Saturday 16 June 2012

Old Sarum Slide

If I have a favourite place, it is probably Salisbury. And right on the fringes of it (and only recently being softly crept upon by new housing estates) is Old Sarum. An iron age hill fort with evidence of human occupation going back 5000 years it contained the city of Sarum and all within a nudge under 1200 foot in length. The Romans made the town Sorviodunum here and successfully the British and the Anglo-Saxons held the steep ditches and high banks as safe strongholds. The Normans naturally enough added stone, and a castle – and a cathedral.
It was a thriving place close to five rivers and gathering the trade roads in. It was a Plantagenet royal palace. In the 13C the cathedral was replaced by that which grew into the majestic example that still stands two odd miles away, and about which Salisbury grew. More recently it was the epitome of the rotten borough. No one lived there in the 19C, but it was represented in Parliament (including by Pitt the Elder). It is now quite lovely. The mounds and ditches entirely intact with the inner bailey still showing the foundations of the old castle (sold by that villain Henry VIII for materials) and the wide-sweeping outer those of the cathedral. It is peaceful, dramatic if you have the eye for it, and far less crowded and more personable than nearby Stonehenge.
It is also and more pertinently to the Slide, the first place I purposefully went off the roads-well-lit. I’d been slipping across the Slides since I was fourteen. Finding myself (when really not caring for school) for a week somewhere else. I must have been a very accepting youth for it never worried me to spend days at a castle in Cheshire, or in some last defended outpost of the early 1970s on the Dorset coast. I’d skipped and slid every year or so for some years before Sarum, always finding my way back and helpfully without parents really noticing. But asking around when later I lived not far away it was Old Sarum that came up in those guarded conversations one has with others that know the slides. Where you don’t actually mention things directly, but you both know of what you speak.
To Sarum I went on the night discovered, with pack and all the necessities and there before the sun rose was able to leave, and to here – more or less. I’m using the internet right now, and there was none of that before I went to Sarum. Little changes that I still see. Soon afterwards and in this slide my eldest daughter was made, so I’ve stayed. And here cut off in this island of Tolly Maw, without busses and no easy route home I have for a while to remain.
But I know the date, and the time, and one day I’ll go home - most reliably through Old Sarum, because I can’t afford any more to trust to the random. And I do wonder how many differences are there now, because time has moved on and no slide stands still. So even when I do I’ll never know truly if where I fetch up is from where I began at all.
So go to Old Sarum. I’d tell you when not to go, but the chances of you falling away are slight as it’s only one moment, on one date.
So just enjoy the view, but note; not all you see is where you can go. For when the light is right not all you see is where you’ve been. Or might go.

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