Salisbury Cathedral (via Stonehenge)

This post is my attempt to draw together the experiences of five visits to Salisbury Cathedral (with a couple of rather chilly stops at that bleak stone circle in the middle of Salisbury Plain) and to convey some of my personal affection for this very special place. I’ve searched and searched for my photographs from the 2002 visit because they included pictures of Old Sarum, the original, ancient walled town which lies some three miles from the current city centre. This deliberate relocation in the thirteenth century was caused by an acrimonious division between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities of the day and is the reason for the marvellously unified architectural style of this cathedral which undoubtedly contributes to its unique character.

That particular set of pictures has not yet come to light so I have had to “borrow” a couple in order to tell the story a little more clearly, as I have for my 2004 moonlight visit during which I had no camera with me and therefore had no photographs to subsequently mislay. On a freezing cold January evening, I arrived after sunset from the railway station to one of the warmest welcomes I have ever received at a place of worship. Perhaps it was the affectionate greeting from Wolfie, the Cathedral Cat, the distinctive sound made by the metal gears of the great medieval clock or possibly the fact that I just managed to get a hot drink before the cafeteria closed but, whatever the reason, I felt both comforted and consoled. For this was not one of the happiest periods of my life.

Despite the fact that a keen eye will discern that other English cathedrals have been chosen to illustrate their covers, Salisbury was most likely the inspiration for both Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles and William Golding’s prizewinning novel, The Spire. It has to be admitted, however, that John Constable’s paintings, beloved of biscuit tin designers the world over, illicit no such confusion. Not surprising then, that this masterpiece of the perpendicular was high on the list for Sandy, my Texan friend, during her whistle-stop tour of England in 2007. Her visitor’s eye certainly took some of the best pictures in my collection and those I have been able to include.

Zoltan, my Hungarian visitor, took some shots on his mobile phone when we visited with Lou from Switzerland in 2010 and it is his photographs of the “oldest working clock in England” and the controversial new baptismal font that I have had to rely upon for this post. And yes, Molly was welcome to go inside, which I thought was a charming invitation as I had only asked whether she could remain in the cloisters out of the worst of the weather. Apparently the Nativity service at Salisbury takes place with a full cast of animal participants including a particularly bad tempered camel. One year I must take the grandchildren.

In 2011 I returned with Chris when we were in the city for a piece of his art history research and, although the staff confirmed that Wolfie was in good health, he was nowhere to be seen. A service meant that we could only visit the cloisters and the nave on that occasion but it was good to be able to check on the progress of the restoration (and visit the tea shop). Chris swears that he didn’t take any photographs of the cathedral on that day but if he did I’m afraid that they’ve disappeared somewhere into his British Library sized archive.

I’m not going to apologise for not reproducing a guide book type chronicle of Salisbury cathedral’s history, all the information is easily accessible on-line and I’ve forgotten most of it anyway. I did visit a six hundred year old inn nearby once: you know, the one where the craftsmen working on the spire used to drink, the one with the original pewter bar and the mummified hand. Oh, what is it called? I’m sure I took a picture, now where have I put it?

More and better photographs of the cathedral will no doubt be forthcoming but at least, to my delight, I found the family shot of Stonehenge with people wandering freely amongst the stones with not a barrier to be seen.



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