“I believed this might be a quiet job,” says Marie Thomas, smiling ruefully as she swirls the cup of tea in entrance of her.

“I was a TV exec and I believed it was all a bit worrying. Little did I do know…” she trails off for a second.

While you hear her job title, it’s simple to know why Marie would possibly really feel short-changed – she’s head of PR at Salisbury cathedral. 

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Earlier than this yr, it was doubtless a beautiful gig; busy, certain, however easy. Earlier press releases concerned nesting peregrine falcons and silent discos. However 2018 has pushed the cathedral, and the town of Salisbury itself, to breaking level. Everybody I communicate to laments the shortage of holiday makers since two separate poisonings by suspected Russian brokers happened right here in March and June (like one thing straight out of a Bond movie). 

Then, simply because the furore was starting to die down, somebody tried to make off with the cathedral’s copy of the Magna Carta, smashing the priceless doc’s case in with a hammer (like one thing straight out of a Dan Brown novel). It’s been fairly a yr.

Footfall to the cathedral was down by round 60 per cent at one level based on Geoff Cain, proprietor of native tour firm Salisbury, Stonehenge and Sarum Excursions – this regardless of its 123m spire, famously referenced by the prime suspects within the Novichok poisoning case throughout an interview with Russia At the moment, by which they claimed to have been visiting Salisbury merely as vacationers.

Salisbury cathedral is one in every of Britain’s best (Getty)

“It’s well-known for its clock, the primary one ever created on the earth, which remains to be working,” the pair added of the cathedral. “We had been simply taking within the English gothic [style]. No person exhibits that half.” 

For all that the web went nuts over the bewildering assertion, it’s an undeniably lovely constructing – as we rapidly uncover on a tour. Our information Chris’s ardour for the place is infectious. “Humour me, please, and don’t look to your proper till I inform you,” he says excitedly, main us in the direction of the rear of the cathedral.

“Await it… Now, flip round!” We’re standing again and centre, the entire of the constructing specified by entrance of us, its majestic arches reaching heavenwards. It’s an awe-inspiring prospect – however not the very best one. That’s up a spiral staircase, which Chris climbs with sprightly aplomb.

File picture of the Magna Carta on show in Salisbury (PA)

“Take a look at how lovely that’s,” he sighs from our increased perch. “I simply can’t recover from it.”

The cathedral has greater than 700 volunteers like him, every compelled to share their presents right here for the sheer love of it. Emily the librarian is on the payroll, however she crackles with an analogous power as she exhibits us a number of the rarer books in her assortment. The Magna Carta remains to be off limits after final month’s tried theft, however she lovingly turns the pages of the cathedral cartulary – a guide of vital paperwork which were copied, very similar to an early type of backing up – to discover a copy of England’s most well-known constitution. It’s in Latin, after all, and due to this fact completely indecipherable to me; however nonetheless, it feels thrilling to the touch the identical delicate, yellowing pages that had been hand written greater than 800 years in the past.

The cathedral isn’t the one motive the poisoning suspects gave for visiting this enticing metropolis although. The entire place is dripping with medieval structure – not that you simply’d at all times realize it from avenue degree.

Salisbury has loads of medieval buildings (Getty Pictures/iStockphoto)

“What’s wonderful about Salisbury is that it’s not a museum, it’s a dwelling, respiration metropolis,” Blue Badge information Sue tells us as we stroll by means of the quaint metropolis centre, the cobbled streets and market squares quickly to be given some additional dazzle as soon as the Christmas lights are switched on later that night. “There are all these unimaginable 13th and 14th century buildings – however they’re nonetheless used as retailers.”

She exhibits us some gems we’d by no means have guessed had been there: outdoor-wear retailer Cotswold is housed in a Corridor Home relationship from 1306 with conventional wattle and daub on show on the primary flooring; the native Odeon nonetheless has its unique 14th-century beams and stained glass after it was restored by Augustus Pugin, co-builder of the Homes of Parliament, within the 1800s.

Even mattress, breakfast and lunch come with a aspect of historical past. The earlier night time was spent within the Pink Lion, supposedly “Europe’s oldest purpose-built resort”, whereas I hoovered up a wonderful fish pie at The Haunch of Venison, doubtless the town’s oldest hostelry.

Stonehenge is bombarded with guests (AFP/Getty Pictures)

However none of it may possibly compete with the realm’s most historical – and most well-known – landmark. Simply half an hour down the highway sits the Neolithic stone circle to finish all Neolithic stone circles. And Stonehenge doesn’t appear to be affected by the Novichok impact – removed from it. Receiving coachloads of vacationers day-after-day, the attraction is celebrating 100 years because it was given over to public possession. Greater than 1.5 million guests flock right here yearly, ensuing within the flip aspect of the tourism coin: welcome folks with out being overwhelmed? How to deal with demand with out endangering the positioning itself?

The customer centre, which opened 5 years in the past, has positively helped, offering a focus and an area to study extra – however crucially one that may be a long way away from the henge. Right here, a everlasting exhibition explaining extra about how folks would have lived on the time the monument was constructed sits alongside revolving shows, with the present one on the UK’s connection to Europe created in collaboration with the British Museum. The stones are 2km down the highway, accessible through a shuttle service included with the admission value, or on foot.

“We attempt to encourage folks to stroll,” says Susan Greaney, a senior properties historian with English Heritage. “It helps to get a way of what England is all about. We would like folks to remain longer, to essentially discover the positioning, somewhat than simply getting a selfie with the stones and leaving.”

Fisherton Gallery sells bespoke merchandise (Helen Coffey)

Sluggish tourism is the secret in these elements – Stonehenge already encourages guests to hold round and discover out extra at two native museums, Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. Now, a not too long ago launched touring route working from London to Bristol through Wiltshire, The Nice West Method, motivates vacationers to slacken their tempo much more alongside a 125-mile route.

Heading again to Salisbury’s fairly streets for a final spot of procuring on the metropolis’s unbiased boutiques, together with lingering over lust-worthy homewares, art work and jewelry on the Fisherton Gallery, I can solely hope that it really works. 

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As a result of regardless of the wildly implausible, tragic occasions of 2018, it is a metropolis value savouring, having fun with, loitering in. A metropolis whose wealthy historical past far outstrips current occasions. A metropolis that deserves way more than being relegated to a punchline in a topical joke. 

(However do go and see that 123m cathedral spire. You gained’t remorse it.)

Journey necessities

Doubles on the Pink Lion from £85, room solely.

Stonehenge admission prices £17.50.


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