Salisbury Plain

We left home Sunday morning, all packed and ready for adventure. We went to worship, in the lovely 13th and 14th century Church of England church, which we regularly attend. The Vicar, a rather funny bloke, welcomed the crowd with a “Happy Independence Day”. Remember, I'm in ENGLAND... they shouldn't be celebrating the day we stole 13,505,852,850,961 square miles of prime real estate, but hey, its been over 200 years, and the blokes will take any excuse to blow things up, so... they celebrate with us.

I also have to note that Sunday, July 4th was predicted by Nostradamous to be the end of the world. Antony, the Vicar, who could see the sense of alarm on the faces of his people (sarcasm, folks, most of em hadn't even heard of it, LOL) said, "The official Church of England stance on this prediction is that we give it no credence. If we are wrong, we will reconsider our position on Monday."

So, we prayed and worshipped and had a lovely time, were sent off on our trip with prayers for traveling mercies. We set out on the first leg of our trip... to Stonehenge, Salisbury, and Old Sarum.

Well, turned the radio on to my favorite oldies station, and lo and behold, they were celebrating Independence Day, too. All-American Music, all day long. In between every song, the DJ wished us a wonderful Holiday, yadda, yadda, yadda... I had to laugh when they put ABBA on... ABBA is Swedish, was adopted by England, and was not nearly as popular in the states as they were in Europe, but hey, how much American music could they possibly have (more sarcasm folk).

I did turn off that station when they played John Philips Sousa... There are just some things I prefer to leave in America, thank you very much.


Our first stop was Stonehenge, an ancient rock circle. Since this was not my first trip to this incredible place, I won’t spend much time talking about it, except for sharing a few new perceptions. Remember, the last time I went was in February, we paid for special access, so were in the site after house, just my sister and I. It was quiet and restful. Most importantly, we were able to walk right into the stone circle. (If you are new to my mailing list and have not read my previous account of Stonehenge, please let me know, and I’ll send it out to you ASAP.)

Since we did not want to be tied down with a schedule, we decided not to reserve special access tickets for this trip. It would be more difficult to see some of the wonders of the circle, but we could still enjoy the view. It was rather crowded for a Sunday afternoon, and we had some difficulty finding a parking space. We wandered into the site, amazed at the number of people. Most were carrying a portable tape player that gives an audio tour of the site. I fought the urge to jump the rope and run in the midst of the circle (after all, 20 people were arrested at the summer solstice for crashing the modern Druid’s little party in June). I was able to point out some fascinating bits about the circle to my family, sharing some of the knowledge I gained my previous “up-close and personal” trip to Stonehenge. I noticed that some folk were nonchalantly sticking close by as I gave my tour, listening to the little bits that they don’t normally tell you, like the fact that the Devil wears a size 11 men’s shoe.

Oh, you want to hear about that? Well, among the many legends connected with Stonehenge, including King Arthur (but more about him in upcoming travelogues), is a story about the Devil’s temper. This legend talks of a day when the Devil himself was hanging around Stonehenge one day and something upset him. He kicked one of the uprights of the central trilithon, which sent it crashing to the ground, leaving an imprint of his foot on the stone.

What is my opinion of Stonehenge? I believe it is an incredibly built astronomical marvel, one that shows the intelligence, strength and capability of those who built it. It also offers such a mysterious presence that it has been the subject of many misunderstandings that are today accepted as truth, including the mysterious Druids who at one time may have used Stonehenge. One thing is for sure, there is no archeological evidence of Stonehenge being part of any religious group that did human sacrifice. As a matter of fact, the most recent evidence has shown the Druids to be priests of a peaceful, progressive society. Most of the ‘legends’ that talk about it being a barbaric civilization are based on the writings of Julius Caesar (who wrote about a corrupt Gaulish Druidism). The Victorians, who were really a rather morbid generation, also created their share of misinterpretations. After all, as they say, “Every generation gets the Stonehenge they want and deserve.” One more note about our stop at Stonehenge. As we wandered around the grounds, I took notice to the people who were there. I couldn’t help but think of the prophecy from Nostradamous about the end of the world and wonder if any of those folk were there, waiting for their ‘ride’ off the planet before the aliens blew us up.

More Stonehenge Adventures

Old Sarum

We left Stonehenge and continued a few miles down the road to a place called Old Sarum. For those of you who have read “Sarum”, by Edward Rutherford, you will know this to be the original castle and site of the first cathedral of Salisbury. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it, especially if you have the patience to read a 1000+ page book about the history of England. Nothing much remains of this community, except the evidence of peoples from the Neolithic age, the Iron Age, Romans, Saxons and the Normans.

Built on a large hill, overlooking the River Avon, you can still see some of the walls of the Norman keep and later palace. We spent a great deal of time wandering through the labyrinth of rooms, peering down holes, walking along the ramparts. It is a typical castle ruin, with a grassy bailey where the kids can run and jump and play. You can almost imagine what it would have been like when the people lived there so many years ago.

Apparently Old Sarum was the sight of mint during Saxon times. The community was untouched by the Vikings because they paid Danegeld (tribute money). But the people of Sarum were unable to avoid the Normans. When William the Conqueror came from Normandy, he brought with him many people who took positions of importance in government and the church. One such person is Osmund, believed to be William’s nephew, and who eventually became William’s chancellor. Osmund became bishop of the newly created diocese at Old Sarum. Osmund built the new cathedral endowing it with much land, but not taking a role in its management. He set new standards in running a cathedral. Instead of a monastic society, Osmund established a canonry, which lived in separate quarters under the direction of a group of officers. The cathedral was finished in 1092, and just 5 days after its consecration, a storm loosened much of the masonry. In 1100, work was begun to expand and rebuild the cathedral, but by the end of the 12th century, work was begun to move the cathedral 4 miles to the current location. The new cathedral was founded in 1220, and the building was complete in 1250, although the fabulous spire was not added until the 14th century.

The old cathedral was abandoned in 1226, and much of the stonework was used in the new cathedral. Old Sarum virtually died with the removal of the cathedral, as the principal people went to live in the shadow of the new cathedral. By 1540, not a building was left standing in Old Sarum. Interestingly, though, Old Sarum continued to send members to Parliament until 1832…

What of our beloved Osmund? When he died in 1099, miracles were claimed to have taken place at his tomb in the cathedral. One man was cured of paralysis. Two hundred years later, he became St. Osmund. His simple tomb still rests in Salisbury cathedral, the next step on our journey west.

Old Sarum

We were staying in a Travel Inn in Salisbury. We checked in to the hotel, then drove into town, to see what there was to see. Being a Sunday evening, nothing was open, except the cathedral, so we wandered through the quiet town, window shopping and enjoying the pleasant atmosphere of a bustling town that was at rest.

Salisbury Cathedral is an awesome building, with the tallest spire in England, an amazing 404 feet. As is true of all these ancient buildings, there was scaffolding hiding much of the outside, placed there for restoration and cleaning, desperately needed. It is sad to say, but those cars we use to make our lives more convenient, truly do destroy these magnificent buildings, leaving a layer of black dirt on the stone. Careful cleaning of the spire has made it shine, and they are continuing to clean the rest of the cathedral.

Around the close and inside the buildings, was an exhibition of modern sculpture called, “Shapes of the Century”. Bruce was rather offended that they would use a house of God as a gallery for so called “art”. I enjoyed looking at some of the pieces, outside the cathedral, but I do have to admit that there were several inside that just did not offer an intrinsic value. I’d like to share about one piece that I found fascinating. One corridor of the cloisters was closed to public traffic. There on the ground were 40,000 clay people, ranging in size from about 4 to 7 inches in height. I wish I had the information sheet about this sculpture to give you more information, but I am hoping my photo of it will do it justice. Words just do not describe the emotion of seeing those 40,000 little clay faces staring at you.

As you may recall from my previous travelogue about Salisbury, the Chapter House holds one of the two viewable copies of the original Magna Carta, so we took a moment to see that. Afterwards, we spent some time wandering around the cathedral, looking at the medieval clock, which is the oldest clock in England made in or around 1389. It is still in working order. In 600 years of service, it spent only 72 years in disuse (from 1884 to 1956). As I wander through these great worship centres, it never fails to amaze me that even though they are hundreds of years old, people still come there daily to worship our Lord. I always take a moment to pray for those congregations, so that they might continue to do His work, in His Spirit.

More Salisbury Adventures

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