No grand tour is authentic without a stopover at a coaching inn. And if you're on the English history trail, you really ought to call a halt at the Red Lion Hotel in Salisbury. The past is in the grain of its very timbers

Dating from the 13th century, this ancient coaching inn can be found in the heart of the historic city of Salisbury. It was built to provide lodgings for the draughtsmen working on the nearby cathedral, but was later put to use as a staging post for mail coach services from London - it claims to be the oldest purpose-built hotel in Britain.

Set around an ancient creeper-clad courtyard, the half-timbered building has been extended and embellished many times over the centuries, resulting in an intriguing mix of styles. The most recent find is a medieval stone fireplace, not unlike one found on the site of the original cathedral. There is also a fine example of a wattle-and-daub wall dating from 1220 in the restaurant.

Today's visitors can soak up all this history amid the antique furnishings, while keeping in touch with the modern world through its mod cons.

The comfort factor

Each of the 51 rooms varies in size and all are individually decorated. For special occasions there are two antique four-posters and a spacious suite overlooking the pretty courtyard. Cats, both big and small, supply the theme: every bed provides a lair for a big soft-toy lion and there are lots of wooden cats curled up about the place. Facilities in the rooms include satellite TV and internet access.

The bathroom

Most of the bathrooms have been squeezed into original rooms, so they vary in layout and size but, where possible, they have separate bath and shower. White towels and bathrobes are provided as are toiletries - courtesy of Best Western - definitely best left where they are.

The food and drink

Eat your way through the day. Breakfast is a hearty affair, while lunches are light with jacket potatoes and wraps. The Frothblowers Arms, next door, is a particularly snug bar in which to have a pre-dinner tipple. And the dinner menu in the Vine Restaurant offers traditional English cuisine with Mediterranean touches, complimented by a good, mostly French, wine list.

The people

A mixed bag of young marrieds and older couples, plus international tourists on the English history trail.

The area

Salisbury itself is packed with medieval buildings to admire: a pretty market square, a fine museum and, of course, that stunning cathedral, which not only claims the tallest spire in England at 404 feet but Europe's oldest working clock, too. Don't miss the magnificent Cathedral Close and the best-preserved original Magna Carta. Nearby attractions include Stonehenge and the New Forest.

The access

Quite surprisingly for such an old building, most of it can be accessed by wheelchair. One room is specifically designed for people with disabilities. Children welcome. No pets.

The damage

B&B in a double room, based on two sharing, costs from £126 per night in December. Expect to pay around £25 for a three-course dinner in the Vine Restaurant without wine.

The address

Milford Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 2AN (01722 323 334;


* Once a staging post, The New Inn at Coln (01285 750 651;, near Cirencester, was built by decree of Elizabeth I.

* A coaching inn and part of the oldest distillery in the world, sections of Bushmills Inn (028-2073 3000;, in Co Antrim, date from the 17th century.