Sherborne Old Castle
On a murky but warm day, we made our way into the lovely town of Sherbourne in order to revisit the Old Castle, which was one of the first places we decided to use our English Heritage passes and before I started this blog. On our first venture out we followed the signs and turned into the wide open driveway and pulled up at the gate, only to be told we were at Sherbourne Castle and Sherbourne Old Castle is round the corner, our passes wouldn’t get us in here! This time we did not make the same mistake, who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! so don’t make our mistake, the turning for the Old Castle is literally the first left, not the second and is marked as a dead end. It’s a narrow and unlikely looking road, but trust me, thats where you need to be.
Sherbourne Old Castle is a twelfth century ruin, built for Roger of Salisbury, who, after King Henry I, was the most powerful person in England. Seventh Lord Chancellor and Lord Keeper of England, he ruled the country whilst Henry was in Normandy. This was never a fortified castle in the true sense of the word and was more a glorified statement of wealth and power. It was gifted to Sir Walter Raleigh by Queen Elizabeth I and by all accounts was in a pretty shocking state at that point. It is rumoured that he made some attempts to repair and update it and eventually gave up and moved out and built himself what we now know as Sherborne Castle.
Imposing in stature and surrounded by a moat there is not much left to see, a couple of walls, a couple of columns, some foundations. The ruins are pretty much thanks to the Parliamentary Armies thorough work in 1645 during the English Civil War. Run by English Heritage, there is a small car park and a small wooden hut where you purchase your tickets together with a portable toilet for visitors to use which sits behind the hut, this is perhaps an indicator of both how much time you are likely to spend here and how popular a site this is. Compare it to the likes of Stone Henge with its huge visitors centre and cafe, and you get my drift. However, I think it is still worth a visit if you love history and makes a pleasant hours diversion from the hustle and bustle of life. The site is open from 10am until 5pm every day and prices are published on English Heritage website, at the time of writing it was £4.30 for adults and £2.60 for children and obviously free for members. I have to say, membership really is a no-brainer if you are going to regularly visit any one of the magnificent historical sites throughout England, the cost of entry, together with parking, particularly at the most popular sites means you would break even quite quickly and we have.
You enter the castle over the modern wooden bridge through the huge entrance tower and into the former courtyard. The signage on site is brief and gives you an overview of what an area would have looked like and what it would have been used for. A lot of imagination is required, there are artists impressions to help you, but I don’t think you can fully appreciate the scale of the castle even from these.
The grounds are exposed, so if its a windy day prepare to be blown around a little, and there is little landscaping to note. There is one area of the site where you can look over to Sherborne Castle and its magnificent gardens and there is an element of ‘look what you could have won’ when looking in that direction, well there was for me anyway! Esra is quite happy to muse around old structures and marvel at the history. For me there are obvious elements which I find interesting. There are still some carved features which have managed to survive, the intricacies and the skills of stone masonry always have me in awe, skills which are slowly but surely dwindling in this country and are desperately needed in order to keep these magnificent buildings in good condition. In my day job when working with old and listed buildings, locating and commissioning these bastions of skills gone by, is both difficult and expensive. On our visit there was a section of scaffold erected at one corner to undertake maintenance works, and whilst it ‘ruins the photos’ as Esra moaned, it does give heart that these precious buildings are being cared for, albeit I’m sure, English Heritage would like bigger budgets. There is an opportunity to wander the moat and I would recommend it, not only is it a pleasant green area, sans water, quiet and full of flowers and wildlife, but it also gives you a bit more appreciation of the scale of the building. I never cease to be amazed at the effort it must have taken to destroy these strongholds by opposing armies and it is no wonder they resorted to starving the occupants out, with walls nearly 6 ft thick, breaking in would have been a gargantuan task.
Once you have had your fill of fallen rocks and rampart remnants, don’t leave the site just yet. Walk past your car in the car park and walk out of the wrought iron gates at the entrance, and you will see St Mary Magdalene church and a row of beautiful houses opposite. They are photo-worthy in their own right and whilst not as old as the castle they easily date from the early 17th century, plus, if you are like me and have a morbid fascination with headstones, there are some old and majestic examples in the church yard.
On leaving site as we hadn’t been out for long we fancied a spot of lunch and took a left and drove into Thornford and stopped at the Kings Arms, (not to be confused with The Kings Arms in Sherborne). We had a warm welcome despite being obvious ‘incomers’ and the drink on tap was, for me, a Northern lass with a taste for real ale, a fantastic choice. I ordered my pint and we perused the menu, not a massive choice and things you would expect to see on a pub menu, no frills here, no ‘pretending’ to be a restaurant, just good pub food. We ordered and I have to say, when the food arrived we were all absolutely delighted with our choices. Not only was it homemade (not a frozen anything to be seen) but it was plentiful and I don’t think one of us actually finished our plate. So if you are fancying an extension to your day, want to avoid the parking nightmare that is Sherborne and fancy a quiet pint in a very pleasant pub with lovely staff, then I can’t recommend it more highly. All their details can be found HERE.