About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I'm co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Angels and a Castle in Cloud

Son the Elder wanted to visit a friend of his who lives in Salisbury yesterday, so we were off bright and early, he armed with a bunch of pink roses (it was that sort of friend) and I with camera and walking book.  

Having visited the Cathedral just last year with the lovely Jan and Helen, I decided to use some of my free time exploring the town instead.  First stop, the Church of St Thomas and St Edmund, which provided a 'Blimey!' moment as soon as I walked through the door. 

I wonder how many tourists come to Salisbury and miss this amazing mediaeval Doom painting on the chancel arch?  It's easily done when a parish church stands in the shadow of a Cathedral.

There was also what was confusingly called a Somerset Angel Roof (given that Salisbury is sited well within Wiltshire), although it was very reminiscent of those I'd seen over the border in Martock and Long Sutton.  There was also some fine mediaeval paintings of Mary in the Lady Chapel and the tomb of Jane Eyre.  Really!  (No, not that one. A real one, who lived locally.)
Then it was off around town for a bit of a wander.  I loved this Arts and Crafts shop frontage I passed.

After traversing the very charming Water Lane, my route took me along the banks of the River Avon.  (That's the Wiltshire/Hampshire Avon, not the Wiltshire/Somerset/Bristol Avon.)  There were lovely views over the water meadows, some venerable willow trees and even a trout jumping for flies in the green waters.  It was all very idyllic.

Then the usual Salisbury stuff, that people quite rightly travel to see - mediaeval quirk which I love, and stately Georgian blah which isn't my cup of tea but I can why people admire it.  As I have a National Trust card this year, I decided to ditch my prejudices and visit 18th century Mompesson House in the Cathedral Close.  When I arrived it looked rather less elegant than usual, as it was in the process of being painted.

The scaffolding also marred the fabled view of the Cathedral from inside the house but it didn't really matter because there was a rather nice exhibition of small watercolours by a Miss Barbara Townsend who lived in the house from 1842 to 1939 and who painted it endlessly, sometimes covered in rather more picturesque wooden scaffolding.  The collection had recently been discovered by descendants in a suitcase.  She was quite an interesting person, was Miss T.  She never married and never worked for a living, but spent her days painting pictures and pottery and travelling about a bit.

I was glad of the exhibition because there was little else in the house that interested me.  I feel like such a philistine when it comes to the 18th century but its aesthetics don't please me and unless the subject-matter includes grimy skulduggery in rat-infested back lanes, I'd sooner pass, thanks.

Off I set again, past the stately Georgian blah of Arundells, where former Prime Minister Edward Heath lived - I did smile to see a balled up pair of dirty socks tucked next to the railings - and the town museum which I didn't have time to visit before my car parking ticket ran out (three hours max, how silly).  I did, however, get my stunning view of the Cathedral, after all.  

There was a striking sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink in the Cathedral grounds called the Walking Madonna, which I loved because she came across as such an Everywoman figure.  

She contrasted sharply with a rather dull memorial in a nearby street to three Protestant martyrs who were burned at the stake in the city in 1556.  On the same thoroughfare, there was a blue plaque on the wall of Bishop Wordsworth's Church in memory of William Golding, who wrote 'Lord of the Flies' whilst teaching there.   Hah, I bet the governors loved that!

My time in the car park up, I drove up to Old Sarum to the north of the city.  This is the site of the old city of Salisbury, with its ruined Norman Castle and the remains of the original Cathedral on the site of an Iron Age hill fort - although as early as 3,000BC, the hill was used for ceremonial purposes and there were settled communities all around it.  And more recently, in 1794,  it was one end of the very accurate baseline used by Ordnance Survey to check the mapping of Southern England started in the 1780s. Five thousands years of history all told, then, and as you might expect, the place had a really special feel about it.  

I started my exploration by walking the inner ring of the outer ramparts. The chalk was typically Wiltshirian - no wonder this is the county of White Horses - and very  different from my ancestral lands of Devon and Cornwall to the west.  The views were beautiful, the fields being big enough to stage an ever-shifting dance of sunlight and cloud.  

Around the ramparts there was a grove of yew trees and also beeches, the shallow and sprawling roots of both making interesting patterns on the ground.

Where some trees have been felled and sheep introduced for nibbling purposes, chalk grassland flowers have re-colonised the site.
On my way around the ramparts, I stopped to inspect the ruins of the Cathedral, which lie within the bailey where there was also a Bishop's Palace as well as housing.  However, being a proverbial series of small walls, it wasn't until I saw it from the Castle ruins on the motte (in the background of this photo) that I could really appreciate them.  

And so on around the edge of the hill, this fairy tale stretch of path through thick bushes giving on to a beautiful view of Salisbury, a few miles away.   

One of my very favourite things when I'm out walking somewhere high and imposing is looking out and noticing that it's raining somewhere else but not on me, and South Wiltshire did not disappoint.

Then it started to rain so I delayed exploring the castle till it went off and and read a book I'd picked up on ley lines instead, in the process discovering why churches built on hills (St Michael's Mount, Brent Tor, Glastonbury, Burrow Mump, et al) are dedicated to St Michael.  Utterly fascinating!  

The motte is accessed via a modern bridge over a very impressive moat.  (You really do get a sense here of how well defended the fort, and later the Castle was.)

Most of the surface area was taken up with a courtyard, which contained a very deep well, the bakehouse, the lower Chapel, privies and, dominating it all, the Great Tower, which would have originally housed the Royal Family's apartments.  

Later, however, a Courtyard Palace was built with steps leading from it directly to the Tower, the most fortified part of the stronghold, for use during attacks.    

King John had a new hall built in the bailey in the first decade of the thirteenth century, but it was only used for a short time before it began to fall into disrepair, the roof finally falling in in 1330.

From the tower it was much easier to get a photo showing the traditional cruciform lay-out of the 11th Century Sarum Cathedral.  The pair of footballers to the far right are playing in what was the Cloisters.
View over to Salisbury Cathedral with a shower of rain behind it.  

Then it was time to retrieve Son the Elder, who'd had such a good day, I have hopes of a few more returns to South Wiltshire before too long.


  1. Great post - a classic Harvey Jaunt, just like the old days! Mare

  2. Makes me yearn to explore Wiltshire! Particularly loved that romantic walk between the tall hedges! Sooooo beautiful..Thank you!