Castles Of England
Articles View Hits

Old Sarum

Visited  August 2010

Location Near Salisbury, Wiltshire
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station        Salisbury approx 2 miles
Parking Yes
Facilities Toilets, Shop







Old Sarum is the site of the ancient town which preceded modern day Salisbury. It is a place which had been inhabited since the Iron Age, and the ditches and banks of the fort built in that time are still in existence today surrounding the outer bailey. There are several public footpaths around this lower enclosure, which can be visited for free. The inner fortifications are the site of the castle. This part is  managed by English Heritage, which charges an entrance fee.


It was William the Conqueror who decided to use the ancient fortifications on which to construct a castle in 1070. Two years earlier he had chosen it as the site where his lords would come to swear their allegiance to him. The wooden bridge which today takes visitors up to the castle is constructed on the site of the former gatehouse. The original castle would have been made of wood, the freshly-dug motte would have needed time to settle before being able to support the weight of the stone built castle which eventually replaced the wooden structure.


The castle complex had several towers, halls and apartments. There was an impressive residence , now known as the Courtyard House, added in the 12th century, probably by Bishop Roger of Sarum , the third and most famous of Sarum's Bishops. He was responsible for the re-modelling of the original cathedral which had been built in the outer bailey. Over the years the relationship between the clergy and the garrisons at the castle had been deteriorating, and in 1217 the clergy were refused entry to the site after returning from a procession. Enough was clearly enough, and the foundations of the 'new' cathedral were laid in 1220, two miles up the road. This new settlement is the site of city of Salisbury as we know it today. The population of Old Sarum gradually shifted up to Salisbury, and by the 1400's it was pretty much abandoned. Curiously, the then-empty Sarum continued to elect Members of Parliament up until 1832, when the 'Rotten Boroughs' were finally curbed.






The ruins we see today have in places been restored, there are occasionally stones with the date of 1912 to mark this. Nonetheless the ruins are full of interest and the information boards give an insight into how the buildings would have looked. The remains of the cathedral can be viewed from the castle, it is easier to make them out from above than it is to see them when you go down to the outer bailey . The cathedral crypt can also be visited. It is possible to walk along the entire edge of the motte, but with my legendary fear of heights it seemed way too dangerous to me- I could not even bring myself to stand at the top to take a photo - so sorry- you will have to go yourselves if you want to see the view. The photo looking down on the cathedral ruins was taken from behind the safety of a wall.






There is a souvenir shop on site, and the toilets are down in the outer bailey, across from the car park. The toilet block were actually built over a WW2 pillbox- the strategic importance of this site not being forgotten over the years!!! This is where you will commence the walk round to the old  cathedral , apart from the crypt the only part left is the plan of the original foundations. It is known that there was once a Bishop's Palace here too, but there is nothing left of that whatsoever.


All in all this is an interesting site steeped in history, which should amuse the children for a good long while. There is plenty of space for a picnic afterwards, and the shop sells ice cream. Watch out in the summer- it gets very hot up on top of that hill so take sun hats and sun cream. I can imagine in autumn and winter it might also be quite inclement, so take care to wrap up warm!!!






More info:  English Heritage Old Sarum

Featured Pics
Build A Castle