Salisbury is a small city where we used to think not much happened. It lies in the county of Wiltshire, where you might think not much has happened since Stonehenge was built. Salisbury is a city because it has a cathedral. It is not large, but it is busy with a hospital, university and many places of interest to historians and tourists.
Since March this year it has been in the international news with the poisoning by novichok nerve agent of two Russians and a local policeman. Just when Salisbury was getting back to some normality there was the bizarre tragedy when two locals were taken ill and one became the first fatality. Two Russian suspects have been named and even appeared on Russian television to explain they visited Salisbury merely as tourists to see the cathedral with its famous spire and the oldest clock in the world.
You couldn’t make this story up; if these two men were ‘secret agents’ they certainly bungled the whole mission, their target was not killed, though he and his daughter only survived thanks to the National Health Service and skilled care. Before leaving Salisbury they dumped the novichok in a rubbish skip. Through all these months, parts of Salisbury have been closed off and scoured for any trace of the nerve agent, a nightmare for businesses expecting a busy tourist summer.
We quite often go to Salisbury and went there last week after our morning at Stonehenge. Everywhere seemed busy, but perhaps they were locals.
I can believe the two suspects didn’t find the cathedral; though the famous spire can be seen for miles around, the first time we visited we stood in the main square and could not see it, we had no idea which way to go.
Through an arch you will find yourself looking at the cathedral green; fine weather shows the scene at its best. This area is full of interesting houses and museums and the expanse of grass is ideal for children to run and play and school parties to let off steam. There is too much for one visit, but whatever your plans just stand by yourself and look up at the spire.
The refectory, cloisters and smart toilets are free to wander in. Do you pay to go in the cathedral? There is a suggested donation. On our visit, late in the afternoon, I was just trying to read what we might ‘kindly be asked’ to pay when I realised Cyberspouse was already inside. We may have accidentally followed a coach party in. The house of God should be free to enter, but cathedrals need constant loving and expensive care. We always buy our refreshments at the refectory and there is a nice shop for tourists.
Cathedrals can be overwhelming, I guarantee most of us do not remember all the saintly and royal details in the leaflets. Take in the ambience and spend time with what takes your eye. Highlights include the clock, perhaps the Russians wanted to steal our cutting edge technology! Look carefully down the nave and see if you can spot the columns bowed at the centre of the cathedral under the weight of the spire. A model of the spire shows the original wooden scaffold still there. Another model shows the cathedral being built; I had a nice chat with an American lady as we admired the model and the original builders. The biggest miracle of ancient buildings is the fact they are still standing and I love to wonder if those who built it could have imagined how far into the future their creation would be admired.
Cathedrals are living places and new art is added. I love the font, sculptor William Pye, consecrated in 2008.
On our brief stroll around the cathedral Cyberspouse met a woman from Iceland, tourists are still coming to Salisbury.
My Brief Encounters trilogy is partly set in rural Wiltshire and Salisbury also features, especially in Lives of Anna Alsop.