Trip to England 2009 – Day Four – Leaving London for Salisbury and Shaftesbury

Salisbury Catheral – Hiding Behind a Tree

Editor’s Note: This is the Fourth part in a week long series about our fantastic trip to England last week. If you’d like to see the rest of the posts about our journey, click here.

Even though we’d had an exhausting day touring the sites in London the day before – I still woke up around 5am. I blame jet lag and excitement. We had another busy day planned and I couldn’t wait to get it started!

The plan for day four was:

  • Catch a cab to Paddington Station
  • Ride the Heathrow Express to the Airport and pick up our Rental Car
  • Drive to Salisbury and Get a Tour from local Matt Penny
  • Hit up Stonehenge then head to Shaftesbury before it got dark

The day did not go quite to plan and it all started with traffic. Normally a cab ride from the Park Lane Hilton to Paddington Station would take about ten minutes. For some reason or another – traffic was really bad coming off the flyover and it took forever to get to the train station.

By the time we got to the train station, the train was leaving in 10 minutes and we were starving. Jackie ran off to find us some sustenance while I waited outside the train. British Airways had provided us with free Heathrow Express tickets – which was lovely of them. It really is the quickest way to get to and from the airport but we normally wouldn’t pay for it (£25 or so a return ticket).

We boarded the train in time and scarfed down a croissant while the train sped to Heathrow. The journey is lightning fast and we were at the airport in no time. The only problem was that we were already running about an hour late.

Once we got to the airport, we had to navigate the terminal to find the rental desk, then wait for the free shuttle to the parking lot and eventually we made it to the rental lot. A few signed papers later and we were in possession of a nice Mercedes hatchback for the next two days. I’ll write more about the process of renting a car in the UK in a future post – it ended up costing almost twice what I was quoted – pretty much because of that magic word: insurance.

When we were in the car, we plotted our course to Salisbury on the map, I familiarized myself with the controls of the car, texted Matt to let him know we would be an hour late and we hit the road.

Driving in England was an amazing experience and I picked it up right away. The whole wrong side of the road thing didn’t really phase me. The most difficult thing to deal with was keeping a sense of space for the left side of the car. Jackie had to warm me of hedges quite a few times because I’m so used to worrying about it the other way around.

We merged onto the M4, then the M25 and then off onto the M3 towards Wiltshire. Navigating the motorways was no sweat and I was impressed with how high the speed limits were. But I didn’t dare speed – I’m well aware of Britain’s love for the Speed Camera.

We saw some amazing countryside on the way to Salisbury and it was a shame that we couldn’t explore more, we were on a schedule and had to keep it. We arrived to Salisbury around 12:30 and met up with Matt outside the city center in a car park, so he could guide us in.


The day before, Anglotopia columnist Lisa had said that she thought I would love Salisbury and she was right. Salisbury is a fantastic town. We parked the car in the central car park and Matt led us into the city center. We got to know each other a little bit and that was nice.

I really liked the look and feel of Salisbury. One of the coolest sights was that pretty much wherever you were in Salisbury, you could see the massive cathedral spire off in the distance, shrouded in early afternoon mist.

Our Excellent Tour Guide Matt Penny

Matt led us to the town center, where there was a French Market on – which we didn’t really linger in. The market wasn’t very crowded that day as most Brits were pretty unhappy with Ireland’s treatment by Frenchman Thierry Henri.

We were starving and our first priority was to eat. We had a taste for fish and chips and we entrusted Matt to take us to a good place. He took us to Stoby’s – a fish and chips takeaway with a sit down restaurant. It was a very interesting little building, with the restaurant spread over 4 floors. It was cramped and intimate and smelled of fish and chips.

I loved it.

When the food came I was a little apprehensive as it looked quite foreign, but when I dove in – I tasted what was possibly the best fish and chips that I’d ever had. And their chips! My god were they good! I’m going to need to make a trip back to Salisbury just to visit Stoby’s!

No Picture Can do the Painting Justice, I’m Afraid

After our delicious lunch – Matt showed us around the city center – which was breathtaking and lovely. Our first stop was St Thomas’s church – I thought it a little strange that we were visiting a little chapel in the same town as a massive cathedral – but Matt had a reason. Inside St Thomas’s is the famous Doom painting that depicts the events in the Book of Revelations.

It’s an amazing work of art that managed to survive since the 1400’s – it even survived the dissolution of the monasteries when it was whitewashed over. The painting depicts Jesus lording over his new kingdom with the dead rising from the grave and the damned being sent down to hell. It’s incredible – as is the setting. It was lovely little church.

After that Matt took us through the streets of Salisbury and pointed out many cool local facts and history. We saw the pub where late former Prime Minister Ted Heath used to drink (and his house a bit later). I know I sound hackneyed but Salisbury was just a lovely picture postcard of a town.

Eventually we made our way to the cathedral close – which was interesting, the area directly around the cathedral is surrounded by ancient walls and there is actually a sort of city within a city with houses, schools and businesses inside. One thing that struck me was how quiet it was inside – you couldn’t hear bustling Salisbury outside the walls.

We passed by Matt’s old school and learned two interesting facts – William Golding – author of the Lord of the Flies was headmaster there at one time (Christ, I hated reading that book!). The second fact was that Matt actually went to school with Ralph Fiennes – also known to most as Lord Voldemort.

We explored the close and I took a million pictures and then, there it was:

The cathedral. What a magnificent site it was.

Despite being covered in scaffolding on one side – it was still amazing. The size, the scale, amazing. Coming from America – where they just don’t build them like this – you never truly grasp the scale of a proper cathedral until your standing next to it.

Salisbury Cathedral is famous for several reasons – first, it’s got the UK’s largest Cathedral spire at 404ft. Sedcond, it’s home to the world’s oldest working mechanical clock (1386). Third, it’s home to one of only 4 remaining copies of the Magna Carta – the foundation of modern parliamentary democracy (that includes you America).

We walked around the cathedral and I snapped pictures and Matt told us some interesting anecdotes and pointed out what all the statues on the front meant. And then we went inside.

I really don’t think my words can do justice to the inside, so I’ll let my pictures do the talking.

Onward Shaftesbury

Since our day had been shortened by traffic delays and learning to drive in England, we decided to pass on Stonehenge. It was getting late in the day and we wanted to make sure that we got to Updown Cottage in Shaftesbury while it was still light out. Stonehenge has been there for 5,000 years, it’s not going anywhere, right?

We bid Matt farewell and he gave us directions for our onward journey. If you’re reading this Matt – thanks again for taking the day off of work and showing us around your town. We’ll definitely be back. Matt keeps his own blog about the history of Salisbury and it’s always an interesting read – check out his blog here.

The drive to Shaftesbury was even more amazing than the drive to Salisbury – we drove through green rolling hills. I mean it was literally hill after hill. There isn’t a straight road in Northern Dorset!

As sunset approached, we finally made it to Shaftesbury and faced a rather distressing issue – I didn’t know how to get to the bottom of Gold Hill by car – I knew by foot, but cars must go a different way. My senses, knowing that they were where they belonged after 3 years of anticipation guided us to the proper roads and pretty quickly we had parked the car, unloaded our bags and began hoisting them up the hill to our cottage.

It’s safe to say that by this point in the day we were pretty knackered!

The owners of Updown Cottage, Simon and Jane Colston, happened to be in the village, waiting for our wood delivery so they popped round to have a chat. It was great to finally meet them in person. Jane and Simon have been a (loyal) advertiser on Anglotopia for nearly six months now and we’ve greatly enjoyed e-mailing back and forth. It was just so lovely to meet them in person. They didn’t want to impose on us for too long and they were on their way after a bit of visiting.

The irony is that since we’d arrived at near dark – I hadn’t actually seen Gold Hill properly yet. That would wait for tomorrow morning. We ordered a pizza from the local Pizza Palace – it was delivered quickly. We attempted to start a fire in the stone fireplace – and we had moderate success after Jackie looked up how to start a fire on Wikipedia… We curled up and watched some British Telly.

It was heaven and perfect end to a perfect day.

Check back tomorrow for more about our stay at Updown Cottage and our full day in Dorset – which included a drive down to the seaside.

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  1. avatarLisa says

    I took my parents to Salisbury and we also visited St. Thomas’s. I couldn’t get a photo to really capture the beauty of that little chapel. I love Salisbury, I think its a perfect sized town for sightseeing cause its smallish but there is plenty to do there.