Tuesday 21 May 2024

Salisbury re-visited

As many of you will probably have gathered, I've been spending some of the free time between my part time job and family commitments along with working on house and garden projects. Every now and then I like to take a trip out somewhere further afield, although the furthest I've managed this year, was a visit to the Black Country. However, if you've read the posts I wrote, you'll know it was one of the best trips so far as classic pubs, good beer and equally good company are concerned, that I've enjoyed for a long time. I've been meaning to travel further north with perhaps a visit to Leeds or even Newcastle, but with a lot going on the home front at the moment, I decided upon somewhere closer to home, and with less travailing involved.

Salisbury fitted the bill nicely, as it's a city I’d been wanting to visit for a long time. Son Matthew had also been keen on a trip there, although the cost of the train fare, put him off somewhat, (unlike me, he doesn't have a rail card.) I too couldn't understand the inflated price of traveling there by train, so I looked at the alternative, cross-country route via Redhill, Guildford, and Woking. It wasn’t quite half price, but still promised a considerable saving by not traveling via London. Our capital city really is a stumbling block when it comes to long distance train travel, as any journeys passing through London, not only tend to be more expensive but also involve the hassle of traveling across the metropolis to another main line terminus.

Unfortunately, the first available ticket on the cross-country route, where my railcard was valid, meant not reaching Salisbury until after 1pm - an arrival time not particularly conducive to exploring the city. So, despite the additional cost, I chose the London route, and after hopping on the 09:37 train from Tonbridge, there was a possibility of connecting with 10:20 train from Waterloo. It was going to be tight, but the train halting for a few minutes at a red signal, just outside Hither Green station, was sufficient to throw that idea out the window. With hindsight it would have been tight anyway, because despite walking at a fast pace, it still took 5 minutes to walk from Waterloo East to the mainline station. Once there, I was then faced with a choice of 24 platforms, along with hordes of people milling around all over the concourse.  Consequently the 10:20 train was unfortunately beyond me.

No matter, I boarded the 10:50 South West Trains service to Salisbury and settled down to enjoy the journey. Trains on this line are diesel operated, as the electrified lines end at Basingstoke. Back in the 1930s the Southern Railway embarked on an ambitious programme to eventually electrify all their lines, and certainly the mainline ones, but the intervention of the Second World War, the austerity that followed, the nationalisation and then privatisation of the railways, meant some of this work never happened. None of this affected my journey, even though diesel powered trains are rather noisier than their electric counterparts, but I thought I'd throw in that little snippet of information for your entertainment.

As the train gathered speed on its journey through south London suburbia and into the pleasant countryside of Surrey and Hampshire, I was reminded that this would be my first visit to Salisbury since stopping there as a 17-year-old schoolboy on route to Cornwall. I was with a party of fellow sixth form geography/geology students traveling to St Austell for a field studies course. With much of the UK’s motorway network still to be built, our charted coach followed a south-westerly cross-country route, making a welcome stop in Salisbury.

This gave the driver a break, and afforded teachers and pupils the chance to stretch their legs. A small group of us decided to stretch our legs in the direction of the nearest pub, which deep-down I knew would be a mistake. There was nothing wrong with the pub or the beer, but traveling the next stage of the journey, whilst nursing a full bladder, wasn’t exactly a bundle of fun! However, when you're young, buoyed up by the camaraderie of your schoolmates, and looking forward to the prospect of a week away from home, stopping for a pint seemed the most natural thing in the world.

That was 50 or so years ago, and I've no idea of which pub we stopped in, or what beer it sold - I didn't take an awful lot of notice about such things in those days, but it wasn't far from the coach stop, and I vaguely remember walking through some picturesque narrow streets to get back to the coach. Now, half a century on from that brief stop in Salisbury, I watched through the carriage window with a growing sense of excitement as the train pulled into the station. That was the end of the line, as far as that service was concerned, although some trains continue on to Exeter St Davids. Apparently, the line between Salisbury and Exeter is mainly single track, with passing loops of course. That's a hard fact to fathom for a mainline, and probably an unwanted hangover from years of penny pinching by British Rail and substantial under investment by successive governments.

As the train disgorged its passengers onto the platform, and out of the station, I made my way into centre of Salisbury using a map I’d downloaded and printed off. I attempted to locate the Tourist Information Centre but despite a number of signposts pointing the way, I still managed to miss it. For some reason my family take the mickey out of me because I invariably head to the nearest TIC, whenever I’m in an unfamiliar town, but the family forget they are an invaluable source of local information, as well as a decent, and normally free, street map.

I had a brief look around, primarily to get my bearings, but I did see the historic Guildhall, along with several other historic places of interest. I of course planned to visit the city’s majestic cathedral, with its 404-foot-high spire, but the cultural side could wait until later, as first I had a number of pubs to visit.  The first hostelry on the list, was also the one that was furthest away, but it’s all relative, and the Wyndham Arms was only 15 minutes’ walk away. This legendary pub is the original home of the equally legendary Hop Back Brewery, which in 1987 commenced brewing a distinctive range of pale, hoppy beers, including the award-winning Summer Lightning. The latter was one of the first pale coloured, golden bitters to entice and excite the taste buds of local drinkers, and the beer continues to be brewed to this day.

It didn’t take me long to find the pub, and it was one that I recognised because back in the mid-90’s, whilst on the drive home from a holiday in Dorset, the Bailey family drove past the Wyndham Arms, with me at the wheel, and wife, small child, family dog plus a car full of luggage. We’d driven up from our rented cottage, just outside Blandford Forum, and were taking the A36 ring road around Salisbury, as we headed north towards the A303. I don’t think that a drive past counts as a visit, although if it does that brief encounter with the city, represented my second visit to Salisbury.

I was sorely tempted to stop, on that occasion, although as I noticed the other day, it’s not that easy, due to railings separating the Victorian streets from the parallel A36 ring road (Churchill way). Mrs PBT’s wouldn’t have been that impressed either, what with a small boy and boisterous dog in tow, but some 30 years after that sighting of the Wyndham Arms, I was physically able to set foot in the place. We’ll leave the narrative here, for the time being, and continue with the second part, in a few days’ time.



retiredmartin said...

I hope you returned home and then went back again the next day to see it all again, including the famous cathedral, Paul. I believe it's tradition ;-0

Paul Bailey said...

When and where did that tradition arise, Martin? Does it apply if you don’t wish to pay the cathedral’s £11 admission fee (no discount for the over 65’s!)?

Anonymous said...

We'll probably have a new government by the time you actually finish this blog ...

retiredmartin said...

Salisbury. c. 3 & 4 March 2018?

retiredmartin said...

Greet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Paul Bailey said...

I'm completely lost with this tread, so perhaps anonymous is right about a change of government, or perhaps Pete Townsend is?

Macca said...

That's a long way for a day trip. Should have had a stop over in a dodgy Travel Tavern. Bet you two looked like those Russian spys, did you have plenty of novichok?

Any more clues on the name of that pub you can't remember. Maybe it was the Fox and Hounds. Does that ring any bells?

Paul Bailey said...

Salisbury isn't that far away, Macca. An hour and a half by train, from Waterloo, although admittedly there's an additional 40 minutes journey to get there from Tonbridge. An overnight stay would add considerably to the cost.

I visited Salisbury, on my own, although I might make another visit later in the year, with the lad. If so, we will take the cheaper, cross-country rail route on a Saturday, when peak time travel restrictions don't apply.

According to What Pub there isn't a Fox & Hounds in the centre of Salisbury, and 50 years on, I haven't a clue as to the pub's identity. I'm also surprised we got served, as I was only 17 at the time!