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
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
The Cloisters 83 Catherine Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 2DH