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If left to the imagination, the Stonehenge conjures up images of the ancient past of Britain and its many tales that have inspired poets and artists to weave wild theories about its origin, motivation and purpose. This perfectly symmetrical structure in the vast plains of Wiltshire, is one of the iconic symbols of England and finds its place in the ‘places to visit’ list of all travelling to Britain. If it were up to me, in addition to the Stonehenge, I would recommend paying a visit to the Salisbury town and spend time at the magnificent Salisbury cathedral, admiring the lofty church spires which to me, will always be a greater wonder than the Stonehenge itself. Nevertheless, if one is interested in ruins and is blessed with a strong imagination, I think the Stonehenge will prove to be a worthy destination and a memorable day out.
If you’ve ever experienced the wonder of rural Britain, you are most likely to know that the round arrangement of massive stones is not unique to Stonehenge and can be found in many parts of the United Kingdom. I had come across a similar arrangement at Castlerigg in Keswick. Similar structures are scattered all over Cornwall, a county in south-west England. While historians have failed to elucidate the true purpose of these pre-Christian monuments, the location of each such arrangement is spectacular and the structures itself are well-preserved. The Stonehenge has been linked to an ancient burial site as well as a site of worship and healing. Some believe that they have long been used as an astronomical observatory. Interestingly, the Stonehenge has also been associated with Merlin, the wizard from Arthurian legends. While there are many theories in circulation, it seems quite unlikely that we will ever get to know the truth behind these massive pillars.
Combining my visit to the Stonehenge with the Salisbury town proved to be a good idea. The town itself is not very big and is still very ‘English’ in terms of its Elizabethan buildings, charming pubs and cobbled streets. Clock towers, medieval arches and colourful flags add a certain charm to the old town centre that is more than often bustling with locals and tourists alike. Also known as the Cathedral city, Salisbury is home to a 13th century cathedral that hosts a 123 metres spire, the largest in all of United Kingdom.
Post reformation, the cathedral church comes under the Church of England. The service, like most other Anglican churches, follows an Anglo-Catholic tradition. The tall and narrow nave of the cathedral is gothic in its design and architecture. Walking inside the cathedral, one is sure to notice the oldest working Salisbury clock constructed in 1386 AD. Sunlight streams in from the stained glass paintings adorning the walls of the cathedral and lights up the golden cross on the richly embroidered altar.
From a young age, I have had a keen interest in the architecture of medieval English churches. Through poetry, old British films and classic British novels, I have developed a strong affinity towards the colossal marble columns, richly carved tombstones, oil paintings and stained glass windows depicting events from Christ’s life and ministry. Sometimes, these medieval churches possess priceless parchments and handwritten letters of the parish priests and parishioners.
The cathedral’s Chapter house displays the Magna Carta, which is one of the four original documents signed by King John and the Barons as a peace treaty in the year 1215. The Magna Carta, also known as the Great Charter of the Liberties is often considered to be the first documented constitution of Britain. Drafted by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, both the parties failed to honour the terms of the treaty which in turn, led to its annulment and resulted in the First Baron’s war.
While planning a trip to Salisbury, it is important to keep in mind that the town (and Stonehenge) sees a large number of visitors from London and Bath. Therefore, it can be really crowded and a well planned trip might save you the hassle of standing in line for long security checks and a mile long bus ride from the visitor’s centre. Even though the Stonehenge is not in my top 10 places to see in Britain, I am still glad that I have visited its premises at least once in my lifetime.