Wiltshire-Old Sarum and Stonehenge, 08 April 2007
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08 April 2007

So today I'm planning on taking it easy. I'll go see Old Sarum and maybe goof around town a bit, a little hiking but I don't want to go huge distances, still tired from yesterday. But today, Old Sarum is an intriguing circle thing on the map. Later history that I learned, used to house a royal castle in like 1100 and 1200 and the original Salisbury cathedral which was abandoned when the one in town was built. Hmm, used to be a rotten borough too, sending to Parliament even after nobody lived there.

Think I saw a few thrushes in the garden in the morning. Not great with bird identifications, that's my best guess so far. But setting off, much lighter load today, just a single bag with a few things I need for the day. Didn't have any mechanical problems or flat tires or anything on the whole trip, that was good, although I do seem to have an annoying click in one of my pedals now. Tracing backwards from the way I came yesterday and then saw, oh look, a path going along the river, I'll follow that for a while. I believe it was part of a Sustran route, 45 or 24 or something. They are all rather frustrating because the exact routes don't seem to be published anymore and sometimes they are well marked on the roads but at times they just completely disappear and you are lost for a bit.

Up the river, through a park, off into a residential neighborhood, then see a sign for a bridal way heading towards the hill. Time for a hike then. Easy across a pasture and then it starts to climb into the woods. A few times the trees break and I get a nice view of the Avon valley in the distance. I generally try to imagine what it was like for whoever back when. Going through deeply wooded sections of upstate New York and how people moved through that hundreds of years ago. Or what climbing up this hill, through the woods, would have been like in the Iron Age and then later when there was a castle and cathedral at the top.

I come to the outer ring of earthenworks and have to continue around until there is a land bridge to the inner ring and proceed up to the plateau at the top with a number of people milling around the ruined foundations of the cathedral and old bishop's palace. A backpacker asks me which way Amesbury is and where the river goes. I point it out, that way, and check the map to double check that I'm actually right. Love the map holder, by the way. I still feel bad about mutilating the OS maps, folding them in strange ways to fit them in there, but it is fabulous having where I am just right there in front of me all the time. Ok, I'm slightly obsessive about maps.

There are a bunch of plaques with blah blah information about what's left, I read them all. The ruins are interesting but not all that much. It is a bit hard to get a sense of it all from just some vague outlines of what is left. But upward to the castle. I get to use my English Heritage card, get to go in for free, across the bridge. The metal scaffolding around it doesn't make it seem very rustic and all, but must be constrained by lots of safety regulations.

There isn't much left of this castle either but loads of plaques try to give you a flavor of it all, big tower used to be here, royal privy over there, see the pits they used to make people climb down and scoop out, used to be a bridge over there, now you are in the basement of the tower, etc. It is Easter and they have organized Easter egg hunts and things like that (fair amount of people there today). Actually the hunt was huge plastic eggs with letters on them, you find them and write the letters down on a piece of paper. For kids only, what's up with that.

Back on the bike and riding down the steep road on the front of the hill. Not exactly sure where I'm going next, but I saw an interesting looking byway heading north, I figure I'll try that. It is a bit rocky and bumpy but I guess I've already gone through worse, so it is fine. Again, it is a relief to be off the busy roads too. After a mile or so, I figure I'm already headed that way and it isn't all that far, I might as well go to Stonehenge today, which I had sort of thought I would do tomorrow on the way back to catch my train out.

I switch to the quiet road that follows the river and it is nice that way for a while. Crossing the river at Woodford, there is an inviting grassy beer garden by the river with a pub. Lunch takes forever to arrive but it isn't like I had a whole lot of choice, a busy Easter Sunday, not a lot of open places to go.

At the crossroads into Amesbury, I have a choice, do I go left to Stonehenge or right into town, well, there is a green patch on the map with fort and abbey written on it. The fort, as far as I can tell, was on private land with no access but the church was pretty nice, a fantastic oak door, and an eager volunteer handing me a laminated board with all the highlights of the interior spelled out. The abbey, I'm not sure, maybe it is gone, there was a large retirement home there in a parkland, the building looked somewhat recent, with in the last hundred years or so. Was this the abbey that Guinevere retired to after King Arthur died? I assume that's long gone though.

But ok, back to the left then, time to see some big rocks. I was a bit worried about getting there, the map showed the only way to get there is on a major motorway. Luckily there was a path that followed the majority of the way, ending right as I got to Stonehenge. Now, I jokingly had thought before I got there, I've seen Carhenge (a exact replica in cars in a Nebraska cornfield) (Pictures I took of it in 2001) and won't Stonehenge be a bit disappointing after that?

Funny enough, in some ways it was. The whole area is fenced off, there were a few people milling around outside the fence taking pictures through the wires, didn't want to pay the admission price to go in. They have the actual monument roped off and you can walk around it but can't actually get that close. Being able to touch the cars in Nebraska and feel the scale of it, I think that made all the difference. I think it is hard to appreciate the whole feat of the stones and all that from a distance. It would have helped to been able to touch the rocks and feel their weight.

Absolutely rubbish bike racks there too, stupid ones that you can basically lock your wheel up. I already felt a bit freaked out by only having brought one lock with me, not even the heavy one at that, then these crappy racks was the worst. So yeah, free admission with the English Heritage card, underpass under the road and into the fenced off area. They had those little audio guide things but that seemed more annoying so I didn't bother.

So, you walk around, taking pictures, thinking wow, that's pretty impressive, and then what. There was a flock of sheep in the pasture behind and I have to imagine they are the most photographed sheep in the world. Sat in the back part of the circle for a while, looking at the map, plotting where next then. So enough of Stonehenge then, finished the rest of the circle around and headed out. A couple of cyclist were sitting by the racks, but more on them later. My bike was still there, that's good.

Back on the byways then, I take another grassy/rocky path over Wilsford Down, a few mounds and barrows on the way. Back to the main roads, a nice fast ride down to Stoford and down into Wilton. So again in town, a slightly lost, the roads themselves don't bother to tell you, I'm the red road on your map, that's the yellow one over there, and you shouldn't go on that one there since that's the green one. And no green dots anywhere for a Sustrans road. I go by Wilton House, and peek in the gate, seems pretty but it is probably closed by now and I don't care all that much. Then there is a church tucked away on the corner of a busy intersection, St. Peter, Fugglestone, parts of it dating back to the 13th Century.

On my way out the other side, there are a few cyclists across the street yelling and waving at me. They have lost the rest of their group and the Sustrans route, do I know where it is. Checking the map, probably there but I'm not sure. The rest of their group shows up (some of them from Stonehenge earlier) and I'm briefly adopted by them on the few miles back to Salisbury. The route back is actually fairly nice and mostly quiet and they are pretty fast.

In Salisbury, I break off and head down towards the cathedral. I didn't think it would still be open but it was. Part of it was closed so I couldn't see one of the four surviving original copies (hmm, original copy) of the Magna Carta, oh well. The cathedral is impressive inside, a bit odd for a cathedral since it was built in a single 40 year or so period, so unlike most cathedrals built over centuries, it is built in a single style. There is a cool old 700 year old clock too.

On the map, the area to the south of the cathedral looks intriguing, bits of blue stripes of water with the Old Mill at the end of it. The area is water meadows, marshy with channels cut through them to drain and move the water around. It is also the area that Constable painted a few pictures of the cathedral from.

Back to the room to drop my bike off and go searching for food. I walk for a long time, end up back down by the Old Mill again, thinking I might eat there but the place looks all fancy and I wasn't really in the mood for fancy. Back into town and wandering more, getting late, worried that things might be closing, just go into one place, which also turned out to be somewhat fancy and it took forever. I made the mistake of starting to read my book again halfway through dinner and when the waitress came and tried to grab my plate, hey, I'm not done yet. So, she didn't come back for a really long time after that. So, I sat and sat and sat waiting for my bill but she seemed to be ignoring me, although she was running around like crazy most of the night. 30 minutes later, I'm so very tired, it was such a long day and now sitting here forever. I never know if you are supposed to tip people, sometimes they sneak it in the bill, sometimes they say not to, but here I just wanted to go to bed, the card/pin reader didn't ask if I wanted to leave one, I just wanted to go to sleep.

Back to the room, soon asleep.

The path up to Old Sarum. Link

Outer ring of earthenworks.

Remains of the old Salisbury Cathedral (which was moved to the center of town.)

The moat around the castle.

Bridge to the castle.

Remains of the cathedral.

Heading north from Old Sarum.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

A bridge over the Avon.

River Avon in Upper Woodford..

Abbey Church of St Mary and St Melor in Amesbury.

Stonehenge off in the distance.

Stupid rubbish bike racks at Stonehenge.

No, I didn't bother getting the audio thing.

But does it compare to Carhenge? Pictures from 2001

People too cheap to pay the admission price.


Past Wilton House.

Church of St. Peter, Fugglestone, Wilton. link

Briefly adopted by this bike group.

To Salisbury Cathedral.

Model of what Old Sarum would have looked like in the 13th Century.

Fantastic old clock.

Down south towards the Old Mill and the water meadows. Constable painted around here.

Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows John Constable - 1776 - 1837 - Constable exhibited this painting at the Royal Academy in 1831, but continued working on it during 1833 and 1834. One of his last major landscapes, it represents the culmination of his numerous treatments of Salisbury Cathedral. Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral from the River' was painted about a decade earlier around 1820. Salisbury Cathedral is seen here from the north-west, with Long Bridge over the River Avon on the extreme right. The most striking feature of the composition is the arching rainbow. However, Constable appears to have introduced this at a late stage in planning the picture. Much of the atmospheric effect of the painting is achieved by Constable's extensive use of the palette knife in addition to the brush.

'Salisbury Cathedral and Leadenhall from the River Avon' In the foreground, the River Avon; right, the Canonical House, Leadenhall, which Constable's friend, Archdeacon John Fisher, was granted for life in 1819; left, the grounds of King's House in front of the Cathedral spire. The painting was made when Constable stayed with Fisher.

Back to the cathedral again near sunset.