8 – 10 October 2010
I haven’t done any walking recently due to illness. I did, however, manage to spend last weekend in Salisbury so that we could visit Stonehenge. So, no walking of any note in this blog entry. I have “holidayed at home” for most of my life and never seem to run out of places to go. I was amused when the media recently coined the cringeworthy term “staycation”, as if it’s something new. Britain has some of the most beautiful and varied countryside going, ancient cities and pretty villages and beautiful buildings, and I don’t see why it’s looked down upon as somehow inferior to going abroad.
Stonehenge is the subject of my favourite rant against travel snobbery. A few years ago I met a woman who was the classic travel snob, totally full of herself and looking right down her nose at me whilst telling me how she’d been to Africa, Asia and the Americas. Self-important tales of trekking up the Inca Trail and along the Great Wall of China, sailing down rivers in India and probably bribing a few Soviet policemen. And yet she’d never been to Stonehenge, even though it’s only a two hour journey from London. It’s one of Britain’s most important places and many people consider it to be one of the Wonders of the World. It just didn’t make sense.
While I’m on this subject: I’m not particularly well travelled when it comes to the world at large, but me and my partner are the only people I know who have been to Shetland and attended the Up Helly Aa celebrations, which I consider to be one of the coolest things I have ever done.
Anyway, Salisbury is a lovely place in its own right; I think a lot of people think that the whole point of going to Salisbury is to go to Stonehenge, which is a bit of a shame really. We stayed at a B&B opposite Salisbury Cathedral, home to the tallest church spire in the UK and the oldest working modern clock in the world. There are tours you can go on where you get to climb 332 steps up to the base of the spire, however as mentioned above I haven’t been very well recently, so I didn’t have the energy.
There are several works of modern art, both inside and outside the building.
On Saturday afternoon we visited the Charter Market which takes place every Saturday and Tuesday. Amongst other things you can buy local produce including cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables, wines and liqueurs, jam and sauces. We ate our evening meal at a pub called The Cloisters which is on Catherine Street and serves excellent food.
Our journey to Stonehenge the next day was by way of the Stonehenge Tour Bus. The price per person was £18 to include unlimited bus journeys and the entrance fee to Stonehenge and Old Sarum.
There’s no doubt about it, Stonehenge is an impressive place, however I did feel a bit let down by how over-commercialised it seemed to have become. The very fact that you have to pay to get in is a huge bone of contention anyway, especially when you consider that Avebury is free and anyone can just walk up to the stones and touch them. Look, I know Stonehenge has been at risk from vandalism by a minority of idiots ruining it for everyone else. I don’t mind paying for the audio tour. I’m glad there are public toilets there, and I realise they have to pay someone to clean them. I don’t even particularly object to there being a cafe, overpriced as it is, as anyone can opt out of buying stuff. What I do see as a problem, however, is that the ropes around the stones seem to be a considerable distance away from them, so you get a fairly good overall view but you can’t appreciate them up close.
There’s no doubt that it’s a special place. It’s fascinating to think about why it was built and how they managed to build it. But I don’t think it’s really possible to appreciate the true enormity of the structure unless you can go right up close to it. I know there have been problems in the past, and it’s a popular site, and a lot of wear and tear has taken place, but there surely must be a better way. If they really have to charge people to get in, they could at least let people walk that little bit closer to the stones. In fact, plenty of people don’t pay the entrance fee at all and just take photos through the wire fencing along the road. Maybe if more people followed suit, the situation might have to change.
As it happens, there are private tours which happen outside of the standard opening hours, either early in the morning or late at night, where you can go inside the stone circle. But the prices are kind of extortionate. Things have gone too far.
The next stop on the bus tour was Old Sarum, a ruined castle and cathedral, which was definitely worth a visit. I have no objection to the entrance fee there because you can touch everything and walk through the rooms. In addition, the upkeep of the site is very clear so it’s a lot more obvious where your money is going.
From Old Sarum you can quite easily walk back into Salisbury, but we took the bus because I was exhausted. A lovely late lunch was eaten at the Ox Row Inn.
All in all, Salisbury is a good choice for a quick weekend away; we also met some American tourists who were there as part of a week-long tour of Salisbury, Glastonbury, Cheddar and Bath, which sounds like a good plan. Just be prepared to have mixed feelings about Stonehenge.