Wiltshire Road Trip – Stonehenge and Salisbury

Another trip, but this time a slightly later flight meaning I could sleep in until a luxurious 5a.m. Pretty good going considering I still had to pack, was exhausted from a few nights of very little sleep and being minorly hungover!  Fortunately, a green tea and berocca later I was good to go with a packed bag courtesy of about 90% input from my mum and 10% input from me, thanks mum! I live about a 10 minute drive from Edinburgh Airport so it was a quick drive and a confusing few minutes trying to get in, they have re-routed the entrance to a different part of the airport. I sailed through security and offered to give them my bag to check-in for free before settling down to listen to some podcasts for the short 50 minute flight.

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Bristol airport is tiny and so our bags were out in under 5 minutes and Juliet picked me up in the express carpark where you get a whole 10 minutes for only £1, bargain! It was so nice to see her again and as always after a couple of minutes of catch up you would never have known we hadn’t seen each other in almost 6 months! It had been Juliet’s birthday a few months back and so we had decided to do a roadtrip around Wiltshire and stay in a nice hotel for her birthday treat. Our first stop of the trip was Stonehenge, one of the Ancient Wonders of the World. It had been on my list of must see places for a long time but after reading a multitude of negative reviews I was entering with trepidation, not wanting to have expectations too high. With an entrance fee of £16.20, my expectations again began to rise, these stones must be pretty spectacular for that price.

They have created a museum and visitor’s centre at the entrance, I suppose to provide more value for money for the ticket price. It is housed in a very modern sleek building and has an impressive collection. The first section was focussed on the impact Stonehenge has had around the world, showcasing lots of memorabilia from comics to ceramics that have the famous stones. They also had a postcard wall dating back 100 years of visitors to the site. It certainly helped to give an idea of global importance when you see comics with Thor having an adventure with Stonehenge as a location. The next section was about the sight itself, what they knew about it (basically nothing, shall we just assume ritual then??), what they had found on the periphery ditch (lots of skeletons of animals and people which they believe to have been killed in quite a barbaric manner and as a result potentially sacrificed). The timeline of when Stonehenge was built in comparison to some other famous sights such as the Great Wall was another nice touch and put into context the ancient sight (3100 BC). The outside section of the museum had a lifesize stone on a cart to show both the size of the stones and how difficult the transportation would have been, really giving you an idea of how amazing it was that all those years ago people managed to construct a site of this magnitude. They have also built some traditional houses to give you an idea of how the people of this time lived, allowing you to go inside and see for yourself the fire, wood pile and thatched roof with no light due to the lack of windows.

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The centre was really interesting and certainly prepared us well with surrounding context for the Stones themselves. At this point though we decided a light refreshment was in order and so had a nice local lunch of pasties and rock cakes in the modern and reasonably priced cafeteria before catching the free bus to the site itself. It is only a journey of a few minutes along the road from the centre but the experience does add to the suspense. As we rounded the corner we got our first sight of Stonehenge. From far away the stones look like, well stones really. However, as we walked down to the footpath that loops right around them you began to have an impression of their size and the intricacies of each individual stone where you can make out faces in the rock if you look really carefully. We had downloaded the free audio guide on arrival and listened to some of it explaining about the heelstone which sits at the edge of the circle outside of the ditch that surrounds the site. We also learned that it is not a true Henge as here the ditch is outwith the main earthwork bank when usually it would be inside it. The guide really helped to answer some of our questions about the site and definitely added to the experience. We wandered right the way around the circle which was great as from each angle you could catch sight of new and different stones. Some of the original ones have fallen and so you can see them littering the floor of the circle along with some smaller stones.

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All in all I would say Stonehenge was definitely worth seeing but on the other hand, now that I have seen it not somewhere I would rush back to. Our next stop was Salisbury, a 15 minute drive South. The driving was absolutely beautiful, all rolling green fields and bright yellow rapeseed standing out like a beacon on the horizon, what a difference from the never ending highways of the US! Since Salisbury was a small town we googled some parking spots near to the Cathedral to prevent the issue of arriving with no-where to park. We opted for the Brown Street (West) carpark which was situated inside the Old George Mall. We wandered through the shops onto the main street and found a lovely café called The Boston Tea Party. It was a beautiful café with gorgeous old beam architecture and really interesting décor where we took the opportunity to sip some smoothies and eat some of the huge cakes we had bought at Stonehenge Café. The Rock Cake I had was absolutely delicious.

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After our nice rest, we wandered the 5 minutes down to the famous sight of the town, Salisbury Cathedral. As we rounded the corner and caught our first sight of it, I was wowed, the size and architecture were pretty crazy, the scale of these buildings always takes my breath away. The other thing of note was the amount of sculptures situated around the grounds of the Cathedral, this was part of an exhibition by Sophie Ryder entitled ‘Relationships’. Each of the sculptures was completely unique and a lot of them included animals such as large scale rabbits. This was a really nice extra to see and we enjoyed wandering around each of the sculptures and seeing the short and sweet title that let you decide what you wanted to get from it. After wandering around the grounds and spending some time appreciating the beautiful doors, the pitter patter of rain started and so we headed inside.

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The first thing you come across is a beautiful square vaulted courtyard that you could walk through with more sculptures and reminiscent of Harry Potter. It was one of the only Cathedrals I have seen that had this feature so really stood out for me being the biggest Potter fan! The other exhibition taking place at the time was the Magna Carta one which took place in the Chapter House, another beautiful room. For me being a lawyer, this exhibition was quite exciting for me but I would say I was probably a bit let down, it says something when seeing the room an exhibition is in is more of a highlight than the exhibition itself. We stood in line to see the official document, one of the original copies, which was the start of human rights and freedom. This all came about when the people of London decided to revolt against King John in 1215 and so created the concept of free will which of course has developed into the democracy we have today. It was interesting to see but I felt personally there was a lot more they could have done with the exhibition.

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Our final stop was the Cathedral itself which has a suggested donation of £7.50. We were swithering at the entrance and the lovely ticket collectors waved us in reminding us the donation was only suggested and by no means enforced. This was so nice and I can say to others that it is definitely worth the price for those who can afford it. There are guided tours on the hour and so we had arrived just in time for one. We joined an elderly volunteer who took us over to the edge of the main section and explained to us that the Cathedral was built in only 38 years with construction starting in 1220. She then went off in great detail to explain to us the types of stones and our attention started to wander. We headed over to see the world’s first ever clock, which was huge and interesting (or more so than different stones). The Cathedral was an interesting mismatch of old v new with a new water font installed in 2008 where the water is constantly flowing out of the edge of the 4 corners of the cruciform shape. The windows were also very beautiful, however, I would say there were a few plain windows alongside the beautiful stained ones which kind of felt like they hadn’t really finished them off properly. All in all the Cathedral was beautiful and definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

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We headed back to the car through Salisbury, stopping off at Roly’s Fudge Pantry for a sweet snack to enjoy later. They make the fudge onsite and had some warm chocolate fudge cooling when we arrived. After trying a few different flavours we decided on the traditional vanilla clotted cream which was absolutely delicious. We were spending the night in The Stones Hotel between Salisbury and Stonehenge and so decided to make our way there. The hotel reminded me a bit of a motel in the US where you drive right in situated on the edge of a main road. We checked in and enjoyed relaxing in our room for a while before dinner. The rooms were lovely and clean although a bit compact. We decided to eat at the hotel restaurant for convenience and opted for the set 2 course menu for £20. I had a mushroom soup with truffle oil which was disappointingly bland and lacking in seasoning and then had a seafood linguine which had the opposite problem of being overwhelmed by seasoning. Juliet’s gnocchi was really dry and bland too although her pudding of sticky toffee pudding was probably the highlight of the meal. A disappointing end to a fantastic first day, it was so nice to catch up with Juliet though and we were excited for the adventures the next day had to bring!

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