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Cats, Cathedrals and Ciders: The South of England: Day 5

15 Jun

Mon. May 16, 2016:
Winchester to Salisbury

It felt great to have 10 hours of sleep and wake up to a short bread cookie for breakfast. I was pleased with myself for not having eaten the cookie the previous night. A cookie, coffee and a book made for a rather pleasant breakfast experience.

Our first stop of the day was the post office, I had to mail the postcards so they would arrive before I returned to Canada. I had a nice chat with the two ladies working there, one offered to trade places with me until she heard I was graduate studies in university. I also snuck in a joke about getting used to the currency. The five pence piece was especially tripping me up as it was the same size as a dime, 10 cents, back home. Up next we went to Costa Coffee for a quick breakfast. I had wrongly assumed that because it was a chain they would have drip coffee a la Tim Hortons or Dunkin’ Donuts. Turns out I had not learned my lesson at Caffe Nero. I was starting to get the impression that coffee is just not as popular in England. At least I could justify having the latte, milk has calcium and calcium is good. Ditto for the lemon loaf, lemon has vitamin c.

Winchester Chapel was amazing. It was incredible to see 12-13th century medieval ceiling paintings and still-in-tact 13th century floor tiles. As always I was enamored with the beautiful gothic arches. The true gem was the Winchester Bible. It was beautifully illuminated. I chatted for a while with the volunteer about the bible, marvelling at its pristine condition and she told me about the restoration work currently under way on some of the other volumes in the set. The cathedral had been built atop a crypt. It was creepy to go look at it, partly because there was a low level of water in there, but mostly the cold draft and the large heavy wooden door. We saw Jane Austen’s grave, alas it was inside the cathedral so I could not dance on it. I just do not like her writings. The cathedral library was not open due to renovations.

We drove to Chatown to see Jane Austen’s cottage where she wrote most of her books. Maybe here I would discover why her books were so boring. It was a tiny quaint little town and the cottage fit right in. The displays focused mostly on the peak of her writing career until her death. The only interesting thing really was a cute little table in the kitchen where she wrote every morning. It did nothing to solve the mystery of the boring stories. In the gift shop there had been a sign warning of the resident cat, Marmite. We found him napping under a tree in the garden. He could not care less about me. He was still there after we finished going through the cottage. There was a second cat in the flowers, he was too busy rolling around and climbing under the gate to notice me. It was unclear which cat was Marmite and who the other cat was.

The hotel we were staying at in Salisbury, the Legacy Rose and Crown had been built around an old building from the 13th century. We had to go exploring. The bar and the first eight rooms were in the old structure, which consisted mainly of really old wooden beams. We walked into town to the see the alleys and the shops, passing by the River Avon. We stopped at McDonald’s for a quick lunch. The crispy sweet chili chicken wrap hit the spot. The guy thought we were American.

Walking to the Salisbury Cathedral I started regretting not having gotten a frozen lemonade at lunch. We got there 30 minutes before our tour. We wandered through the cathedral, craning our necks to look at the high arches and giant stained glass windows. The choir benches were beautifully carved. We saw the best preserved copy of the Magna Carta but could not stay too long to gawk at it and hear the 5 minute presentation.

The tour was almost two hours long and incredible. Easily one of the best tours we have ever been on. I was expecting a tour of the cathedral and a tower climb. Not a tour of the innards of the cathedral roof and a glance into the spire. Essentially we saw the guts of the cathedral. It was unnerving at moments, to think that the roof was held up by crooked logs from centuries ago. I got lightheaded thinking about the fact that the wooden platform I was standing on was held in place with two wooden beams at a cross-section. At the top of the tower (or bottom of the spire, depending on how you interpret it) the views of the surrounding countryside were gorgeous and incredible. I could see sheep in a field across the river. It turns out earlier as we were walking over, when I swore I had heard sheep baaing, I was not crazy, and I just could not see them. The only view we missed out on was to the south because there was a peregrine falcon nest there. We watched them for a while on the webcam. On our way back down we stopped and listened and watched to the bells ringing. It was loud but it was neat to see the hammer smacking the bells. The whole tour had been us, the tour guide and an incomprehensible Scottish guy. After the tour we tried to go see the Magna Carta but it was closed. On our way out of the cloisters we passed an exhibit about the peregrine falcons. There was a screen with the webcam feed. The falcon was getting antsy, screaming at the sky and starting to stand up. Underneath we could see the eggs and that one had already hatched. We could hear the screeching faintly. Eventually her partner was able to settle and give her food. She fed herself first, as we anxiously waited to watch her feed the baby. It was so adorably cute.

We had dinner at the hotel bar because we wanted to see more of the old architecture. I had ordered the fried chicken and it was truly horrible. Who knew it was possible to screw up fried chicken? I joked that I was having the authentic “terrible British food” experience. The Magner’s berry cider helped me down the chicken. The coleslaw had been placed beside the chicken and had warmed up. The fries were bland and we had no ketchup. It was awful. The only other upside to dinner, besides the cider, was watching the sheep across the river. They looked like big balls of fluff with little feet poking out. We watched them drink from the river, precariously perched on the edge. I briefly wondered about tipping them over. Needless to say, we did not look at the dessert menu.

We took a mini-break in the room while Brent searched for nearby pubs worth going to. We decided to go out and have a drink, then come back and watch TV. We walked back through the main part of town to the Craft Bar at the Salisbury Arms. The pub was apparently well-known for its beer selection. The sign outside said they were voted best burger on TripAdvisor. I further regretted having had dinner at the hotel, but how was I supposed to know?! Fried chicken seemed like a safe bet. I ordered an English mule cocktail because the chalkboard outside also advertised craft cocktails. This was their take on a Russian mule. Instead of vodka it had Beefeater gin, which I had been wanting to have during our trip at some point. As I watched the bar tender make the drink, he was training a new guy. It made sense why he was making 2, one would be for the new guy to taste. Nope, the bar tender plopped both down in front of me. I was confused. Had I somehow accidentally ordered two cocktails? Would he not have clarified especially after Brent ordered a beer? After sitting down and reading a table menu and the other chalkboard sign, I realized it was a buy-one-get-one-free deal. I had indeed ordered only one cocktail. As I sipped my two cocktails I considered one that had apple-infused gin, but that could not compete with craft cider from a cask. As we drank, we played Connect Four. Brent won the first round, I won the next two. All three had been diagonal wins. We stayed for a second round, well for me it was a third really. I had a half pint of the Thistly Cross Whisky Cask Craft cider. It was delicious, and a new contender for the best. It was nice to just sit around and talk, we sent a few drunk texts in Brent’s group chat that surely we thought were much funnier than they actually were. Still, we were very amused. The only other people in the bar consisted of the staff and a knitting circle of young hipster ladies. The bar tender came by and chatted with us for a while about our travels and things to see and do in Salisbury but that it wears off for the locals. We mentioned that we felt the same way about Toronto. He came by again later with a plate of fries, saying that they were free because they were left over from the kitchen. The fries were delicious, way better than the ones I had at dinner. We polished off the entire plate in no time. It really made me wish we had eaten dinner at Craft Bar instead.

On the way back we stopped at McDonald’s. I was craving a McFlurry and I figured why not try the “taste of America” caramel cheesecake flavour. It was ok, the caramel was really more of a fudge and the cheesecake bits were crunchy. We stopped by the cathedral to look at the remnants of the bell tower that once stood there. From the ground level you could barely tell there had been anything there. We only knew about it from looking down from the base of the spire earlier. There was no sign of the peregrine falcons, but there was a guy flying a drone. It was nice to have seen the town cleared out of the daytime tourists, our little adventure proved successful, Craft Bar had a great selection and was an awesome pub.

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