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Visiting Old Sarum Castle

Old Sarum Castle (originally known as Seresberi Castle) is an Iron Age fortification and the ruins of an 11th-century castle in Old Sarum, Wiltshire. The motte-and-bailey castle was only occupied for a short time, later serving as an administrative centre. Visit the ruinous site by booking a ticket through English Heritage.

Parking

On-site parking is available at Old Sarum Castle. Parking is free for English Heritage members. Fees apply for non-members.

The car park is located approximately 200 metres (656 feet) from the site entrance. There are 60 spaces available (with 30 on a paved surface and an additional 30 spots in a grassy overflow lot). Only one disabled parking space is available on a first come, first served basis, but disabled visitors may be dropped off at the end of the bridge.

Disabled drivers may arrange (in advance) for parking at the bottom of the bridge.

There is one available coach spot during the winter months and four in the summer (weather-permitting). Coaches may also set guests down within the car park and use the additional parking by Castle Road.

 

Price

Admission fees for Old Sarum Castle vary depending on the date, season, and whether special events are occurring on-site. To determine exact ticket pricing for the day of your visit, see the Old Sarum calendar on the English Heritage website. Select the date of your visit to see prices.

Visitors who book tickets online in advance (up to 8:45 a.m. on the date of the visit) are eligible for an advance-booking discount of 10 percent off. Unfortunately, tickets purchased on-site are not eligible for this discount.

To get an idea of Old Sarum Castle admission fees, see the table below. It includes ticket prices on a standard day in July (with the advance-booking discount included):

Old Sarum Castle Ticket Prices - July - Standard

Ticket Type

With Donation

Without Donation

Members

Free

Free

Adult

£6.50

£5.90

Child (5-17 Years)

£3.50

£3.10

Student (with Valid ID)

£5.50

£5.00

Family (2 Adults, Up to 3 Children)

£16.50

£14.90

Family (1 Adult, Up to 3 Children)

£10.00

£9.00

Senior (65+)

£5.50

£5.00

Those visiting the site from overseas can save money on admission to Old Sarum and other English Heritage sites by purchasing an Overseas Visitors pass.

Opening

Old Sarum Castle is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Hours may vary depending on the season and whether special events are occurring on-site. For exact opening and closing times on the date of your visit, see the Old Sarum calendar on the English Heritage website.

The site is busiest during the hours of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., especially on bank holidays and weekends.

Visitors can have a quieter experience by visiting the site before 11 a.m. or after 2 p.m. on an off-peak weekday (you can view peak, standard, and off-peak dates on the Old Sarum calendar on the English Heritage website).

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Location and Access

The physical address of Old Sarum Castle is:

Castle Road

Salisbury

Wiltshire

SP1 3SD

The site is located approximately 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) north of Salisbury. Visitors may access the site from Salisbury using A345.

For satellite navigation, please enter the following coordinates:

  • Latitude: 51.091939
  • Longitude: -1.801509

Bus access to Old Sarum is available via numerous services and routes, as indicated below:

  • Salisbury Reds: Bus X5, Bus 8, Stagecoach 5 (Sundays)
  • Stagecoach Hampshire: Bus 8
  • Wiltshire Buses: Bus 501 (Park and Ride)

Additionally, visitors can access Old Sarum on The Stonehenge Tour.

The nearest train station is Salisbury Station, approximately 3.2 kilometres (2 mi) from Old Sarum. Tickets may be purchased via Great Western Railway.

Know Before You Go

 

  • Food and drink are available via a vending machine. The vending machine offers hot and cold beverages and a variety of snacks and sweets. Unfortunately, there are no on-site cafés at Old Sarum. For more substantial food options, there is a pub located near the fort and additional food options about a five-minute drive from the site.


  • Picnics are welcome. There are numerous areas that make excellent picnicking sites at Old Sarum Castle. The inner and outer baileys have lush, soft, grassy areas, great for laying out a blanket. On hot days, there is plenty of shade for picnicking under the large ash tree on-site.

 

  • The on-site gift shop offers various souvenirs. Whether you’re craving jams and jellies or looking to try new wines, the gift shop has several product options. For kids, there are replica toys and dress-up apparel. The gift shop sits at the top of the bridge and is wheelchair-accessible.

 

  • Toilets are located near the car park. There are two male and two female toilets available, as well as one handicap-accessible toilet. Baby-changing facilities are located in the female bathrooms.

 

  • Dogs are permitted on the castle grounds. While exploring the ruins of Old Sarum Castle, dogs must remain on a lead. In the outer bailey, dogs are permitted to roam freely off-leash, as long as they are well-behaved and under control. Dog bowls are available just outside of the gift shop.

 

  • Much of the site is wheelchair accessible. The main path throughout the site is paved, though there are some areas of resin-bound gravel. The ground level of the castle ruins is easily accessed by wheelchair or mobility scooter. However, access to the upper levels requires moving up a small slope. Wheelchair users may need assistance moving up the slope and on the wooden bridge.

 

  • There are numerous on-site hazards. Some areas of the ground may be uneven due to rabbit holes and the historic foundation. Most holes, bumps, and uneven surfaces are easily noticed, as the grass is short. Sheer drops on the site are blocked off, though there are some steep slopes. Some surfaces may be slippery in the winter. The entrance to the inner bailey is used by cars and people, so be mindful when accessing this area.

Portchester Old Sarum Castle Events

Throughout the year, English Heritage hosts events on the site of Old Sarum Castle. Past events have included Halloween celebrations, knight tournaments, and live jousting. For more information on current and upcoming events, check out the Old Sarum events calendar on the English Heritage website.

Old Sarum Castle Tours

Guided tours of Old Sarum Castle are available (for an additional charge). These tours require advance-booking of at least 30 days and at least 11 participants (with a maximum of 50).

An English Heritage member will guide visitors around the site, discussing the history of the ancient fortification, castle ruins, archaeological discoveries, and the site’s infamous past as a “rotten borough.” The guided tour lasts approximately 45 minutes.

For more information on booking a castle tour, see the Old Sarum Castle group visits page on the English Heritage website.

Places To Stay Nearby

Premier Inn Salisbury North Bishopdown Hotel

4.2 km (2.6 mi) east

Premier Inn Salisbury North Bishopdown is a modest hotel conveniently located 7 minutes from Old Sarum and close to historic Salisbury and Stonehenge. This accommodation offers cosy double, twin, family, and accessible rooms, each with free WiFi, a spacious vanity area, and tea and coffee facilities. Breakfast and dinner are served at an additional charge, and free on-site parking is available (though vehicle registration must be presented at the check-in desk).

Book

The Riverside

5.8 km (3.6 mi) south

The Riverside sits nestled in an area of scenic gardens, lush grass, and woodland. The Victorian accommodation is located within walking distance of historic Salisbury, and only an 8-minute drive from Old Sarum (via A345). Some rooms include river or cathedral views, and all rooms have modern amenities, including a TV and free WiFi. Free private parking is offered to guests, as well as access to the on-site bar.

Book

Travelodge Amesbury Stonehenge

10.6 km (6.6 mi) north

Travelodge Amesbury Stonehenge is a budget-hotel, only a 13-minute drive from Old Sarum, and 8 kilometres from Stonehenge. The hotel has free on-site parking and offers standard, family, and accessible rooms. Though there are no on-site bar or restaurant facilities, the nearby Food Service Outlet offers several options, including Burger King and Subway. Additional food choices within driving distance include a burger spot and Thai restaurant, among others.

Book

History of Old Sarum Castle 

Old Sarum is an ancient site of an Iron Age earthworks fortification, an 11th-century castle, and a large cathedral. The site acted as a major administrative centre throughout its history. Built in 1086 at the command of William the Conqueror, the site was abandoned by the 15th century, though it remained a “rotten borough” until 1832.

Time Line


- 400 BC (Iron Age Hillfort)

Historians believe the original Iron Age fortification existed on the site over 2,000 years ago. Based on excavations and other data, the site likely included numerous huts surrounded by the defensive earthworks.

- 43 AD (Roman Occupation)

The Roman Conquest led the site to become “Sorviodunum.” From a military standpoint, Sorviodunum was a strategic site, as three Roman roads led to the fort. Unfortunately, it’s unknown what the settlement may have looked like, though it’s theorised that it may have consisted of an interior military complex with a civilian settlement outside of the rampart.

- 1069 (Castle Constructed)

William the Conqueror noted the strategic placement of Old Sarum, and felt it was ideal for a castle. As such, a castle was constructed under him.

- 1075 (Cathedral Construction)

The Council of London agreed that several bishoprics should be moved. As such, the Bishopric of Sherborne and Wilton was moved to Old Sarum and the cathedral construction began under Bishop Herman. The cathedral was under Bishop Osmund upon its completion.

- 1086 (The Oath of Sarum)

During a time of peril and great threats of invasion, William the Conqueror gathered his council and a massive number of English noblemen (including many of the king’s men) in the outer bailey of Old Sarum Castle. Here, the men swore oaths of loyalty to him.

- 1100-1135 (Castle Keep)

The keep was made of stone, the first building on the site not made of timber. It’s believed that Bishop Roger ordered the building of the courtyard house and the Bishop’s Palace. It was also during the reign of King Henry I that the original small cathedral was expanded.

- 1139-1140s (The End of an Era)

Roger’s death caused the end of massive forward momentum at Old Sarum. The castle was left under Bishop Jocelyn who decorated the newly-extended cathedral and added a cloister to the Bishop’s Palace.

- 1171-1189 (More Building and Eleanor’s Imprisonment)

Though some minor renovations may have taken place, significant building at Old Sarum didn’t resume until 1171. Around this time, the gatehouse was renovated and a drawbridge was constructed, and the inner bailey was enclosed by a stone wall. It was also during this period that Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Henry I’s wife, was held prisoner at Old Sarum after encouraging her children to lead a revolt against their father.

- 1194 (Castle Neglect)

Old Sarum Castle’s importance as a military fortification had long since passed, and those in the surrounding towns had become unhappy with the site. As a result, royal approval was provided to move the cathedral to a new location.

- 1220s (Cathedral Moves)

Over two decades after receiving royal approval, the cathedral was finally moved to Salisbury. By this time, much of Old Sarum’s population had left.

- 1226 (Tombs Moved)

Bishop Osmund, Bishop Roger, and Bishop Jocelyn had been laid to rest at the Old Sarum cathedral, so when the cathedral moved, their bodies were moved with it. After their bodies were removed, the clergy abandoned the site and royal interest in the site dwindled.

- 1240 (Castle in Ruins)

After the Old Sarum population continued to decline, the castle was unused and left derelict.

- 1327-1377 (Castle Repairs)

By this time, many of the buildings were abandoned. Despite this, hundreds of pounds was spent on repairs under King Edward III. Around 1366, the courtyard house underwent extreme renovations. The castle remained in use as an administrative centre until the 1400s.

- 1514 (Materials Scavenged)

During the reign of King Henry VIII, he granted what remained of the site to Thomas Compton, who was given the right to do what he pleased with the remaining masonry and additional materials.

- 1540 (A Castle in Ruins)

Upon his visit, John Leland noted Old Sarum Castle was no more than earthworks. By this point, only the foundations remained, and not a single building stood. Despite a meagre population, Old Sarum continued on as a borough, sending members to Parliament for another 300 years.

- 1832 (Reform Act)

The 1832 Reform Act finally put an end to Old Sarum as a “rotten borough.”

- 1882-1972 (Ancient Monument)

The Ancient Monuments Protection Act listed the ruins at Old Sarum as a scheduled monument. In 1972, the castle ruins and cathedral were listed as a Grade I site. 

- Present

Today, the ruinous foundation of Old Sarum Castle, the cathedral, and the ancient Iron Age earthworks are managed by English Heritage and open to the public as a tourist attraction.

Old Sarum Castle Occupants

 

  • 1069: William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a castle on the site of an old Iron Age earthworks fortification.

 

  • 1100: Bishop Roger lived at the site and it was under him that the courtyard and bishop’s palace were constructed.

 

  • 1171: King Henry II and Queen Eleanor resided at the site. King Henry II added a gatehouse, drawbridge, and stone walls, and added a treasury inside the keep. His wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, was held here as terms of her house arrest until 1189.


  • 1201-1215: The Old Sarum sheriff occupied the site. During this time, several buildings were constructed for him. Only five years after he left the site, the population of Old Sarum dwindled and the site was all-but-abandoned.

Old Sarum Castle Architecture

IRON AGE HILLFORT: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/siteassets/home/visit/places-to-visit/old-sarum/history/aerial-reconstruction-iron-age.jpg

GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY (Showing Mediaeval Settlement): https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/siteassets/home/visit/places-to-visit/old-sarum/research/old-sarum-geophysical-survey.jpg 

DEPICTION OF OLD SARUM AROUND LATE 12th-CENTURY:

https://elite.nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/2017/09/2-3.jpg 

General Layout

Old Sarum is a ruinous site situated atop ancient Iron Age earthworks. The earthworks predate the castle by hundreds of years, and feature a circular rampart surrounded by a ditch. In the 11th century, a Norman motte-and-bailey castle was erected in the centre of the site. During this time, the site boasted the original outer rampart, an inner bailey, a gatehouse, keep, towers, halls, living quarters, and a courtyard house. A cathedral sat in the northwest quadrant.

Original Layout

The original Iron Age fortification was a typical hillfort, featuring an outer “wall” made of earth. There was a single entrance at the eastern end of the site, which was defended by “horns” that surrounded the entry point (known as a hornwork).

After the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror established a fortification on the site. At the centre of the hillfort, a motte was erected, creating a massive outer bailey secondary to the new inner bailey. This section of the fortification featured multiple buildings, all of which were originally built with wood (though a keep was constructed in stone around 1100-1135).

Outer Defences and Bailey

During the Iron Age, the outer defences consisted of a walled outer area, made with earth. This massive mound-like structure surrounded 12 hectares (29.7 acres) — a relatively large area of space for an Iron Age hillfort.

Inside of the outer rampart was a massive outer bailey, created after William the Conqueror added a centre motte and ditch for his 11th-century fortification.

Inner Bailey

To access the inner bailey of the castle grounds, visitors would cross the centre ditch using a drawbridge and enter via a gatehouse. Inside the inner bailey were several complexes, including the towers, keep, halls, apartments, a courtyard house, and a cathedral.

The Courtyard House

The courtyard house is a historically significant architectural structure, as it is the oldest mediaeval living space in Europe that boasts a cloister-like design. The courtyard house was built around 1130 under the direction of Bishop Roger.

It was constructed on two different levels of ground and featured four separate ranges, each serving a specific purpose. At the east was the service range, which included a kitchen and cesspits, while in the west stood a hall for gatherings. The southern range featured a small private chapel, and the north was the king’s quarters and included private bathrooms.

Cathedral

The original cathedral erected on the site of Old Sarum measured approximately 56 metres (183.7 feet) from the eastern apse (the semi-circular vaulted ceiling, typically seen in churches) to the west. The cathedral’s layout included areas crossing perpendicular to the nave (transepts) to form a cross-shape. 

A porch at the southern transept included the laity (an entrance for full church members), and there were four covered walkways for the convent (cloisters). North of the cloister was the Bishop’s Palace, which included a garden, hall, and several ranges.

Modern Layout

The earthworks of Old Sarum are well-preserved, including the hornwork, though there is little left of the stone foundation. Much of the original masonry has been moved from the site.

Today, visitors can access the inner bailey of the castle by crossing a steep wooden bridge before “entering” through the ruined 12th-century gatehouse. All of the buildings are ruined, including the keep. However, visitors can see the remnants of a fairly well-preserved wall at the northern cloister of the cathedral.

Images of Old Sarum Castle

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Old Sarum Castle Old Sarum Castle Old Sarum Castle Old Sarum Castle Old Sarum Castle Old Sarum Castle

Images Supplied and licensed from Shutterstock Standard Licence Package

What Can I See During Visit to Old Sarum Castle?

 

  • View and touch what remains of the mediaeval castle and cathedral. The site of Old Sarum Castle boasts historic foundations and layouts of various buildings dating back hundreds of years. See the centre motte and fortification constructed by William the Conqueror for his 11th-century castle, and stand in the original site of Salisbury’s first cathedral.

 

  • See an ancient hillfort. Although the castle is now in ruins, the actual hillfort is relatively well-preserved. Despite being over 2,000 years old, visitors can still see the ancient hornwork bank, ditch, and circular mound that encloses the site. 


  • Walk among the scenic footpaths. The area surrounding the earthworks consists of lush, grassy areas underlain by chalkland (also known as downland). Wiltshire boasts the largest area of chalkland in England. Various footpaths cross through the site and boast incredible views of the English countryside.

 

  • Enjoy outdoor games. When William the Conqueror built the inner bailey, he created a massive outer bailey. Today, the outer bailey is an excellent area to enjoy outdoor games and activities, including kite-flying and ball games. During the summer months, English Heritage allows croquet and giant jenga games, with equipment available on-site.

 

  • Let children roam and learn. The soft grass and open space is excellent for children to roam freely. Additionally, there are quiz sheets available to help children learn more about the site as they explore.

 

Old Sarum Castle Facts

  1. A blinding glare allegedly blinded some clergy members. Conditions atop the hillfort weren’t particularly pleasant. Members of the clergy often complained of harsh winds that impeded hearing, and a glare due to the lack of natural shade. Some of the clergies claimed to have gone blind as a result, which is one of several reasons why the cathedral was given royal approval to move (to Salisbury).
  2. Some say the site boasts a magical energetic field. Spiritualists and modern pagans claim “earth energy” runs through Old Sarum. According to believers, a leyline runs through several historical sites in the area, including Old Sarum, Stonehenge, and the Salisbury Cathedral. Some visitors believe you can still feel the residual energies of those who lived and died there.
  3. The site may be haunted. Many visitors claim the ruins of Old Sarum Castle have a mysterious vibe, with some feeling as though they’re being watched by unseen entities. It’s believed the ancient history and quiet peace and tranquillity of the area may add to this strange energy.

Old Sarum Castle Q&A

Can You See Old Sarum for Free?

You can see Old Sarum for free as an English Heritage member. Non-members must pay admission. Overseas visitors can purchase a pass for 9- or 16-day free unlimited access to various English Heritage sites, including Old Sarum Castle and cathedral.

What Happened to Old Sarum?

Old Sarum was practically abandoned during the 1220s when the cathedral moved to Salisbury. In 1514, King Henry VIII granted the site (and its materials) to Thomas Compton. Despite this, the site continued on as an administrative centre and remained a borough until 1832.

Is Parking at Old Sarum Free?

Parking at Old Sarum is free for English Heritage members. Non-members are required to pay a parking fee. There are 60 spaces available and one disabled space. The car park is located about 200 metres (656 feet) from the castle entrance.

Why Was Old Sarum Called a Rotten Borough?

Old Sarum was called a “rotten borough” due to its small voting party, none of whom actually lived in the electorate. As a result of its small size, the electorate was over-represented. This led the group to be more likely to offer unfair influence to sponsors or financiers.

Location of Old Sarum Castle

Old Sarum sits in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. The county of Wiltshire boasts a population of over 720,000 inhabitants, despite most of the county being rural. Salisbury is the second-largest town in Wiltshire, with a population of over 40,000 residents.

Salisbury boasts a scenic countryside and features massive stretches of chalk downland, particularly at Salisbury Plain. The River Avon passes through this plain before flowing into the town of Hampshire.

Although the city is best known for Stonehenge, Salisbury boasts numerous ancient landmarks and pre-Roman sites.

Other Places To Visit Near Old Sarum Castle

Stonehenge

Stonehenge is an area steeped in mystery. Numerous legends attempt to explain the origins of this neolithic site, though hard evidence is difficult to come by due to its age. Some legends claim that the wizard, Merlin, magically created the site, whereas others claim it was erected by the Druids. No matter how the site came to be, it truly is a magical place. Stonehenge is a 15-minute drive from Old Sarum via A360.

Salisbury Cathedral

Although Old Sarum was the original site of Salisbury’s first cathedral in 1075, it was “moved” nearly 200 years later. Not only did the castle garrison and monks butt heads for hundreds of years, but the windswept hilltop and glaring sun made the location an unpleasant one. As such, the old site was abandoned for a new cathedral in Salisbury, which visitors may explore today.

Salisbury Museum

While visiting the many archaeological sites and historic landmarks around Salisbury, don’t forget to stop at the local museum. The museum boasts numerous artefacts, including items excavated from around Stonehenge, and ancient artwork. There are over thousands of items available for viewing at the museum.

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