Trace your Ancestors Back in Time - Wiltshire Itinerary Days 2 and 3

Stourhead, Salisbury, Magna Carta and a Grand Finale in Stonehenge

Our discovery of enigmatic Wiltshire began with a day touring its many ancient sites and monuments – see my earlier post.

Extending your stay another couple of days will enable you to explore deeper.  On days 2 and 3, visit a world famous landscaped garden, the magnificence of Salisbury Cathedral (Magna Carta) , Salisbury Museum and finish with a grand finale at Stonehenge.

Salisbury Cathedral Cloisters

Day 2 - Stourhead, Salisbury Cathedral, Magna Carta, Salisbury Museum

Stourhead - Palladian House and World Famous Landscape Garden

Stourhead is a National Trust property.  If you want to do the full 3 Day itinerary, then National Trust Membership is going to be well worthwhile.

Many of the sites in this itinerary can be easily visited without booking ahead, but Salisbury Cathedral & Stonehenge are worth booking in advance.

When Stourhead first opened in the 1740s, it was described as ‘a living work of art’.  It is a world famous landscape garden offering beautiful, peaceful vistas and surprises around every corner.  It is lovely to visit all year round, but it looked particularly stunning in Autumn.  If you want to capture the classic “front of the brochure” shot, be sure to get there as soon as it opens.

The house opens at 11am and is interesting to wander around – although the highlight for me was the beautiful gardens. The final of  Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year was used here in 2015.

Salisbury Stourhead Autumn
Stourhead Autumn Vista

One of the most interesting exhibits in the house is the Pope’s Cabinet.  Follow the link to find out a bit more about it.  Maddeningly for me though – I still haven’t found out exactly what was INSIDE all those intricate little drawers and they cannot be opened!

Salisbury Stourhead Pope’s cabinet
Stourhead - The Pope’s Cabinet

Salisbury Cathedral

We left Stourhead at 12.20 and headed for Salisbury.  Parking in the centre of the centre was a bit of a challenge and you may well be better to take the Park & Ride.  Make sure you allow plenty of time if you have pre-booked your visit time (advisable).

What is there to see at Salisbury Cathedral?  A LOT more than you would think!

Wiltshire Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral - through the Arched Window

There is so much more to see at Salisbury Cathedral than you might think, so allow plenty of time.  We started our visit at 2pm and spent two and a half hours there, including a pre visit lunch stop at the beautifully located cafe in the cloisters

Salisbury Cathedral - Must Dos

For me, the highlights of the visit/Must Dos were:

  1. The magnificent Font.

  2. Magna Carta – 1 of 4 surviving & the only one on permanent public display.  Find out more about the role of this document in the birth of democracy on Neil Olver’s podcast.  The exhibition at the cathedral really makes you think about the fundamental questions that are raised by restriction of freedoms during the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

  3. The world’s oldest working Medieval Clock, carefully restored in 1956.

  4. The Cathedral is built on water.  Discover how the level is continuously measured through a secret tile in the floor.

  5. Threads Through Creation – Embroidery Exhibition 

Salisbury Cathedral - Font
Salisbury Cathedral - Font

The World's Oldest Working Medieval Clock

The Cathedral Built on Water

Salisbury Cathedral Water Level
Salisbury Cathedral - Measuring the Water Level through a secret tile

Threads through Creation - Creating the World in Eight Million Stitches

As if there wasn’t enough to entertain you at Salisbury Cathedral already, a fascinating embroidery exhibition has recently been unveiled there, which is a real bonus.

Threads through Creation – created by textile artist Jacqui Parkinson – is a collection of 12 embroidered panels that tell the story of The Creation in 8 million stitches.  It is a stunning piece of work.

Salisbury Cathedral - Threads Through Creation
Salisbury Cathedral - Threads Through Creation

Salisbury Cathedral - Fascinating Facts

  1. Salisbury Cathedral is the Cathedral that Moved.  It was originally built at Old Sarum 2 miles away.  The story of the long and delicate operation to move it is fascinating,

  2. It costs £14.000 a day to run.  A 45 year maintenance program is just coming to an end.  It sets the entrance fee into valuable context.

Salisbury Museum

Salisbury Museum is just a short walk from the Cathedral and a visit can be easily combined in an afternoon.

For me, the most interesting exhibit was the remains of the Amesbury Archer 2400 – 2200 BC.  This was one of the earliest bell beaker graves in Britain.  The grave and its five beakers tells us this man’s whole life story:

  •  He died aged 35-45
  • He started out as an archer, but became a metalworker – a new skill which bringing to a Britain would have made him a wealthy man.
  • He was buried with ample food for the after life in one of his beakers and a spear for protection
  • He still has a nice set of teeth even though his remains are 4300 years old – chalk is a good preserver.
Salisbury Museum Amesbury Archer
Salisbury Museum - The Amesbury Archer

Day 3 - A Grand Finale - Stonehenge

On the last day of our 2 day trip to Wiltshire, we visited Stonehenge and took the first trip of the morning out to the monument on the bus from the car park.  It is a good time to visit – the site is quiet and you can meander to your heart’s content listening to the informative audio guide which you can download onto your ‘phone at the visitor centre.

Wiltshire Stonehenge

The current consensus is that Stonehenge is a form of prehistoric temple – the stones are intriguingly carefully aligned with the movements of the sun.  They were probably dragged into position using sledges, pulled by a group of people.

You can’t actually touch the shoes any more.  The visitor centre has a fascinating photography exhibition “Your Stonehenge” showing family photos of trips to Stonehenge going back through several generations.  Photos show families picnicking on the stones back in the 1950s – it is hard to imagine that now.

Tips for Future Travellers

If you want to see Stonehenge at its best, the trip to book is probably the £47 per person Stone Circle Experience Tour where numbers are limited to a maximum of 30 people you are allowed to walk amongst the stones inside the circle.

Time your visit for sunrise/sunset to capture instagram worthy photos.

Salisbury Stonehenge Heelstone
Stonehenge - The Heelstone
Salisbury Stonehenge Winter Sunrise
Stonehenge - Winter Sunrise

There is an interesting perspective on Stonehenge if you follow the invitations on strategically placed notice boards all around it to photograph yourself holding Stonehenge in your hand, kicking it over etc.  We certainly had some fun trying these out.  

Naturally, you just have to finish your grand finale trip to “Your Stonehenge” with the obligatory selfie – don’t you?

Salisbury Stonehenge Selfie
Stonehenge - The Grand Finale - Selfie (!)

Final Reflections

The overwhelming question that played on my mind as my action packed visit to enigmatic Wiltshire drew to a close was:  

“What will be left of our today’s generation in 6000 years time and what our descendants will make of it?