Monday, 22 November 2010


Salisbury Cathedral from the Cathedral Close

We met up with our friends Sally and Malcolm for this walk. We have been following a home-and-away principle, but this time we took a more radical approach and met up in Salisbury, a city which none of the four of us had ever visited. I found this excellent walk around the city on the AA website.

It begins conveniently enough at the Central car park. You walk along by the Avon tributary stream past a shopping centre to reach St Thomas's church. This is a delightful church of the early 15th century with a bell tower that was originally separate. We could not look inside as there was a service underway.

We turned left along Silver St to soon encounter the 15th century Poultry Cross, the one remaining of the original four market crosses.

Further along you reach the back of the Guildhall and we went round to the front in Market Square for a better look.

We were impressed with the size of the Market Square and were pleased to correctly guess the age of the Guildhall as late 18th century. In fact it dates from 1788-95 and was built following the destruction of its Elizabethan predecessor by fire.

Two right turns brought us into New Canal to visit the Odeon Cinema. A surprising choice for a walk in a historic city, but an absolute delight. Behind an extravagant late Victorian timber-framed facade lies the banqueting hall of John Halle, a wool merchant and four times mayor of Salisbury. The house was built in 1470-83 and was restored by AWN Pugin and the hall is all that remains. It has a fine fireplace, stained glass windows and an open timber roof. Just beyond it, you go up the stairs to have your ticket taken before you enter the cinema. Surreally wonderful!

We turned round, walked back along Milford St, past the Red Lion, with its charming courtyard, and then along Brown St and Trinity St to pass Trinity Hospital, almshouses. According to Pevsner, this was founded before 1379 and rebuilt in 1702. We could see through a window the small courtyard which leads to the chapel, but unfortunately the entrance door was locked.

A loop around brought us to the Joiners' Hall at the top of St Ann Street, described by Pevsner as "one of the most rewarding streets of Salisbury". He describes the Joiners' Hall as "best timber-framed house in Salisbury". It dates from about 1635.

The rest of the street contains a succession of handsome houses of various periods. At the end is St Ann's gate which leads into the Cathedral Close.

The immediate impression of the Close is of its great size, which allows the imposing Cathedral to stand in splendid isolation. It is instantly clear that the main body of the Cathedral possesses a great stylistic unity - and indeed it was all built over a 60 year period in the 13th century. The magnificent spire is clearly different, more elaborately decorated. It comes as no surprise to learn that it was added a hundred years later. At 404 ft, it is the tallest of any English cathedral. Ulm, in Germany, has the distinction of having the tallest spire of any church (530 ft) - and it was also the birthplace of Albert Einstein.

The uniformity of design is even clearer inside. The long nave with its high lancet windows and thin columns of Purbeck marble is a beautiful composition.

Outside there is a massive cloister, which Pevsner says was built as an after-thought. The lack of any surrounding buildings gives it an unusual character. The two Lebanon cedars are a wonderful centrepiece.

We then wandered round the close, admiring its mainly Georgian buildings. We left the Close by way of the North Gate, with the Matron's College - an almshouse for the widows of clergymen - on the right. It was established in 1682 and the building, says Pevsner, was quite possibly designed or approved by Wren.

North Gate leads to the High Street and from here we walked out, along a pleasant causeway across the water meadows, to the Old Mill at Harnham where we had lunch. This excursion enabled us to enjoy the view of the cathedral enjoyed by Constable.

On our return we enjoyed the Clock Tower of 1892, curiously derided by Pevsner as "a depressing Gothic erection in a position without distinction".

Conditions: cold.

Distance: about 3.5 miles.

Rating: four and a half stars. A wonderfully unspoiled city where nothing has been allowed to be built which would compete with the Cathedral. It would repay another visit.

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