Salisbury:  A Perfect Weekend Retreat

Salisbury, renowned for its imposing Cathedral and proximity to Stonehenge is an established tourist destination for visiting American and Japanese holidaymakers, but as my former childhood home town I envisaged that it couldn’t possibly offer me anything new.

Aside from whistle stop visits to my parents’ house on the outskirts of Salisbury, it had been approximately 6 years since I had really explored the city rather than hurriedly passing through it. So what, I thought, could my childhood city offer me aside from the historic Tudor buildings, bustling market square, ancient Poultry Cross and period pubs dotted along every street?

Beautiful Tudor buildings are evident throughout Salisbury
Beautiful Tudor buildings are evident throughout Salisbury

A thriving café, arts and crafts scene was the surprising answer. The once run down and jaded Fisherton Street, the main concourse from the Railway Station and central car park to the town centre, has been reinvented and is now an eclectic mix of vintage clothes shops, galleries, specialist music shops, restaurants and craft shops. The Fisherton Mill is the main hub of this creative energy and sits halfway down the Street, but is easily overlooked as it is set back from the road up a narrow alley.

Fisherton Mill Cafe & Gallery
Fisherton Mill Cafe & Gallery

The Fisherton Mill building, a converted grain mill is in itself interesting and lends itself perfectly to its new useage. It is a creative centre with the south west’s largest independent art and craft gallery centred around a popular café and craft studios. Wandering around upstairs affords the opportunity to watch the artists and crafts people at work in their studios and gasp in admiration at the array of talent on display. The spectacular, and colourful milliners display immediately draws the eye and the free standing sculptures invite closer inspection. The Mill also plays host to travelling theatre groups such as the Creative Cow Company who use the intimate Gallery Meeting Room for their performances which are combined with dinner in the café ensuring an evening’s entertainment under one roof. It is possible to lose track of time in the Mill and very easy to spend the morning browsing the array of art and crafts and lunchtime sampling the cafés menu.

Coming out of the Mill and walking further along Fisherton Street towards town, you pass Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Indian and traditional fish and chip restaurants as well as a Polish delicatessen. The fun really begins when you approach ‘Foxtrot Vintage Clothing’ which as the name suggests houses an array of vintage clothing and accessories. This is far from being a fancy dress shop as the pieces are in pristine condition with immaculate tailored suits, dresses, skirts, coats, bags and an array of hats and shoes all vying for attention. The shop also has a men’s section, which whilst smaller in collection, contains some gems nonetheless.

The fantastic 'Foxtrot Vintage Clothing' on Fisherton Street
The fantastic ‘Foxtrot Vintage Clothing’ on Fisherton Street

Walking past an independent haberdasher, a homebrew wine and beer making specialist and an independent cycle shop you eventually come to the end of this rejuvenated street and enter the town

There are two things about Salisbury which become apparent very quickly, the number of rivers and the number of pubs. The city sits at the confluence of five rivers: the Nadder, Ebble, Avon, Wylye and Bourne and understandably many pubs have sprung up along the banks of these rivers. According to one local, there are over 300 pubs currently trading within the city and whilst there is the usual collection of pub chains (J D Wetherspoons & Slug & Lettuce among others) there are also a large number of independently run pubs vying for attention. Many of these, The New Inn, The Cloisters, The Lazy Cow, The Pheasant & The Haunch of Venison are housed in historic, often Tudor, buildings which enhance the drinking and dining experience and give the visitor ample photo opportunities.

Tudor

Away from the pubs, restaurants, shops and rivers, a visit to Salisbury is not complete without visiting the medieval Cathedral. The 404 foot (123 metre) high spire is visible from every direction souring into the skyline as you approach the city. The cathedral is over 750 years old and houses one of only four original Magna Carta’s in the world (AD1215) and Europe’s oldest working clock (AD1386).

For the more adventurous, visitors can explore the roof spaces of the Cathedral on a tower tour which affords the intrepid magnificent views across Salisbury’s rooftops and beyond. The 332 steps to the base of the spire are not for the fainthearted (or people suffering from vertigo), but to stand at the base of the spire looking upwards and outwards ensures a visit to the Cathedral will not be easily forgotten.

The world famous Salisbury Cathedral
The world famous Salisbury Cathedral

The Cathedral Close is also home to the Salisbury Museum and an array of open houses and tearooms. During the summer months the Close buzzes with students, families and workers on lunch breaks as they picnic and sunbathe in the shadow of the spire.

My visit coincided with the twice weekly market (Saturday & Tuesday), and allowed me to potter amongst the stallholders offering fresh produce direct from their farms, clothes, jewellery, gifts and stationery to name a few. The market square has also undergone a face lift in the years of my absence and many cafés now have tables on the market square allowing alfresco dining and bringing a more cosmopolitan feeling the centre of the town.

The bustling and cosmopolitan Market Square in Salisbury
The bustling and cosmopolitan Market Square in Salisbury

For more affluent visitors, The Lazy Cow (Kings Arms Hotel & Chapter House) in St Johns Street is definitely worth a visit. The faux cow hid seat covers, the cow shaped milk pots and the superb Black Angus prime steaks offer a first class and unique dining experience, but one that is not affordable to everyone. Nonetheless, I indulged myself with a much needed pot of tea and soaked up the atmosphere whilst indulging in my favourite pastime of people watching the clientele.

The River Avon, one of 5 rivers to run through the City of Salisbury
The River Avon, one of 5 rivers to run through the City of Salisbury

As I drove away from Salisbury, my overriding impression was how much it had changed over the past 5 or 6 years, but changed for the better. It had a real buzz to it, it bustled with locals and tourists and the once shabby areas of town are rejuvenated offering locals a great independent shopping experience which was once lacking. Salisbury is definitely still a tourist destination and rightly so, but the balance between catering for tourists and neglecting the locals has been addressed with street cafés, gallery’s, art and craft venues, foreign cuisine and independent shops injecting life into the beautiful city. The future of Salisbury looks bright, and the town has a lot to be positive about. I for one will be visiting again.

Additional Information:

Nearest airports: Bournemouth or Southampton (approximately 50 minutes’ drive time)

Train time from London: approximately 1.30 hours (Waterloo)

Additional excursions (within 1 hours drive time):

  • Wilton House & Gardens (stately home)
  • Old Sarum Castle (Iron Age hill fort and site of first Salisbury cathedral)
  • Salisbury Race course (salisburyracecourse.co.uk for information on race meeting dates)
  • Stonehenge
  • Longleat House & Safari Park (stately home)
  • Stourhead Gardens
  • The New Forest

Possible accommodation:

  • The Old Mill 01722 327517
  • Best Western Red Lion 0845 373 0775
  • Cathedral View B&B 01722 502254
  • Cricket Fields Hotel 01722 322595