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Salisbury - Wiltshire. Home of the Magnificent Salisbury Cathedral

It’s sad but true that many people travelling across England will make an effort to go past Stonehenge, which is now almost impossible to get anywhere near enough to fully appreciate, but then drive on without stopping at Salisbury, less than 10 miles away.

This is sad because Salisbury is, without doubt, one of the most attractive of England’s smaller cities, with many different rewards for the traveller who pauses there.

Being at the confluence of five rivers was probably the main reason for Salisbury’s initial placement at the edge of Salisbury Plain, where it was both a military and religious centre. When relationships between the army and church became strained, at the beginning of the 13th century, the new cathedral was built on its present site.

Incredibly, the main building was completed in a mere 38 years, although the 400 foot spire – the tallest in Great Britain – was added later.

In 1386, a large mechanical clock was installed, which still remains as the oldest surviving mechanical clock in the country. Added to this is the fact that the best preserved surviving copy of the Magna Carta is kept for public viewing in Salisbury Cathedral.

Most people’s image of Salisbury Cathedral is that of the famous John Constable painting of it from across the water meadows – a view that is not so very different over 200 years later.

The town developed rapidly from the 14th century, when the city wall was built. Originally there were four city gates – High Street, St Anne’s, Queen’s and St Nicholas’s - and a fifth was subsequently added in the 19th century as access to Bishop Wordsworth School, where the novelist William Golding once taught.

Salisbury has always had a strong artistic community; as well as Constable, Handel stayed and worked here, having rooms above St Anne’s Gate.

Today, the Playhouse, the Arts Centre, the Studio Theatre and the City Hall all stage high quality productions and events throughout the year, especially during the Salisbury International Arts Festival, stretching for two weeks at the end of May and beginning of June and in 2008 featuring such diverse attractions as the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the King’s Singers, Laurie Anderson, Sandi Toksvig and Clarissa Dickson Wright.

Choral Evensong in the Cathedral, which is open to anyone and free of charge, is a concert experience in its own right.

There are many fascinating ghost stories connected with Salisbury – indeed, Ghost Tours are very popular with tourists, often stopping at the ‘Haunch of Venison’ pub and even the Debenham’s Department store, haunted by the Duke of Buckingham who was beheaded at that site in 1483.

On the subject of shopping, because of the medieval nature of much of the Salisbury town centre, many shops are to be found in charming half-timbered buildings, in streets with whimsical old-fashioned names and, in addition to having all the major chain stores, there’s a fascinating array of highly individual, sometimes even quirky, places to browse around.

In and around the Market Place, you’ll discover continental style pavement cafés and tea rooms as well as a great range of restaurants reflecting the cosmopolitan nature that is now developing there – you’ll find everything from traditional British food to French, Italian, Chinese, Thai and Indian – and more besides.

Because of the compact nature of Salisbury, everything- from the museums, such as the Wardrobe Museum of military uniforms, to the Art Galleries, like the Fisherton Mill, and the shops and restaurants - is within a short walk.

Salisbury is a delightful place to spend some time. From its majestic cathedral to its haunted pubs – and everything in between – it really is one of England’s gems.

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