision and blocking the natural light, so move it or lose it! Oh, sorry Vidal, I didn’t know that was you...”
and #2-Help raise money for the cathedral, so buy the guide book! If you are too cheap, buy a couple of postcards!
NOW THAT’S SOME GREAT PAPER! HISTORY 101: THE MAGNA CARTA OF 1215 AD
The copy of the Magna Carta is kept locked and preserved, for obvious reasons, under glass with regulated temperature and humidity control. The Magna Carta, also called Magna Carta Libertatum -Great Charter of Freedoms, represents the agreement between King John and his barons. One of the greatest constitutional documents of all times, it forms the basis of the US Constitution and others. It contains clauses providing for a church free from domination by the monarchy, reforming law and justice. It established, among other things, that the king was bound by law, that he must respect certain legal procedures; limited his powers and protected rights of his subjects, and that no free man may be imprisoned or prosecuted without fair trial before his equals. Having passed Magna Carta 101, we left the great cathedral.
DUCK, DUCK, DUCK, DUCK…GOOSE!
Crossing the River Avon, we stopped on an old bridge so Naomi the Tour Guide could give us a bit more English history, as she pointed down to the swans gracefully floating below us. Owned by the Queen of England, if you kill one, you will be killed yourself. There was even a royal post, the Keeper of the Royal Swans. I for one was impressed. You have to look at the bright side of things: for one, the queen created a job for someone in the 13th century (yes she is that old), that person may well have otherwise not been able to feed his family of 8. Second, we all must do our share to Save the Wildlife, and if this man had not been given his royal post, he may have had to kill a swan to feed his family, landing himself in the London Tower (where he might have been tempted to steal the Royal Jewels and put himself and family in further peril). You can say she killed 2 birds with one stone by creating said post (…pun intended. The Queen can get away with that, you know).
A WIG, A QUILL AND A NEW WAY INN
We strolled back to the town center,
stopping at the lovely 16th century Wig and Quill pub for cold drinks in their garden with a view of the cathedral spire while it serenaded us by ringing its bells; then went for dinner at the New Inn, a 15th century Tudor style pub for yummy traditional mash and pie.
MY BROTHER WAS A BOUNCER AT THE CAVERN CLUB FOR THE BEATLES OX ROW INN
Stuffed after dinner and still early, we walked a bit, enjoying the charm. It started to rain; we dove for shelter in the Market Square at the Ox Row Inn, a great old timbered bar full of character.
The principal character, Phil the fun bartender from Liverpool, had fun with his American client (‘You like the Beatles, love? My brother was a bouncer for the Beatles at the Cavern Club’) and his Mexican client (‘Want to pour a pint, mate?’). Two degrees away from the Beatles or not, we certainly loved him! A great day spent, we were asleep before 11pm- needing to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for Stonehenge at dawn!
IF I KNEW THEN WHAT I KNOW NOW…
I had found in some used bookstore somewhere a very thick novel called ‘Sarum’, by Edward Rutherford, a few years before our trip. It was a historical epic novel about the history of England from the Ice Age to present, and sounded fantastic. Its 897 pages put me off reading it right away; after a while I put it in a safe place to be read later, and promptly forgot about it. Ironic, as 897 pages will seem like light reading once I am through writing of our travels! I did read it a year after our trip which caused me much regret… It is a fascinating novel, based on the history of Old Sarum and New Sarum- Salisbury. The building of the cathedral and many other delightful tidbits of history are all there, and naturally I researched whatever I had read. That was how I found out that Old Sarum had been right under our noses, right down the road from our hotel, on Castle Street! A reason to go back to Salisbury? Sounds like a plan to me!
Bustard Inn: http://www.durringtonwilts.co.uk/pubs/featured/bustard.htm
Bustard Walkabout: http://www.walksandpeaks.bedsearcher.co.uk/index.cfm?fuseaction=walking.walkRoute&walkId=a358dbf5-3ad7-4c03-8afd-23f0e3407b2a
Old Sarum: http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/castles/sarum.shtml
Salisbury Cathedral: http://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/
The White Horse Inn: http://www.bedandbreakfasts.co.uk/bookingsystem/bookingsystem.asp?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.activehotels.com%2Fwl%2Fservlet%2Fxmlbrochure%2Findex.do%3Fhotelid%3D200616%26trkref%3DBBA&subid=
Sarum, by Edward Rutherford