Thursday, 13 September 2012

Escape From the Carnival Part 1: A Trip to Salisbury

No Druids Here!
Where: Salisbury and Stonehenge
When: Carnival Weekend 2012

Every August we suffer with the same dilemma, do we embrace the Notting Hill Carnival or run to the hills, henges, and mountains or wherever else seems quiet, peaceful and relaxing?  The last few years we have managed to escape abroad but this year we stayed in the UK and after trawling the English Heritage website for things to do we settled on Salisbury as it was a cheap train fare and there was enough for us to do to keep us out of the house from morning till night.  We set off early in the morning to Waterloo where we arrived with plenty of time for our train and settled in with an M & S breakfast of fruit and pastries for the 90 minute ride into Salisbury.  Before we knew it we were there and after a squeeze through the crowded ticket gates we found ourselves at the bus stop for the tourist bus to Stonehenge.

The tourist bus is timed to leave shortly after the London train arrives and you can easily spot which bus it is from the sign and the queue of assorted accents waiting underneath.  The hop on hop off bus the goes from the station to Stonehenge, Old Sarum and back to town again.  The fare is £20 including entry to Stonehenge and a pre-recorded tour in English that 75% of the occupants talk over as they don't understand a word of it. Thankfully for the non-English speaking tourists aboard the bus the audio guides at Stonehenge had a much larger range of languages.  The bus takes the scenic route through town and the not so scenic stop at Salisbury Bus Station before taking the road towards Stonehenge.  One big advantage of the tour bus is fast track entry to Stonehenge which on a busy day is great as you bypass the whole queue and go straight through to pick up your audio guide.  It's not quite the stuff of VIPs but it is a great time saver.

To access Stonehenge you need to pass through a small tunnel under the road and on the other side you are treated to Stonehenge itself.  I'm not a particularly spiritual person but the effects of walking around Stonehenge are something special, contemplating the mammoth effort it would have taken to erect such a structure that still stands many thousands of years later.  The most amazing thing is despite all the examinations of the site nobody really knows what it was built for or exactly how the stones were transported to the area.  Although the area and Stonehenge itself is quite small we spent an hour wondering around the site listening to the audio guide and taking photos.

We then hopped back on to the hop on hop off tourist bus and headed to Old Sarum.  We weren't expecting much from Old Sarum as when we passed it on the way it just looked like a couple of ruins laid on top of a hill.  Thankfully this couldn't have been further from the truth.  Old Sarum was actually the town that was abandoned before Salisbury was formed.  Luckily for us there was also a theme day complete with Knights in armour, medieval cooking and activities and entertainment for those with young ones.  Additionally Old Sarum also provides amazing views out over the countryside and again, luckily for us we got to see some old fashioned aeroplanes fly over and people parachute jumping out of them.  After all that excitement it was time to head into town and pay a visit to Salisbury Cathedral.

A short bus ride on the hop on hop off bus later and we were back in Salisbury town centre.  The town centre is typically quaint and English filled with plenty of pubs and tea & cake places that reminded us a lot of Canterbury.  The cathedral is not hard to spot as it has the tallest spire in the UK!  We arrived a little later than planned but thankfully we had enough time to have a quick look around the cathedral but not quite enough time to catch the Magna Carta exhibit as it was closing just as we had arrived.  The roof and colour of the cathedral interior was quite special and although we had to rush we managed to get a few nice pictures and soak up the atmosphere before evensong started.  We then had a short walk in the cathedral grounds and took a few more pictures before heading back into town.  As it was too early to eat we had a walk through the town centre and along by the river.  It really was a perfect early evening for a relaxing walk.

We then headed towards the pub we had picked out from Trip Advisor, The Cloisters.  It was set in a nice old fashioned building but was very quiet on arrival.  We actually ended up getting table service which I always find a bit odd in a pub.  We started off with a couple of much needed pints whilst reading the menus.  A while later our waiter came back to take the orders, he was nice and polite but there seemed to be an air of the disorganised and unkempt about him, something I can be equally guilty of myself.  I ordered the lamb shank with veg and my partner ordered the burger and chips.  After a reasonable wait the food came.  The lamb was nice and tender and fell right off the bone.  However, for me the meal was spoiled slightly by the inexplicable serving of some over boiled, unseasoned canned vegetables on the side.  They were completely unnecessary and took away a lot from a decent piece of pub food.  Apparently the burger was pretty good as well.  We also ordered dessert and coffees which seemed to throw our waiter a bit but we got two large and rather lovely warm slabs of chocolate fudge cake and some decent coffee.  It was a really nice way to finish the meal.  We were accidentally double billed for one of the items but it was instantly taken care of without question.  Overall it was a good meal to set us up for our trip back home to London.  It was a shame the pub was so quiet and lacking in atmosphere, maybe we were just there too early in the evening as there only seemed to be a table with tourists and two men that spent more time going out for a cigarette than eating or drinking.

We took the short walk back to Salisbury train station along a road filled with sweet little houses and after managing to avoid the drunk patrolling the platforms we were on the train and headed back to London to see if our flat was still in one piece.  Walking back from White City the signs were not too bad, just a few groups of harmless drunks until we turned into the road near home with a large crowd spilling out into the road from both sides thanks to the take away and the pub.  Thankfully the noise didn't really spill over at all and it was nice and peaceful by the time we got home.  With the first day of the carnival successfully avoided we needed to catch some sleep as tomorrow we would hit the town tourist style!

Stonehenge Tour Bus
Salisbury Cathedral
The Cloisters 83 Catherine Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 2DH

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