A Visit to Old Sarum (Wiltshire, England)

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Old Sarum is an ancient town that pre-dated its neighbour Salisbury. The town of Old Sarum was once thriving, and the market town of Salisbury was constructed nearby so that funds could be generated to build an even larger cathedral. The land that occupies Salisbury was owned by the bishop, so the new town was constructed along with the cathedral in the early 1200s. Eventually, the cathedral at Salisbury and Salisbury itself pulled more people in and Old Sarum lost its influence and was abandoned. The town and fortress was one of the most important in England. A model of the town in its heydey exists in Salisbury Cathedral.

I have driven past this monument so many times after working in Salisbury for awhile, but I never visited Old Sarum. I decided to plan a visit for my birthday.


The town is built on an ancient site with an Iron Age hill and Norman town/fortress and is not far from Stonehenge. Previously, it was a Neolithic settlement (3000BC) that suggests it was used for seasonal gatherings until 1500BC. Because of its proximity to Stonehenge, it probably served an important function. The mounds around the area were for burials, so the area probably held some significance. Later, it was a fortress due to unrest in the area with other tribes. William the Conquerer inherited the town and its castle in the mid-1000s and used it for his army. 


The entrance to the castle is across a footbridge over the raised banks of earth, and this was the main entrance. Inside is the inner courtyard where various buildings would have stood. In front is the Great Hall. It was built for King John in early 1200 and may have been used as a courthouse and entertaining since the kitchen was nearby. It was never maintained and the roof needed repaired in in the middle of the century and fell in about 100 years after it was constructed.


Upon entering the inner courtyard, we found a bouquet of flowers alone on a table. A note read for us to take them and give them a home. I'd come to Old Sarum for my birthday so I was very happy for the gift of flowers to brighten my day as I felt a little down. I'll post more about these in another post.


The royal palace also occupied this area of the inner courtyard and was built for King Henry I in the early 1100s. There was a view over the cathedral here, and we could see where the apartments, chapel, and latrines were. The latrines were expansive holes in the ground, and they were cleaned by someone lowered down into them. I don't think that would have been a nice job, and the hole is so deep that it would have frightened me too much to even access the room.



The great tower's basement is photographed below. 


The views over Wiltshire were stunning, even though the day was an overcast one.



The inner courtyard (below) would have been a bustling place, like a city. It would have contained many buildings. By the 16th century, all of the buildings were demolished.


The image below is all that remains of the great tower. In the foreground is the well, which was the centre of gossip for the servants. The well is probably about 70 metres deep. 


I had a walk along the edge of the inner courtyard where the bank is raised. Below is the moat and outer courtyard.



The next stop was to walk around the moat to the remains of the cathedral.


I took in amazing views of Salisbury Cathedral, which is one of my favourite cathedrals.


On the southwest side of Old Sarum is the remains of the cathedral. The nave is the only area that ordinary people could access, and there were no seats in those days. The cathedral was used as a meeting place and for other non-religious functions as well.


The cathedral was built in the mid-1000s and was damaged in a storm a few days after it was completed. By the mid-1200s, the palace and cathedral had both been demolished.


The final stop was the toilets, which are built into the hill of the outer embankment.


I enjoyed my walk around Old Sarum. There's not too much to see, but the views are amazing and it is an important historical site. It must have taken a long time for the site to have been constructed over the thousands of years, and I find this fascinating. 

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