Old Wardour Castle
It was quite an overcast day, moody and foreboding, perfect for a visit to a tumbledown castle.
Bank Holidays are lovely aren’t they? Lovely and horrifying in equal measure. Time off work, paid, who’s going to say “no” to that? Equally, every man and his dog uses it as an opportunity to go out for the day with the family. Radio tales of motorway chaos should warn even the most ardent traveller that it’s just not worth the hassle. I learned my lessons a long time ago, and now use national holidays as a time for relaxation and reflection rather than distant jaunts to interesting places. However, there are exceptions to the rules. Whilst we know that Stone Henge may appear like a scene from “The Walking Dead” during a bank holiday, those ‘in the know’ can still get out to frolic AND avoid the crowds. That was our intention today. We couldn’t stay in all weekend in a bid to miss the madness, so we planned a couple of surreptitious outings to places a little more off the beaten track. Old Wardour Castle in Wiltshire is just one such place.
Directions to Old Wardour are convoluted. Following the signs feels like a chase down a rabbit hole, this way, that way, up then down. You will travel many a back road to get here, which is quite odd for a castle, tucked away on a relatively flat piece of ground. When you eventually get to the end of a single track road, you are met with a free car park and plenty of room to park…usually. Despite our plans, it was busy, of course, busy is relative, today we had to park on the grass and not on the main gravel car park, gasp, horror! But to say it was a full car park would have been dramatising the situation somewhat. However, for Old Wardour Castle? it was busy!
Run by English Heritage, this was the first ever historic place Esra and I visited, only days after he had hit British soil. When we got to the entrance, realising we needed to pay about a fiver each, we walked away again. We were trying to save for our wedding at the time and we could ill afford any frivolous purchases. So we skulked around the external wall and took some photos of what we could see, but our interest had been piqued. It was probably the very next day I decided to surprise Esra with the yearly membership, paying just £7 a month I figured we could afford that and it would mean many ‘free’ outings for weekends to come. It also meant I gained brownie points and the upper hand in the point scoring relationship (joke).
So the next time we went back was a chance to experience the place in its full splendour. This time was our third visit and second official visit. Armed with a little more photography skill from lots of practice, I thought we could make a better representation this time than we did last, I hope you like what we produced.
To be perfectly frank, the site is difficult to photograph. I had a conversation with a lovely lady who had a ‘proper’ camera and we lamented at the light and the fact that photographing acres of stone was difficult. Getting interesting shots took lots of imagination and lots of unusable pictures.
There is not much left of the Castle. A few atmospheric ruins. Unlike Sherborne Old Castle, who I would say is probably the nearest comparable, you can go up a few storeys here. There are a number of inauthentic poured concrete floors which allow you to see the world from three storeys up. A castle of many spiral staircases, there are an interesting number of windows and views to take in. Look down on your fellow visitor in the courtyard (no spitting!), or take in the long ranging views. Read the signage on every floor and get an insight into how the castle was used, who lived here and when it was destroyed and why.
Did you know that most spiral staircases throughout Europe ascend clockwise? Do you know why that is? Most swordsman are right handed, if an attacker came up the stairs you are at an advantage as the defender. The configuration of the stair allowed a right handed defender the freedom to hack downwards with his sword, while hampering right handed attackers trying to climb up the stair with a sword in hand. Fascinating isn’t it?
The surrounding grounds are limited and laid mostly to lawn with a few mature trees. Outside of the castle itself there is not much else to see except the grotto. Built opposite the castle in 1792 it is simply a whimsical cave like structure with fossils and ferns and built from the remnants of the destroyed castle, which, much like its fellow castles became victim to the Parliamentarians in 1643. Unusually the son of Thomas Arundell, 2nd Baron Arundell of Wardour, after the death of his father, laid siege to his own family castle in 1644 and virtually destroyed it in order to evict the parliamentary ‘imposters’.
Just as Sherborne, the Castles fate was sealed and it was never restored. The family built the new Wardour Castle and left the ruins to be viewed as just that. It most famously featured in the 1991 film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner. Other than that it is now a pleasant half day out. There are stories of Ghosts at Old Wardour, but as you can’t officially visit after dark it would be an impossible task to prove those rumours true. Aside from its ghostly reputation you can also have your wedding at Old Wardour, which, during the summer months, would make lovely photos.
Once you have exited through the gift shop, do feel compelled to stop at one of the many local pubs to sample some fabulous cask ale and home cooked food.