Written by koshkha on 18 May, 2011
My friend Pooh was always destined to fly. My husband adopted him for me on our first anniversary, noting that I needed someone to keep an eye on me when I was travelling. In nearly 13 years since then, he’s been a bear who ‘gets…Read More
My friend Pooh was always destined to fly. My husband adopted him for me on our first anniversary, noting that I needed someone to keep an eye on me when I was travelling. In nearly 13 years since then, he’s been a bear who ‘gets about a bit’, a bear who’s not bothered by rub-down searches or life in the overhead locker. He’s a fearless little fella but he was somewhat taken aback when we challenged him to jump off a high place in the interests of proving his bravery and raising money for charity.It came about by pure fluke. My husband and I went to visit my parents in Salisbury for the long weekend of the Royal Wedding. Walking through the Cathedral Close I spotted a poster advertising a charity fundraiser with a difference. The Salisbury Hospitals ‘Stars Appeal’ raises money for kids who are treated by the local hospitals and one of their key events is a now annual Teddy Bear Parachuting day. I was tickled by the idea and volunteered my little friend. With only two weeks to raise money we set him a target of £40 and made him a justgiving page to facilitate donations. There’s no fee for your bear to jump but each bear has to raise £10 in order to qualify for the event. Prior to seeing the poster I’d not heard of Teddy Bear Parachuting – or ‘parafauna’ as I learned it’s sometimes called (there’s a page on Wikipedia for literally everything these days). Bears are an inclusive bunch and don’t mind other soft toys joining them in their sport. Watch out for para-dinosaurs, para-dogs, para-Hello Kitties and we even saw a para-Yoda at our event floating down after a para-Disney princess. Events vary in format depending on where they are held. In the Salisbury Cathedral version, they use a high-reach cherry-picker platform belonging to the local fire brigade and volunteer firemen turn out to help with the event. In some places bears are launched off church towers and there are even events where light aircraft or kites are used to put teds into the air. Some of you may be wondering why anyone would choose to do something so stupid and what’s in it for the organizers. I spoke to one of the people from the Stars Appeal and he said that the Ted Jump is not one of their biggest fund raisers but it’s the one that gets the most local kids involved. Since their whole purpose is to raise funds for children, it’s a great event for raising awareness amongst young people and their parents. The Salisbury event asks for a minimum sponsorship of £10 per bear but, most bears will raise more than the £10 target.On the big day we headed into Salisbury with Pooh and his support crew in my mother’s spare old-lady trolley. We passed through the Cathedral Close a couple of hours before the event was due to start and saw the lifting platforms and watched the organisers setting up the tents for registration, parachute fitting and so on. We showed Pooh the Cathedral and the crane, thinking that it was probably better that he be mentally prepared for the challenge to come. And then we went for lunch. The event ran between 1 pm and 4 pm but the organisers were asking people not to all turn up at 1 o’clock because there would be delays if everyone wanted to jump at the same time. Being obedient and helpful souls we rolled up at about 2.30 pm. I took Pooh to register, handing over a print out of his Justgiving page as well as £15 in cash that he’d been given. We were given his jump voucher then went to the stall where they had spare labels and wrote one up with his name and my mum’s phone number on it. Last year a few bears got separated from their humans and there was quite a bit of upset. One woman told us she had to take off across the grass at great speed when someone went off with her son’s bear.The next step was parachute fitting. We handed him and his voucher to the fitters who weighed him up and chose a white parachute as being the best option. It’s important that your bear doesn’t get the wrong sized chute; too small and he’ll fly like a brick, too big and he could be 15 miles away before he’s back to earth. Once the parachutes are fitted – using rubber bands around their arms – the bears go into laundry baskets to wait for the crane.We headed off to set up the ‘Team Pooh’ support centre on the perimeter of the jump field. His brothers Alfie and Ralfie were propped up on against the trolley with their banners reading ‘Jump Pooh!’ Surprisingly he seemed to be the only bear to bring cheerleaders. Equally he seemed to be the only bear without a child companion. We watched a batch of jumpers, gasping as one purple elephant got his parachute caught in the firemen’s ladders, laughing as a few jumped onto the roof of the fire engine, and worrying a little when some small bears got caught by the wind and were blown off track. Teddy Medics in white coats ran around the field trying to catch the bears so they wouldn’t hurt themselves on landing.Pooh and his companions went up in the lift and we waited. Hello Kittie leaped and became ‘Goodbye Kittie’. A panda drifted gently to earth. Yoda and the Disney princess followed a massive T-rex in their descent and eventually – last of the bunch – Pooh prepared to jump. The Fireman threw him in the air, the chute failed to open and he plunged to the earth like a school science project to prove the existence of gravity. We were so disappointed; the little fella didn’t have a chance. Alfie and Ralfie giggled unsympathetically.I went to collect Pooh and told the parachute fitters that his parachute hadn’t opened. "Then he must try again" said the volunteer. "This time we’ll give him a bigger parachute". And so Pooh went again. Once again he was the last one out. I’d like to think that the Firemen recognised his importance and were trying to save the best until last. I suspect he was clinging onto the laundry basket and refusing to jump. Eventually he appeared on the platform. The fireman gave him a ‘Not this one again’ look and launched him off the top. This time all went well. His parachute opened and he glided gently down and was caught by the Teddy Medic. Honour had been served. We collected him and went to get his ‘Certificate of Bravery’.If you find yourself tempted to put your bear or bears through something similar, please take note of the following tips. I noticed that bears with big heads do better than bears that are bottom-heavy. If your bear is weighted in the bum (like Pooh is) he will parachute in a vertical position. If your bear’s arms are nearer the centre of gravity, he or she will float horizontal which seems to slow them down a bit. Don’t take a bear that’s desperately precious or very delicate – your 100 year old Steiff is not a suitable candidate. Bears must have no hard parts and must be entirely soft – I guess this is for the protection of the Medics who don’t want to be hit by a hard object falling at great speed. If the weather looks really nasty or the ground is muddy, choose a machine washable volunteer. Bears need to be – in the words of Goldilocks – not too big and not too small. Event organisers will advise on ideal sizes. Titchy bears might get lost and the 6 foot monster bear will not fit on the platform unless he replaces one of the firemen and they probably won’t have a big enough parachute. We went to the Cathedral’s café with the bears for a celebratory hot chocolate and a bit of boasting. As we sat in the glass roofed building my husband shouted "Look" and we watched a small bear sail over the roof and off to who-knows-where. We laughed – but I felt pretty worried for his family.Finally I’d like to thank the lovely members of this site who supported Pooh for his jump and if anyone else feels the urge, his donation page is still open at www.justgiving/para-pooh. Close
Written by koshkha on 12 May, 2011
Once upon a time, Sunday mornings were for church but in the 21st century a sunny Sunday morning means only one thing to many people – Boot Fairs! Taking their name from their origins as gatherings where people sold their junk and surplus possessions from…Read More
Once upon a time, Sunday mornings were for church but in the 21st century a sunny Sunday morning means only one thing to many people – Boot Fairs! Taking their name from their origins as gatherings where people sold their junk and surplus possessions from the ‘Boot’ of their car (translation – the boot is the trunk for the Americans), a massive grey market has grown up in recent decades with many people making a fast buck that the tax man never sees, people getting rid of stolen goods but mostly normal folk just clearing out the garage or the attic – probably to make space for all the stuff they bought at boot fairs. On a recent visit to my parents we decided to take in Salisbury’s two Sunday morning boot fairs in a hunt for the odd bargain and for plants for our garden (my husband was about to get some time off work and had big plans to get digging).The first of the two fairs is held at the fire station on Ashley Road. To get there, take Castle Road to the north of the city turn left at the first mini roundabout onto Butts Road and keep going until you see a bit field on the right hand side. If lots of cars are parked up then you’re in the right place. The boot fair raises money for the fire department and related charities. On quiet days the stalls are all in the yard of the fire station but on our visit at the end of April they spilled out onto the playing fields opposite where there is lots of space to park cars. What you’ll find at any boot fair varies from one week to the next since it all depends on who turns up. Serious bargain hunters go early but we were just there for fun and rolled up at about 9.30 am. My husband went crazy replacing our cat boxes with two new ones since we frequently go to collect our biggest cat (a wandering Burmese called Baloo) from the park where he likes to play and kill small furry animals. We’ve been using a dog box with is much too big. I stocked up on cheap books and found some gorgeous unused pig-skin gloves being sold by a lady whose elderly mother had just died. We picked up a few plants for the garden and a few odds and ends before returning to the car to head to the second fair. The fire station boot fair is relatively small and can easily be handled in half an hour to an hour. Expect to pay 50 pence per person to go in (but don’t be surprised if the bucket for the money is just left on a chair – be good please and don’t sneak off without paying.We next headed to the Cattle Market boot fair between Harnham and Netherhampton to the south of the city. This is a larger and more professionally run (you could say more commercial) operation that uses the gardens of the Cattle Market in good weather and the indoor market space in the winter. I’ve been before and not liked it too much due to there being a lot of semi-professional booters – the people who buy up cheap stuff to sell on at such events. On this occasion though the vast majority of stallholders were people selling plants that they’d cultivated to sell on and people clearing out their junk. We were charged 60p for the car rather than a fee per person, and even though we didn’t have my mother’s disabled badge with us, I explained she had a new hip and they let me park closer. I had to ensure she hobbled convincingly when we walked away.The stalls were laid out in a large L-shape and we spent about an hour wandering around. My sister and her partner joined us there and I benefited from some of her plant negotiations (she knocked the prices down, then I took a tray or two at her prices). I bought more books, picked up a nice little vase that’s worth a few pounds if I can ever be bothered to put it on eBay, and had a lovely time talking to the stall holders who’d brought their dogs with them. The Cattle Market boot fair seems to attract lots of dog owners because there’s lots of space for them to run around.We were lucky to get good weather and to find a few nice bits and pieces. On a good sunny day, a boot fair can be a great way to get out of the house, have a wander and pick up some fun things. Parents with children can do particularly well as second hand kids clothes, toys and books are always available in an abundance. Some strange things almost always crop up at such places – foot spas, vegetable steamers and slow cookers seem to top the list of things people thought they needed and then never used.It’s actually not entirely legal to sell electrical goods at such markets but it’s very commonly done. There’s always an outside risk that goods may be stolen so take care when buying something valuable to ask a few questions about how long the seller’s had it, whether it’s any good and to look for some kind of evidence that convinces you it’s actually their property. But mostly just get out, get around the fairs and have some fun. Almost everyone leaves with a smile on their face and something they wanted in their pockets. Close
Written by GB from Devizes on 10 Jan, 2008
The last stop on my trip today where the A360 meets the A303 is Stonehenge. This is situated another four miles south from Shrewton and around 3 miles west from Amesbury. It occupies an area of high ground and is today as always, blowing a…Read More
The last stop on my trip today where the A360 meets the A303 is Stonehenge. This is situated another four miles south from Shrewton and around 3 miles west from Amesbury. It occupies an area of high ground and is today as always, blowing a gale and bloody freezing. Being a National Trust member allows me in for free although the site is managed by English Heritage; it’s a reciprocal arrangement they have with some of the UK’s top sights.Thanks to idiots intent on carving their names in the stonework, you cannot these days get nearer than 100 feet from the stones which is a shame although, having bought along the 300mm telephoto lens, it didn’t make any difference to me as far as the pictures were concerned.Stonehenge was built in three stages, an accumulation of an estimated 30 million man-hours of work. Bearing in mind that the most up-to-date tools available were rollers, wedges and levers, then it does bring into perspective the amazing effort that created this most iconic of the UK’s Neolithic monuments. Work started around 3,100 BC; this saw the construction of the “henge” or earthwork and ditch which what was how the site looked for the next millennium. The ditches contain “Aubrey Holes” which are large pits excavated from the chalk. They have steep sides, flat bottoms and are approximately one meter deep and wide. The holes form a circle about 90 meters in diameter with recent excavations revealing cremated human remains in some of them.The holes are not believed to have been specifically built as graves, but more likely as part of the religious ceremonies that took place here. Many are still visible on the site and some are marked by white circles in the car park in their original positions. This was the first stage of Stonehenge, earthworks and a ditch, after which the site was abandoned and almost forgotten about for close on a thousand years.Stage two began around 2150 BC and was the most dramatic phase of the construction. It was certainly the most strenuous as far as the labourers were concerned. Some 82 bluestones, each tipping the scales at 4 tonnes were carved from the underlying rock strata at the Preseli Mountains in southwest Wales. Each huge stone would have to have been chiselled out of the rock face to pretty much it’s required measurements prior to being loaded onto sledges and dragged over rollers all the way to the Welsh coast, close to what is today Milford Haven. Here they were loaded onto rafts and floated along the Welsh coast until they reached the River Avon.From here, they were floated upstream to the confluence of the River Frome and from there, another back-breaking “drag-and-roll” across land to Warminster. The penultimate stage was to load the stones onto rafts once more and float them down the River Wylye to Salisbury, then transfer to the Salisbury Avon to West Amesbury, then culminating in a final three mile roll across the Plain to deposit them at their resting place.It’s hard to even conceive the planning and geographical knowledge this must have entailed as well as the sheer muscle power required to lift 82 four tonne stones all the way from Preseli to Stonehenge, a distance of about 230 miles. Then there’s the navigational prowess to steer the rafts along 150 miles of Welsh coastline, coping with tides, currents and sandbars.Having arrived on site, the stones were erected in an incomplete double circle. Also, the entrance to the original earthworks were widened and the massive “Heel Stones” raised. Finally, the nearest part of the avenue was built, forming a perfect alignment with the rising midsummer sun. Stage two was complete.Stage three commenced around 2000 BC and this defined the shape of Stonehenge that we all recognise today. This saw the arrival of the giant Sarsen Stones, used both as uprights and as lintels.. These huge stones originated from a site on the Marlborough Downs, about 25 miles east of Stonehenge. There are marked similarities between the Sarsen Stones of Stonehenge and the huge standing stones at Avebury, Wiltshire’s other prehistoric circle. The Sarsens all weighed in at around 50 tonnes and again, we can only marvel at the strength, fortitude and ingenuity of these ancient masons.The terrain from Marlborough had no rivers to facilitate “easy” handling of the stones so each Sarsen was manhandled across 25 miles of undulating hills and valleys using rollers and sledges, each one requiring possibly 500 men to pull each stone with a further 100 needed to keep replacing the rollers in front of the sledge. All the Sarsens were erected in an outer circle and all originally had lintels linking them to the next stone on either side. It’s blatantly obvious to any visitor here that many of the Sarsens are missing today and there is no trace of them nearby or within a considerable distance from the site.Finally, five massive Trlithons were erected in the centre of the Sarsens in a horseshoe configuration, most of which remain to this day. As a postscript, some of the bluestones were rearranged around 1500 BC. There were 82 of these originally, of which some 60 comprised the circle but like the Sarsens, over the centuries they have fallen, been removed and probably broken up. Many now remain as stumps beneath the surface.Well, that’s my trip over with for today and it’s been quite a day. I’ve seen three vibrant villages, one ghost village and one prehistoric site, enough for any day’s intake. AND, it’s only a 30 minute drive back home. Close
There’s a village right in the centre of Salisbury Plain that has become something of an enigma; it appears on few maps, is therefore difficult to locate, and more importantly, can only be accessed via a narrow road that the military opens up just a…Read More
There’s a village right in the centre of Salisbury Plain that has become something of an enigma; it appears on few maps, is therefore difficult to locate, and more importantly, can only be accessed via a narrow road that the military opens up just a couple of times a year. The road leaves the main A360 at Gore Cross and heads west for several miles across the expanse of Salisbury Plain with little other than scrub covered hillsides to look at. The village is Imber and it’s history is fascinating……A settlement was known to exist here in Roman times and there is evidence of old tracks that lead out from the village in many directions. Documented evidence begins in Saxon times and the village is mentioned in the Domeday Book when it’s population was thought to be around fifty. The village sits astride what used to be a through road from Gore Cross to Heytesbury, with it’s manor, church, post office, pub, farm and cottages. The road followed the course of Imber Dock, a stream whose source was way up on the Plain.Back in the late 19th century, the War Office needed an area where it could practise manoeuvres with ground troops as well as a range for artillery firing. Obviously, this had to be well away from any existing towns or villages and so large expanses of Salisbury Plain began to be bought up, initially to the east of the village on the road to Gore Cross. As military hardware became more sophisticated and artillery became longer range, the existing land on the Plain became too small and, although the War Office had stopped purchasing land by the beginning of WWI, it soon started to grab whatever it could. Gradually, Imber became surrounded by ranges until local farms were purchased as well as land in the village itself.The locals were only too pleased initially to sell up; the agricultural depression of the time plus the good prices the War Office offered, persuaded all but the most die-hard to sell their land and before long, the military owned just about every square yard available.Life did still continue in the village until a shock announcement in November 1943 was to change the history of the village forever.A meeting was called by the War Office and every villager was asked to attend. The military were preparing for the D-Day landings and required an area where they could recreate what we today would call urban warfare. They thought that once the beaches of Normandy had fallen, they would have to embark upon house-to-house fighting to force the Germans back and, with this in mind, they wanted to train both UK and US forces for the assault. The villagers were given 47 days to leave the village with a promise that they could return “when this all blew over”.Most left peacefully, after all, they had no say in the matter and none wanted to be seen to be going against the war effort. Compensation was poor and a few stalwarts did refuse to give up their farms and businesses, most notably the local blacksmith who was forcibly evicted by the army whilst clinging to his anvil where he had made his living for 40 year. He had the dubious distinction of being the first evacuated villager to die and be brought back to Imber for burial.The training commenced with the forces constructing their own “village” where the soldiers could practise what is now called FIBUA – fighting in built up areas. This has continued up to the present day with troops being trained for the conflicts in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, the Falklands, Iraq and so on.Needless to say, the villagers were never invited back – Imber had simply become too important to the military to relinquish, plus it now meant they effectively owned almost all of the Plain, an area equivalent to the Isle of Wight.I drive down the main street today – all that’s left is the pub, the manor, the church of St Giles and a few farm buildings, all boarded up and all out-of-bounds to civilians. They used to let the villagers back every New Year’s Eve for a service in the church but years of repeated artillery and tank fire has weakened the structure beyond all repair and it is no longer deemed safe. There are more military-built buildings here than original ones and the place has a desolate, lost air about it, full of ghosts but not much else.It’s now 65 years since the village was evacuated and the surviving villagers are numbering less and less with the passing of each year. Some make the trip out to Imber for the annual peace vigil that is now held in place of the church service and this year they could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Rather sadly, they can’t even pay their respects to their loved ones who are buried just a few yards away in the grounds of St Giles.One day soon, maybe a stray shell will explode in the village and wipe it from the map forever, whether that would be a good or bad thing, I’m not really sure……. Close
Another five miles south brings me to the village of Shrewton. The surrounding area abounds with early settlements such as Addestone, Maddington, Rollestone and Bourton which are all part of the present-day parish. The three major estates of the area all formed together in 1236…Read More
Another five miles south brings me to the village of Shrewton. The surrounding area abounds with early settlements such as Addestone, Maddington, Rollestone and Bourton which are all part of the present-day parish. The three major estates of the area all formed together in 1236 to become “Sheriff’s Town” from which the latter day name is derived. This was due to Edward of Salisbury who held the estates and who was of course Sheriff of Wiltshire.The village, like Tilshead, is surrounded by Neolithic barrows and has the remains of a field system to it’s north. Roman and Saxon artefacts have been unearthed around the place. Indeed, the area was probably at it’s peak during these times as the Domesday Book records that there was sufficient arable land for “25 villeins, 29 bordars, 2 cottars and 20 serfs”, as well as “21 plough teams”.The village sits in the Till Valley and again, most of the earlier properties were constructed with the local flint and stone. It is the centre for a wide expanse of the Plain and this is reflected in the number of businesses that flourish here. The major sight in the village is the blind-house or lock-up, a domed stone building that sits adjacent to the main road. This was built primarily as a cell for local miscreants although it was also used to hold prisoners overnight who were being transported from the assize courts in Devizes to Salisbury gaol. It’s precarious position by the side of a major road caused it to deteriorate considerably, not least of all when it was hit by a tank during WWII, and more recently by heavy lorries, so in the 1980’s, it was moved brick-by-brick and rebuilt several feet away from the roadside.The village church is well back from the road and is accessed via a short track opposite the present-day filling station. The church is only open one day per week and like the others I’ve seen today, is small, constructed with flint, and has a stubby tower. Like Tilshead, there are also Flood Cottages here at the northern end of the village which shows the extent of the damage from the 1841 disaster. These too have a wall plaque depicting the history of the houses but like those in Tilshead, these have also been rebuilt and have lost their original charm.The downlands all around the village were ideal for sheep rearing and for growing wheat and barley. At one time, Shrewton possessed it’s own water-mill but by the mid 16th century, a wind-mill was in use at Maddington. This remained in use until 1841 but had been converted to steam by the 1890’s and fell into disuse by the early 1900’s.Visitors will notice that the kerbstones here are edged with metal – this was done to protect them from the heavy tracked vehicles that regularly thundered through the village en route to the ranges. The military greatly increased their land ownership around the village in the early 1900’s and today, Shrewton is surrounded by huge camps such as Larkhill as well as the firing ranges. Close
Returning to the car at West Lavington, I leave the village and head for Tilshead, a further four miles south along the A360. As I enter the place, I could be forgiven for assuming that it’s just another small military garrison with it’s “no tracked…Read More
Returning to the car at West Lavington, I leave the village and head for Tilshead, a further four miles south along the A360. As I enter the place, I could be forgiven for assuming that it’s just another small military garrison with it’s “no tracked vehicles allowed” signs posted at the entrance to most of the side lanes. Tilshead is indeed an important military town but most of the installations are situated on the hillsides surrounding the town and do not as such impose upon this historic place. The name “Tilshead” derives from the name Tidwulr and refers to his area of land that would have supported one family. The source of the River Till is close by but in this instance, the name is purely coincidental. The Domeday Book records the village as having “66 burgesses”, making it one of the wealthiest and largest boroughs in Wiltshire, no doubt due to it’s position on the grasslands of the central Plain which supported thousands of sheep.The first aspect you notice is that most of the buildings are constructed with stone and flint, some with a check pattern , others with alternate rows. The uplands here are full of flint and it makes for a cheap but immensely robust way of building a house, church, barn or whatever.The church sits to the north of the main street and is also flint and stone. It is dedicated to St Thomas A’ Becket and dates from the 13th century, it’s stumpy tower barely higher than the chancel walls. Looking up at the chancel wall, you can see an original slatted wooden window, this dating to a time when glass was simply too scarce and too expensive to be utilised. Like it’s neighbour in West Lavington, it too sits in a tranquil little churchyard, overlooked by enormous yews. Heading west along the main street, to the left are the Flood Cottages. These were built in 1842 from public funds to support the needy of the parishes of Tilshead and Shrewton who had sustained losses in the flood of that year. It might seem rather strange for there are no major watercourses in the area. The inscription reads….THESE COTTAGES WERE BUILDED IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1842 FROM A PORTION OF THE FUND SUBSCRIBED BY THE POOR OF THIS AND FIVE NEIGHBOURING PARISHES IN THE GREAT FLOOD OF 1841 ARE VESTED IN THE NAMES OF TWELVE TRUSTEES WHO SHALL LET THEM TO THE BEST ADVANTAGE AND AFTER RESERVING OUT OF THE RENTS A SUM SUFFICIENT TO MAINTAIN THE PREMISES IN GOOD REPAIR SHALL EXPEND THE REMAINDER IN FUEL AND CLOTHING AND DISTRIBUTE THE SAME AMONGST THE POOR OF THE SAID PARISHES ON THE 16 DAY OF JANUARY FOR EVER BEING THE ANNIVERSARY OF THAT AWFUL VISITATION.(They weren’t big on punctuation back in 1842)On 16th January 1841, a rapid thaw set in after two days of exceptionally heavy snow on the hills surrounding the village. The thaw caused a huge deluge of water to rush down into the village across land that was still frozen and therefore, could not absorb any of the torrent. By all accounts, a wall of water some ten feet deep hurtled through the village sweeping most of the buildings away before it. Fortunately, a warning was received and no villagers were killed although the damage to property was enormous, with barns, houses, fences and walls being totally destroyed as well as many head of sheep and cattle.The village does boast an very good pub in the Rose and Crown where I have both eaten and had a beer on several occasions – like the rest of the village, it too is built from the local flint. Not that much else to say about Tilshead other than the fact that it does sit smack bang in the middle of the Plain and does suffer from extremes of weather, ranging from howling gales to white-out blizzards. If you like “rural”, then Tilshead could be right up your street. Close
Five miles south of Devizes on the A360 brings me to my first port-of-call, namely the village of West Lavington. The village is little more than one long street with a few side lanes that lead to some interesting and historic buildings. I must have…Read More
Five miles south of Devizes on the A360 brings me to my first port-of-call, namely the village of West Lavington. The village is little more than one long street with a few side lanes that lead to some interesting and historic buildings. I must have driven through here a thousand times and never had the time or inclination to pull over to investigate but today is to be different.I pull across the main road and deposit the car in Church Lane under the shade of a giant yew whose branches are overhanging the churchyard fence. The church is dedicated to All Saints and sits in a lofted position at the southern end of the village, surrounded by a well-tended churchyard full of ancient gravestones. The church dates to Saxon times although the original wooden building has been rebuilt using flint and stone after the Norman Conquest, possibly in the early 13th century.This is indeed a very old village – evidence exists of occupation in late Neolithic and Bronze age times with barrows and field systems visible on the hills to the south of the village. Settlement remains from Roman occupation times are to be found in the grounds of Littleton Panell manor, a village to the north which forms the local parish with West Lavington. Saxon development certainly occurred in the village but this is not visible by building remains as the Saxons built entirely with wood; instead, proof is gleaned from the Domeday Book in which the settlement is recorded as “Lafa’s Farm” and contained “ a mill, two hides and eight virgates of land with six plough teams and their men”.I take a wander around the village although most of the more historic buildings are to be found at the southern end around Stibb Hill. The first I find are the old almshouses which were originally built as the west wing of Dauntsey’s House. These were turned over to “the poor of the parish” in the early 19th century and sadly, due to them falling into dereliction, all have now been partly rebuilt or modernised to the point that they are scarcely recognisable. I follow Stibb Hill, and cross over the babbling Bulkington Brook which flows through the village. To my left is the late-Georgian Pyt House and a bit further along I find a long timber-framed house which rather oddly, is built onto a stone plinth.I return to the main road and head south to Rutts Lane for here is one of the village’s most striking buildings, the wonderful Dial House, dating to 1691 and displaying a still-working sundial above it’s main entrance.In April 1689, the village suffered a disastrous fire which destroyed “226 bays of buildings”. A bay was thought to represent the area between two sets of crucks, the wooden frames that provided the support for the roof and walls. Houses, stables, barns and other outbuildings were razed to the ground with a total value of “£1,608, 18 shillings and eightpence”. The only buildings now that pre-date the fire are the Old Manor House, West Lavington Manor and Old House in Duck Street.Walking back along the main road, I see two huge hooks suspended on the wall of an old converted barn; these were the “thatch hooks” and were used to rip burning thatch from the roofs of cottages to prevent the damage from spreading. They were last used in 1932. Just past here, on the same side is an unnamed building upon whose gable end is a striking (no pun intended) clock which also depicts the phases of the moon. A bit further still and I find the old “Horse and Groom”, once one of the village alehouses that still retains the metal bracket above the door where the pub sign would have hung.The village has it’s fair share of ghost stories; the first concerns the “Headless Woman” who would appear for a few seconds in the graveyard before disappearing again. In the late 1800’s, the graveyard wall was demolished, revealing the headless skeletons of a woman and child. The second concerns a drummer boy who met a grisly end in the 1770’s. In the years following his demise, an Army colour sergeant was walking past the murder scene when he apparently saw and heard the boy. It frightened him so that he immediately confessed to the murder and subsequently met his maker via the gallows.Between 1910 and 1936 the as was then War Department (now the Ministry of Defence) gradually acquired over 4,000 acres of the parish land, earmarking it for troop and artillery practise. These days, every Tuesday sees the ranges to both east and west of the village thundering away. The noise is quite deafening and must be the only downside to living in this most historic village that has continued to thrive and grow whilst others see their inhabitants moving to the larger towns for work and facilities. Close
Written by MichaelJM on 14 Jun, 2005
We enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the medieval city. We started in the cathedral grounds and spent some time examining the external architectural features of the cathedral. There are a great number of plinthed statues with fantastically preserved (or restored) features, and of course, no…Read More
We enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the medieval city. We started in the cathedral grounds and spent some time examining the external architectural features of the cathedral. There are a great number of plinthed statues with fantastically preserved (or restored) features, and of course, no church would be complete without its ghoulish gargoyles. These were superb characters, and we paused to imagine what they would have looked like originally with rainwater spewing from their mouths.
On that day, there was an interesting art display next to the cathedral with numerous stakes displaying colourful flags. The gentle breeze rattled the delicate canes as we meandered our way through this impressive installation. On the grounds, there are also a number of modern statues placed in juxtaposition against the soaring spire of Salisbury Cathedral. They should have looked out of place, but this fine cathedral tolerates differences very easily, along with the stone "Lazarus" and "Fallen Angel" crouched in the shadow of the massive structure, which also dwarfed the frail bronze of a walking woman.
Unfortunately, the National Trust Mompesson House is closed on Fridays, so we could only stand and stare at the external features of this impressive 18th-century house set in the cathedral close. We’d read that it was featured in the film "Sense and Sensibility" but could only wonder about its inner features. Perhaps another time we’ll catch it open.
Ancient gates still stand proud in the city, and you will have to exit through one of them to leave the cathedral behind you. The Western Gate had a great heraldic carving at the top and led us towards the "river walk." We originally hoped to find a view of the cathedral from the riverside, but this was not to be, but we were treated to some great scenery with swans, accompanied by their cygnets, floating gracefully down the river, geese feeding on the river bank alongside brightly coloured ducks. Cows grazed in the nearby fields, and magpies hopped from the backs of sedate sheep as they lie in the meadows. All this within walking distance of a city centre offered a clear reminder of the influence that this part of the country had on John Constable.
As we crossed back over the main road, we saw a strange, tall clock tower building that, on close inspection, seemed to have been built on the city jail. The foundations had shackles and chains carved on an integrated stone plaque. Tucked round the back of the marketplace is the church of St Thomas Beckett, a three-tired angular building, and close by is the market’s Buttercross.
There are loads of really interesting buildings to be spotted, and we enjoyed our stop-start wander around this fascinating city. There are countless small independent shops, and if you really want to make shopping easy, head for the Old George Mall in the city centre. Also, this is a central place to park at reasonable rates.
Written by GB from Devizes on 18 Feb, 2005
Salisbury caters well to its many visitors, and just as it has a wide variety of pubs and bars, so too can it offer a similar range of eating establishments.
As more and more of the city becomes pedestrianised, you have the additional option of…Read More
Salisbury caters well to its many visitors, and just as it has a wide variety of pubs and bars, so too can it offer a similar range of eating establishments.
As more and more of the city becomes pedestrianised, you have the additional option of choosing a pavement café to sit and make your coffee last as long as possible while you watch the world go by. These are some of the more reputable eateries in the city...
First are the cafés, and we have Michael Snells in St Thomas' Square, one of the city's oldest established tea rooms, famed for its homemade cakes and pastries. Having sampled one of their delights, I can vouch not only for the taste, but also the calorific value.
Next there is Le Cafe Parisien in the Market Square, French, surprisingly, and rather good, too. It has great variety but is a little pricey. David Brown's Food Hall on Catherine Street is just that, a huge variety of food , whether you want a snack or a banquet.
Finally, there is Stoners on Blue Boar Row. I can heartily recommend this place, as they serve superb snacks and light meals at reasonable prices.
Restaurants come next, and you'll be spoiled for choice... Afon Bar & Brasserie is situated right on the river and is relaxing and friendly. It has a great menu, from light bites to haute cuisine, plus there are barbecues in summer. It’s the best place in town for my money.
The Cafe Med on Castle Street serves an eclectic mix of modern and traditional food from around the world, including fabulous seafood, all prepared by their award winning chef.
Other notable mentions include The Chough on Blue Boar Row; Robins Restaurant and The Exit Lounge, both on Catherine Street; and The Haunch of Venison on Minster Street.
Finally, there are greasy spoons. Let’s face it, if all you want is a cholesterol-inducing sandwich whilst "on the hoof" then look no farther than the aptly named Bacon Sandwich on South Western Road, a good old selection of "anything you want between two bits of bread."
It's impossible to stay hungry for long in Salisbury, there are simply too many establishments applying their "tractor beams," one of which will always haul you in.
As a last thought, the city also has a good smattering of Thai, Indian, Mexican, Chinese, and other ethnic restaurants, most of which are fin,e but space precludes inclusion here. Bon apetit!
PS - Having been to Salisbury again today, I went into Mr T's Cafe on the Market Place. Save your money - the "food" is awful, service is non-existent, and the prices for what you get are expensive. There's a McDonald’s up the road; I wish I'd gone there instead.
Written by golondon on 20 Dec, 2001
Our arrival in Salisbury was just in time for the Nativity Play at the Cathedral. The kids were darling, there was a real donkey and cute costumes. The Cathedral had placed carpets on the stone floor for kids to sit on near where…Read More
Our arrival in Salisbury was just in time for the Nativity Play at the Cathedral. The kids were darling, there was a real donkey and cute costumes. The Cathedral had placed carpets on the stone floor for kids to sit on near where the play took place. It was, as Nativity plays usually are, a wonderful retelling of the family story, but with a twist. The main character was a water carrier, a little boy watching the Holy Family from the sidelines and then interpreting what he saw from a child's view. The priest read the scriptures and the Cathedral choir sang. Then we all sang Old Little Town of Bethlehem and the choir and clergy departed. A great way to start Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, after a long, leisurely dinner, we played Scrabble and visited until it was time for midnight services at the Cathedral. We bundled up and headed off ... the Cathedral was lit inside and out, and there were easily 2500 people at the service. The choir sang beautifully, the sermon was the Christmas story, and then we were served the first Eucharist of Christmas. If there had been an altar call, I'd have been the first down front! Even though there had been 2500 in the Cathedral, everyone left silently and outside the Cathedral was so quiet. There was just a touch of frost on the ground and it crunched when you stepped on it. What a perfect end to a perfect day.
Next morning, with every intention of attending an early service, we all slept in and barely managed to get to the 11:45am Family Service. The Family Service was so much fun; it was for young children. The priest said since everyone was leaving the service to go to their own Christmas Day lunches, he wanted the children to see what people in other lands were having today. There were 6 tables, one with African food, one with Jewish food, one with Mexican food, etc. One little boy, maybe two years old, was sitting in the back of the congregation and couldn't see. He was curious to know what was on the tables, so he toddled up the aisle with all eyes following. He tiptoed to the tables and peeked to see what was there. He came to the Jewish table, saw the bagels, grabbed one in each hand and flew back down the aisle to his parents, so proud of what he'd done. The entire congregation laughed, as did the priest. Apparently Daddy had told him he had to return the bagels, so once again the little boy walked up the aisle, got to the correct table and put the bagels back. He then stood, staring at the priest, as if seeking approval. The priest obligingly said, "Thank you, Sean" and the little boy flew back down the aisle satisfied. Another congregational laugh! It was a very relaxed service, to say the least. It's very heartening to see that although this is a huge Cathedral, it is still a parish church.
Salisbury Cathedral's regular services include daily matins and evensongs. The sung services include the Cathedral Choir, which is not to be missed. Schedule your visit around a worship service, enjoy the music and you'll get a feel for the cathedral that a tour can't give you.