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Sherborne Old Castle

Visited August 2013

Location Sherborne, Dorset
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby Sherborne- approx. 1 mile
Parking Yes
Facilities Shop, Toilets


Originally built as a residence for the Bishops of Salisbury, Sherborne Castles (and there are two of them) were both better known for their association with Sir Walter Ralegh (or Raleigh as it is also spelled)- favourite courtier of Queen Elizabeth I.






The bishops residence at Sherborne had been improved and extended over the years since it was built in the 1130's. In turbulent times it reverted between crown and diocese, each owner adding something new to the castle. In 1542 the Diocese of Salisbury lost control of Dorset in favour of the newly formed Diocese of Bristol. The bishops no longer needed a residence in the area so they leased the buildings to the crown. 


It was in 1592 that Sir Walter Ralegh had his loyalty to the Queen rewarded with the gift of Sherborne Castle. Sir Walt had apparently visited the area and fallen in love with it, and had petitioned the Queen for its title. Elizabeth needed faithful supporters around her so granted him the castle. He immediately started major building work at the site, demolishing the old bishops lodgings and extending the Great Hall. During the rebuild he also upgraded the old hunting lodge across the lake, which is where he stayed during the renovations.


However poor old Walt fell on hard times after a disastrous expedition to Trinidad, and he could not afford to complete the work on the castle. Instead the hunting lodge became his home in the area, and it was from this small, turreted building that the next owners, the Digby family, created the second Sherborne  Castle. It sits next to the lake and can be viewed from the curtain wall of the old castle. It is also open to the public, see the website details below.





It was, as in the case of so many castles, its role in the civil war which sealed Sherborne's fate. Its thick walls had held out for the royalist cause for 18 days in 1642. It then changed hands several times, until finally in 1645 Cromwell himself arrived to see the castle fall to the parliamentarians after 11 days of siege. Its destruction was ordered within a week of its fall.


The old castle, as it then became known, was then fit for nothing more than to be a folly in the grounds of the new Sherborne Castle across the lake. It was passed into the care of the state in 1956, today it is managed by English Heritage. All that is left of Sir Walter Ralegh's contribution is a column supporting the vaults of the basement to the Great Hall.






Although today a picturesque ruin, there is still much to see here. The gatehouse, although roofless, still makes an impressive entrance to the site. The steps which were once used for deliveries to the castle from the lakeside are still in place, and are a convenient way down to the castle ditch, which can be walked in its entirety.  There are no towers to climb at the castle, but plenty of space to run around and places for children to explore.


The castle has a gift shop, but no café. The toilets are pretty basic portaloos, but better than nothing.





More info:  English Heritage Sherborne Old Castle

Sherborne Castle

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