Salisbury Cathedral

Britain’s tallest Cathedral Spire

Salisbury Cathedral in Winter afternnon sunshine from the South lawns

Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire in England (404 feet, according to Wikipedia). The Cathedral Close is also the largest in England: it has one of the oldest working medieval clock in the World (1536) and it houses the best-preserved copy of the Magna Carta, the foundation of Laws in Britain.

Our friends (BA in History) tell us that Lincoln Cathedral spire was taller at 524 feet, until destroyed by a storm in 1548. The Fire of London (1666) destroyed the Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral (at 493 feet). Taller Cathedral spires remain in Europe (e.g. Ulm and Cologne).

The Cloisters and Chapter House

Salisbury Cathedal is also said to have the largest cloisters in Europe (unclear whether in floorplan or volume) and these offer a gentle walk with splendid views framed in every archway. Numerous historical figures are buried under the stone floor and there are two sets of stocks (presumably to punish anyone else who tries to steal the Magna Carta!)

The Magna Carta

In the Chapter House, South of the main Cathedral building and East of the Garth Cloisters, there are cassocks of previous Bishops and other notables of History, as well as a small tent where the best of four copies of the Magna Carta is housed. “Guarding” this treasure on our visit was a delightful elderly Cleric gentleman, who explained it all in detail and with great enthusiasm. (Strictly no cameras – plenty online if you want)

In the Refectory and shop, it is possible to purchase both drinks, snacks, curios and mementoes for your visit. Guided tours of the main building sare £7:50pp at the time of our visit (small discount for OAP’s and education).

Salisbury – The City

Outside the Cathedral Close and grounds, the City itself is quite compact but we did not have time to explore shops on the day we travelled (29th November). We did spot a Stag atop The White Hart Hotel, more or less opposite an ancient pub, describing itself as “The New Inn – refurbished in the 15th century”.

Salisbury Cathedral is just an hour’s drive from Weymouth, along the A354 past Blandford Forum. If you have time, we have heard Blandford Camp is worth a visit, too, with interactive exhibits re signals intelligence and wartime coding (we are told). Winchester Cathedral is just another 30 minutes further.

Winchester Cathedral – Christmas Market

Winchester Cathedral – the longest Nave among European Gothic Cathedrals

Winchester is a pretty city, about 12 miles North of Southampton and about 1.5 hours drive from Weymouth. We chose to visit Winchester Cathedral on the first day of the Christmas Market (26th November). According to Wikipedia, Winchester has a history dating back to the Iron Age, later Roman (Fort Venta), then laying foundations for the first Cathedral around 660 ad (Wintan-Ceastre).

Around Winchester Cathedral is a large “close” district, mainly lawned, with a few benches and a couple of statues, plus a refectory and shop. Outside the refectory is a memorial to William Walker (born William Robert Bellenie, 1869) who performed enormous labours as a diver, to emplace cement and stone underpinnings via hundreds of pits in total darkness, to support the Cathedral against subsidence in the peaty subsoil.

Around the East and South sides of Winchester Cathedral on the day of our visit, was a Christmas Market, said to be one of the largest in Europe (although we think Salzburg is bigger and more interesting!) There were about 300 stalls, selling all manner of goods, with a very welcoming Mulled Wine and Doughnuts stand at the entrance. There was a large skating rink and a large crafts area. The town itself is compact but houses a number of fine eateries and many independent shops to tickle the wallet. Driving is not much further than Swanage or Purbeck.

Port en Bessin

From the Series: Ferry Trips to France

Port en Bessin Huppain is a commune ofthe Port on the Bessin River adjoined to the small town of Huppain in the Cotentin sub-department (West of Manche) on the Cherbourg Peninsula. We drove out from Bayeux, not so long ago, to tour Normandy Beaches (ibidem) but found many shops and restaurants closed due to being a Sunday. Whereupon, we stumbled acorss the very large and bustling market in Huppain, strung along the Portside. The Harbour was very reminiscent of Weymouth Harbour.

There were a number of cafes, bars and shops, some selling “Fine Old Calvados” (for some very fine old prices, but worth it!) A glass engraver asked my Wife’s name and decoratively engraved it on a small tumbler, free in just a few seconds. “Le moins prix du Monde”. We hope to go back soon to commission a larger work. (About 30 minutes from Bayeux).


From the Series: Ferry Trips to France

Mayenne is a curiosity of France – both a town, a river which runs through it and the Department created on March 4 1790 by the French Revolution,. Mayenne lies in Haute Normandy, surrounded by gently rolling farming countryside, charming towns and historic ruins. The area, Pays de la Loire is acknowledged as one of the prettiest regions of France, well worth the 2 to 3 hour drive from Cherbourg (possibly better to stay overnight in one of the lovely gites or b&b’s to be found locally).

Famously, Chateau de la Motte Husson is not far away (featured on Channel Four TV) – about 6km to the South. In Mayenne itself, there is a 10th century Chateau fortified in the 13th century, which is probably best viewed across the River from the riverside carpark on the East side), a Basilica de NotreDame built in 100 and the Romanesque Eglise de Saint Martin.

When we travelled there quite some time ago, we enjoyed the cafe scene in the little square above the town (photos below) and sought directions to the hamlet of Ger from the proprietrix. Within minutes, 5 ladies were all helping us and that is a measure of how wonderfully friendly and helpful the people of Normandy are in general.


From the Series: Ferry Trips to France

Laval is about 1 hour’s drive South of Saint-Lo, equidistant from Rennes and Le Mans (2 great towns for exploring and shopping). It is the administrative capital of the Mayenne Department (Mayenne is about 20km North). The City is surrounded by industrialisation but at its heart is a fine, imposing centre of grand proportions, set off by the beautiful Mayenne River. The central streets are narrow but easily navigated to find a fairly large and rather attractive tree-lined car park next to the main bridge. Here, one can relax in cafes, overlooking the river or browse main shops, including a diversity of bookshops up the hill. Every 30 minutes, fountains jet from the River near the bridge and, for the more energetic, it is said to be a continuous, gorgeous riverside walk all the way to Mayenne.

Isigny sur Mer

From the Series: Ferry Trips to France

Isigny is a short drive further along the N13 from the turn for Grandcamp Maisy. Isigny is a small town, in commune with 62 neighbouring villages, named after the D’Isigny family, who served with William the Conqueror (links to Walt Disney, also!) Just along from the port, there is access to the Western end of Omaha Beach. Isigny is a local centre for dairy products (AOC) and the cheeses are simply superb! We can recommend the fish soup in the Harbour Cafe as well.

Grandcamp Maisy

From the Series: Ferry Trips to France

Grandcamp Maisy is a good site to start your tour of the Normandy Beaches, with Omaha, Gold and Juno close by: Utah just a short drive West across the Cotentin, Isigny sur Mer a few km West and Point du Hoc a few km East. There was a huge German battery sited there in the Second World War and a small museum display remains. Beyond, on the outskirts, is a large area of the former German emplacements, which has not really been explored or developed by historians.

Down on the Beach (Omaha?) there are WWII truck tours, which start from around Euro 80 all the way up to about Euro 750, for the Airborne Division Tours (presumably much more than just a truck tour?)


From the Series: Ferry Trips to France

Domfront-en-Poiraie is a small medieval commune, perched on a bluff above the River Varenne, about 2 hours South of Cherbourg. The old part of town is best approached by car fron the East, via a simple right turn off the Mayenne road. The village is a gem of ancient architecture, preserved as well as anywhere in France and very well worth a stroll to explore the curious and picturesque nooks and crannies.


From the Series: Ferry Trips to France

Cherbourg-Octeville is a large city at the North of the Cotentin/Normandy Peninsula. Driving off the Ferry, we followed google directions and ended up in Octeville, eventually circling back to the D901, which we would have found very much more easily by ignoring google. Alternatively, it may be possible to avoid the town altogether by turning LEFT out of the Ferry area and finding the N13, all the way down the coat to Bayeux and beyound.

Cherbourg has a very extensive history (best to consult Wikepedia) but most folk drive straight through and into France proper. Behind the Regency Hotel on the inner harbour, there are numerous winding streets in the old quarter, along with cafes, shops and a pleasant large square.

Carentan les Marais

From the Series: Ferry Trips to France

Carentan Les Marais is a small, marsh-bound town with a small port, connected to the Sea by canal. Carenan is about 30 minutes West along the N13 from Bayeux. The town has a large gyratory square and several quaint shops, selling artefacts and excellent cheeses and other produce. The Port area is very peaceful and park-like – principally for pleasure craft. There are trips to view the nearby oyster beds (the wife gets seasick so we swerved that trip!)