A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.
This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.
Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.
In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.
This week, the area of England that includes the counties of Gloucestershire, Somerset & Wiltshire.
Salisbury is an ancient town that was once a Roman garrison. Today it’s a thriving market town at the crossroads of London, Bath, Winchester and Dorchester.
In its centre is the stunning Salisbury Cathedral, the tallest medieval building in the world. At 450ft long it was built in just 38 years between 1220-58, and all done in one style: Early English Gothic. It was the last new cathedral in England before St Paul’s nearly 500 years later. It contains the world’s oldest working clock and a stunning mirror-like baptismal font. In the Chapter House is an original and fine copy of the Magna Carta, the world’s earliest surviving written constitution.
Salisbury Cathedral is on five acres of land surrounded by walls known as The Close. The environs were described by the American travel writer Bill Bryson as the most beautiful place in England. Certainly, both Turner and Constable found it an inspiration for their paintings. At no.59 is an 18th century mansion called the Arundels. It was once the home of former Prime Minister Ted Heath. William Golding lived at No. 11 and wrote Lord of the Flies while teaching at the local Wordsworth school. At No.14 is Fielding House where Henry Fielding wrote part of Tom Jones. St Ann’s Gate on Exeter Street has a 14thcentury chapel where Handel gave early performances. On the meadow in the centre you will find the Elizabeth Frink sculpture Striding Madonna.
There are plenty of appropriate food options in the town including many good restaurants and pubs, but the Refectory café in the cathedral itself is perfectly set for lunch or tea.
Close-by the small city is the former site of Salisbury: the deserted iron-age hill-fort of Old Sarum. Well worth a visit with spectacular views of the ‘new’ town that replaced it.
Also nearby is Wilton House. It was once a nunnery which was dissolved in Henry VIII’s reformation and given to the king’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Pembroke, via his last marriage to Catherine Parr in 1544. The second Earl of Pembroke was William Shakespeare’s sponsor and married the poet Philip Sidney’s sister Mary. The family later started the Wilton carpet empire. The house has been constantly remodelled. Highlights include Inigo Jones’s single and double cube room (with paintings by Van Dyck and furnishing by Kent and Chippendale), and the renowned gardens. It has been used as a location for many movies including Pride & Prejudice (2005).
Salisbury: The most beautiful place in England? It’s certainly up there.
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.
For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com
*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:
- Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
- Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
- Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
- Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
- South coast (Hants/Dorset)
- Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
- South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
- Wales (north & south)
- Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
- Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
- Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
- Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
- East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
- Yorks (all ridings)
- North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
- North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
- Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
- Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
- Ireland (Northern/Southern)