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The Present Past: Old Wardour Castle

Old Wardour Castle, near Salisbury, was the home of a few different families and was a casualty of the English Civil War, the owners at the time supporting the King and the land threatened as a result. A new castle was built when the family recovered power and the old ruins were left as they were.

The setting of Old Wardour, herein to be known as Wardour because the ‘new’ castle is not on the same site, is the most beautiful I’ve come across so far. It’s like a fairyland, a romantic setting of the sort that might have been used in old romance novels. High on a hill a few miles from Salisbury, the landscape is brimming with trees – forest – a stunning lake, and views for miles.

The castle, in its ruined state, rooms unrecognisable, echoes Rochester Castle’s set-up. If you recall my post on that easterly ruin you’ll remember I didn’t say as much as the size of the building required and that that was because in its present state you simply went round and round viewing the same scene. For similar reasons, I’ll be doing the same here.

You don’t go round Wardour as you do Rochester, but the way the towers spiral higher and higher makes everything rather repetitive in a way it obviously wouldn’t have been in years gone by when it was furnished. The towers open to bedrooms, that much is clear, but whose bedrooms would be anyone’s guess. I’ll be your tour guide to a point after which you’ll have to do some creative work.

When you drive up to Wardour you will have already had a bit of an experience. The literal upwards motion showing off the landscape. The trees are so abundant there’s no use looking out for the castle until you’re practically on top of it and the use is no more. You must drive – you could probably walk it but the roads are narrow and it would take a very long time. If you’re planning to walk you’re not planning a walk – you’re planning a hike.

There’s a lovely spot of green space for parking. On the day we went there seemed to be a rally of sorts going on, unaffiliated with the castle. It’s a popular place for families (though not too popular – children use the ruins to hide in but we’re not talking more than a few dozen people in total) so you can take a picnic but still bask in the atmosphere. Do check the day you plan to go – a couple of rooms are forever cordoned off as they serve as a wedding site which suggests weddings happen here often. Indeed there was a wedding on when we visited and we had to wait to view the banqueting house (like a summer house in appearance).

Wardour sports a little grotto made out of fallen stones from the castle and a couple of other places to find as well as that small banqueting house. The castle stands in the middle of a circular green that’s a bit of a hill itself and leads down to the lake and some very lucky person’s house. (Admittedly it can’t be nice living amongst constant noise.) The site is bordered by a wall where it counts – going to the lake is a deliberate action.

The great thing about ruins is that you can generally, safety pending, enter the building from whichever entrance you like. You can walk up those grand steps and walk through the main doorway to the envy of those gone before you who were relegated to the servant’s hall and experience the largesse as it was made to be experienced. All this to say, I entered through the main archway and it was grand. Because Wardour is grand, approximately seven storeys of past luxury.

A room on the right housed a guard. It would make a good hiding place for children (and I expect it may be used as such) – there’s a narrow gap, perhaps an old toilet, that the very short can go through, over a small wall, and stand in.

In the entrance area itself is a beer cellar. It looks a bit like a lobby, really, a fireplace and set of stairs at the back wall, but in a time when water was not pure I suppose you’d want a lot of storage space for alcohol. Perhaps in times gone by people wouldn’t have seen a space or an alcove and thought ‘walk-in wardrobe! Library!’, instead wondering if they could send a messenger to Dave to ask about the dimensions of his wine racks. If it’s raining when you visit, the entrance is where you want to be. Whilst the bedrooms have ceilings they also have windows and the cellar is, aptly, light and thus wind free.

Beyond the cellar is the courtyard. Even now it’s grand. There are quite a few paths to choose from here and it’s worth remembering exactly where you’ve detoured so that you can come back to the courtyard and press on with the other routes afterwards. The sweeping staircase is one of two ways up, the other rooms at ground level only requiring a few minutes. There’s the cordoned off rooms I mentioned to the right, and a few doors that lead to the other side of the green. One room is accessible only by walking outside first.

Taking the ground level rooms first we have a couple of dingy places partly held together by recent re-building. Whilst I did change my lighting setting when taking photographs to offset the lack of sunlight the greenish tinge reflects the reality. Lichen has made its home on the walls. The information boards say that this, or these, rather, are the ground floor kitchens. It can’t have been nice working here. It’s stuffy enough and that’s with a damaged ceiling and lots of air.

To the courtyard again, this time ascending that magnificent staircase (photo at the bottom of this post). I believe this large room was the hall and once again you’ve different doors to choose. The small rooms to the right. The roofless rooms beyond. The spiral staircases. The small rooms are nondescript but it is worth looking around for the bars that signal a drop beyond – you can get good views of the rooms below from them. You can walk up narrow, worn, stairs to other look outs and small rooms and there’s a second spiral, other than that to the bedrooms, that will take you back down and out a gap in the side of the building.

The rooms beyond the hall are the great chamber and kitchens; this place could hold quite a party.

Up the spiral staircase to a room that shouts ‘bedroom’ just for the smallish size and fireplace. Up again to another, and then again – there are about four of the exact same room. If we suppose the inaccessible parallel tower sported the same number we’re looking at an 8 bedroom detached mansion with large garden, complete with children’s hideaway grotto and summer house. The last part of the building to see is the roof, or at least what’s now the roof.

Choose your way back down and you’ve the banquet house, grotto, standing stones and bridge to see. The banquet house is composed of two rooms, nicely decorated, 1700s in style.

The grotto is small and looks more tumbledown than you might expect, the stones pitted all over and suggesting a fairyland in the making. You can walk through it and there are a couple of places to sit. The standing stones are more restful.

I didn’t find the bridge. I looked, because the guidebook said it has a wonderful view of the castle, but where it’s situated I don’t know.

Wardour makes a lovely day out. There’s more to see than photographs of the exterior suggest, so don’t plan too much else, but there’s also not all that much to do once you’ve been round it. You do have to be careful – we went up the spiral and there were a couple with dogs coming down (really not sure that’s allowed) but for the most part there are hand rails – the stable, metal kind – and you just have to tread carefully because us humans aren’t as small as we were when this castle was built. Even the kids’ feet were verging on too big for the steps.

And, actually, I’d recommend it just for the view, even just for the drive up there. Even if you’re not big on castles it’s somewhere you’ll appreciate having visited. Do remember what I said about weddings – seeing people dressed up is nice but paying out for limited access isn’t – take a picnic, keep the entrance in sight if it clouds over and enjoy the romance of this ruined ‘assall, as my nephew used to call them.

The rest of my photos (and afterwards a question for you).

Which historical place/museum/park do you most want to visit this year?


Mary Mayfield

January 20, 2016, 3:56 pm

That looks like a lovely spot to spend a summer’s afternoon. We’ve somehow always missed it when we’ve headed south, so maybe I should put that at the top of my To See list


January 20, 2016, 4:10 pm

This looks so grand even in its ruined state, just imagine what it was like in it’s hey-day?! My best friend and I hope to visit some historical cities this year; including Berlin, Amsterdam and Edinburgh.

April Munday

January 20, 2016, 8:39 pm

The English Heritage website says it’s 14th century so it’s on my list of places to go. I don’t think I’d heard of it before, so I assume nothing too exciting happened there.


January 21, 2016, 8:41 am

Mary: It’s worth it :) I didn’t know about it myself until I made my castle goal; I suppose being outside a city makes it less known overall.

Jessica: I know, it would’ve been amazing! That’s a fair variety, lots of travelling about. Hope your plans work out :)

April: Yes, I think it’s one of those had-a-previous-building-on-it sites. I believe blowing it up was the most ‘exciting’ thing…



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