We arrived in Salisbury to be met by the remarkable hospitality of one Mr. Ian Lovett, who had agreed to host us via Warmshowers, which is like Couchsurfing but specifically for people on bike tours. This was our first time using Warmshowers and I was amazed at the rapidity and positive tone of the responses we received, not just from Ian and his partner Penelope (whom we didn’t get to meet as she was out of town) but also from several other potential hosts we reached out to.
Ian’s whole existence is a case study in life goals, which is to say, he’s living the good life. He’s lived just west of Salisbury for more than twenty years now, handily mending and expanding his ancient farmhouse over the decades. (The building has an old half and a new half; the new half dates to around 1910.) He was recently made redundant at an IT firm and gladly embraced a slightly early retirement. Now he bikes a lot, tends a massive and inspiring garden, reads stimulating books, and produces home-made delicacies ranging from sourdough bread to sauerkraut to sloe gin. I’d only ever had a tenuous concept of what sloe gin is, but by the end of our time with Ian we were totally enamored of the stuff. (Sloes are a sort of tiny, bitter plum, and you put a bunch of sloes and sugar into some gin and let it sit for a while. Conceptually, very similar to limoncello.)
Ian was even so gracious as to welcome us to stay for two nights, so we got to take in some of the town, too. Night 1 we spent cooking with Ian, me turning some chickens on the grill while we all took turns stripping huge spinach leaves straight off the feet-long stalks.
In the morning we ate fresh bread and then biked over to the famous Salisbury Cathedral, about which I can provide some factoids:
- Built in the 13th century! Constructed in “only” 38 years!
- Has been since 1549 the tallest cathedral in England! (Not because it built up higher in 1549, but because the spire of Lincoln Cathedral collapsed that year.)
- Sits atop a huge aquifer and therefore requires careful management of the water table to remain structurally stable! There is a dip stick in the middle of the nave and if water levels fall too much, engineers can open sluicegates on nearby rivers to refill the aquifer.
- Houses what is possibly the oldest working clock in the world, a gnarly lump of gears dating back to the late 14th century! The clock has no face – it just triggers the chiming of bells – but that only adds to the mystique!!
- Is the home of another of the four extant copies of the Magna Carta, issued, of course, in 1215! (Astute readers will recall we already saw one, at the British Library, but the Salisbury copy is remarkably, even gorgeously, legible.)
- Has a famous pipe organ that was regrettably out of service but happily this was due to a major renovation effort in 2019 that includes a great mini-exhibition on organ technology and repair!
- Was currently hosting an art installation called “GAIA” that consists of an enormous globe Earth hanging in the cathedral nave! We calculated that given the scale of the map, we typically traveled just over an inch’s worth on our cycling days.
Night 2 we finally managed to counter Ian’s hospitality with a little bit of our own by taking him out for dinner to the local pub. I tried faggots (pork offal meatballs; better than you’d think and the name doesn’t raise an eyebrow in England) and we shared some real ales and pondered what it means to be a local in a place, to set down roots. On the two-minute walk back to Ian’s home we encountered a neighbor who enthused about Devon and Dorset, further cementing our newfound resolve to extend our bike tour in England and visit those places.
And so, with deep gratitude to and admiration for Ian, and after the hasty purchase of some more bib shorts and rain gear, we were off, westward!