When I was little, Old Sarum seemed like something out of a fairytale. And with evidence of human settlement dating back from as early as 3000 BCE, it’s not hard to see why.
Weathered ruins sit high atop the rolling hills of the Wiltshire countryside just under 2 miles away from the ‘modern’ city of Salisbury. And considering that William the Conqueror chose this as the site for his castle from which to rule England, it must be worth a visit!
Currently managed by English Heritage, much of the site is free for everyone to visit. I would definitely recommend checking the weather before visiting as most of the things to see/ do are outside and (depending on how you feel about getting wet) are probably best seen in good weather!
It can be quite windy so a coat is definitely not a bad idea either…
THE OLD CATHEDRAL
The original Salisbury Cathedral stood at the top of Old Sarum.
Due to the fact that most of the original stonework was transported two miles away, down into the nearby Salisbury Plain for use in the construction of a new cathedral, all that now remains is a blueprint laid out in stones.
The original cathedral was eventually abandoned due to a mass migration of residents from the hills surrounding Old Sarum onto the plains below. Extreme water shortages throughout the history of the settlement had led to eventual altogether abandonment of the site. The ‘new’ cathedral of Salisbury is already almost 800 years old and lies just over two miles away in the heart of modern day Salisbury.
WALKING AROUND THE RAMPARTS
An entire day can simply be spent walking along the historic ramparts (it’s also an ideal place for a picnic). There are amazing views over the surrounding countryside and nearby towns and village.
A later Victorian addition comprised of planting of trees around the outer rampart rings to ensure that Old Sarum felt a little more romantic. These have been both a help and a hindrance because whilst their roots are slowly destroying the hillside, they are also holding it together.
Up until the 19th century, the hills were bare and so you have to use your imagination a little to imagine what it would have been like…
In around 400 BCE an iron age hill fort was constructed on the site. A little while after the Roman conquest of Britain in 43AD, the site was established as the settlement of Sorviodunum.
The hill fort and subsequent settlements became the basis for the Medieval castle that would later follow.
OLD SARUM: THE CASTLE
(You have to pay to enter the centre of Old Sarum and see the castle).
As soon as you cross the wooden drawbridge, you are transported back in time.
Although all that remains of the once grand castle are a few ruinous walls, it’s not hard to imagine the meetings that would have been held by William the Conqueror and the most important men in England about the future of the country in 1086.
In fact, it may well have been these meetings, held at Old Sarum, that encouraged the survey of the later Domesday book.