Salisbury, United Kingdom
The main reason for our trip is to visit our Auntie R, our late father’s only sister. She lives in East Sussex, and we’ve only met her once – almost 20 years ago when she visited Australia with our youngest cousin. She’s our only aunt and we don’t have any uncles and we’ve only ever known her through letters and the time that we met her.
We’ll be visiting her next week, but before then there will be a couple of day trips from London to begin us on our search for our father’s past. A very brief history of him: he was born in the UK, was evacuated from his home as a child in World War 2, was conscripted into the armed forces with the Royal Engineers, served overseas in places like Egypt, Malta and Malaya-Borneo and moved to New Zealand after he was discharged before settling in Australia, where he met our mother.
Before he passed away he wrote us out a history of his life, with a lot of anecdotes of his life before he met our mother.
We decided we wanted to go to Salisbury. The main reason for this is that when we were growing up there was a print of a John Constable painting of Salisbury Cathedral in our lounge room. We wanted to see it because it was something that had been a constant in our lives for many many years.
Originally we’d planned to do a day tour to Salisbury and Stonehenge, but when I was re-reading his journal, I realised that the place his paternal grandparents had lived, and the place he had lived in for a lot of the war was a small town called Amesbury, which is only just down the road from Stonehenge.
It’s the town that earlier this year was recognised as being the oldest continuously occupied settlement in Britain.
None of the day tours go to Amesbury, but it seemed like an important part of our father’s story, so we ditched the day tour idea and made our own arrangements.
Salisbury is a 90 minute train ride from London Waterloo. We booked tickets on the Stonehenge Tour, which gives you a short tour of Salisbury, transport and entrance to Stonehenge and also, if you want, to Old Sarum, which is the original site of the settlement of Salisbury.
Our train arrived in time for the first Stonehenge bus departure of the day, so that was our first stop. I was interested in Stonehenge, but didn’t think we’d spend more than about an hour there. We had a look through the exhibit at the Visitor Centre and then boarded the shuttle for the drive to the stones.
I wasn’t prepared for how amazing the stones would be and didn’t expect to spend as much time as we did just looking at them and soaking in the atmosphere around them. This surprised me because the place was packed with people, most of whom were trying to take the perfect selfie in front of the stones. (We might also have been guilty of this.) But there was something about this place that made me want to stay and not rush past.
It was fascinating and amazing, and I can’t rech bcally explain why.
When we finally left the stones, we called a taxi to take us to Amesbury. Stonehenge isn’t well served by public transport: the only way to get there from Salisbury is on the official tour bus or by taxi. There are local buses between Salisbury and Amesbury, but they don’t go to Stonehenge.
I think the taxi driver was amused by us wanting to go to Amesbury. It’s a small town, population about 9000, and cost us about £13 to get there. The taxi driver said we’d see the whole place in 5 minutes. We asked him where we could find a good pub for a meal in Amesbury, and he said Salisbury. I think he must had had a hard time not laughing. He said all the pubs there were rubbish.
Not to be deterred we had lunch in a pub called The Bell, which is part of the JD Wetherspoon group so its kind of like a chain pub, with the same menu as all the other pubs in the group. A particularly nice deal was the meal + a drink deal, which included a meal (obviously) plus a drink from a selection on the menu (a pint of Guinness thanks) for about £7.
After lunch, we walked around the town and made our way to the Amesbury History Centre and Museum, where we met some lovely people, including Norman, who told us some of the history of the area and explained how they had come to find the artifacts that proved Amesbury was the oldest continuously occupied settlement in Britain. It was really interesting. They had a big collection of flints and tools, and Norman told us about the digs they’d done to find these pieces.
We told them who we were and why we’d come to the town and they were very helpful in explaining how we might find the schools our father had attended and also the former Pickfords depot – which our family had operated for a time. We found the schools and wanted to see the cemetery, but didn’t make it that far in the end (and they’d told us that it would have been difficult to find the family graves anyway).
We wanted to get back to Salisbury in time to see the Cathedral, so instead of catching a taxi back to Stonehenge and getting back on the bus, we caught a local bus directly there.
Salisbury is a beautiful medieval city with a population of about 40,000. The first cathedral was built at Old Sarum in 1092, and the foundations for the new cathedral were laid in 1220. It’s been added to since its original construction, including the massive spire, which was constructed between 1300 and 1320. The cathedral houses one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta (which we were too late to see).
It is an awesome building. A complete contrast to Stonehenge, and absolutely stunning. The work that must have gone into building it is mind blowing.
We walked around the town, we think we found the secondary school our father had attended before he returned home, and also the Infirmary where he was taken from Amesbury when he had a serious accident.
We decided to have dinner in one of the pubs before returning to London on the train. A very full and interesting day out.