This morning I headed off to Old Sarum, a longish walk “just up the street”. It is one of those really old sites that seem to abound in the UK, steeped in history, blood, religion and a dash more history. Realistically there isn’t really much to see there, from afar it looks like a giant pimple on the landscape, but once you investigate what lies beyond then things get interesting.
The site is just outside Salisbury, and it could really be described as the place Salisbury was before Salisbury was what it is. It is the site of the cathedral that existed before Salisbury Cathedral was built. It was not only a cathedral though, but an iron age hill fort, a Norman fortress and at one time home to the English King (or one or two of them). The pimple is deceptive though, because there is a moat between the surrounding area and the inner sanctum of the fortress (lets call it a fortress at this point). Crossing that moat would bring you into the castle and fortifications within.
Within the walls of the the inner fortress would have stood the castle/fortress proper. With its many layers of access to various members of the population. Tradesmen around the back, higher-ups higher up, and the King and his court being lord of all he surveyed below.
Very little remains of the interior buildings, realistically there are just remnants of walls and rooms and no real sense of what stood here originally. This grassy area was probably the courtyard with the well where the signpost is. At one point (1110-1120) the home of Henry I was here, and this would have been a bustling area. The place fell into disfavour and some repairs were carried out in 1366, but by 1514 it was an abandoned and desolate place and the site was given to Thomas Compton along with permission to demolish it and reuse the building materials.
In the 16th century the buildings were all demolished, leaving the ruins behind for us to puzzle over. It was excavated between 1909 and 1915, and it is probable that there are layers of buildings built over each other, and we only really see the ruins today. Oddly enough one important historical artifact has survived, ye olde privy….
The royal loo was probably built over this deep pit, which was where the the King could read the morning newspapers in peace before stepping out for a days ruling/throning. Some poor peasant (a Baldrick type I suspect), would have the unenviable task of having to clean up every so often, being lowered down into the poo to clean up. It does show that even Kings have more than one throne.
The view over the surrounding countryside is magnificent, and you would see an enemy coming from miles away. The outlines in the image above are all that remains of the cathedral that stood at that spot before. The original cathedral was completed in 1092, but it was severely damaged by lightning 5 days after it was consecrated. A mere hundred years later and it too was abandoned in favour of the new cathedral in what was technically “New Sarum” (Salisbury). The remains of the cathedral and Bishops residence are outside the inner sanctum of the fortress but inside the first moated area, and you have to walk around the fortress to get to them. All that is left are the foundation outlines and a few remnants of rooms. Not much to see, although there were two burial areas close to the ruins.
You would have had to cross the drawbridge and head along a path that must have existed back then, I am sure the mud must have created havoc with any procession.
Today you would need your imagination to conjure up a cathedral at this spot. It is however a very pretty area with breathtaking views. And it is very popular with the dog walking set. I have no idea how they keep the grounds so immaculate either.
And what of Salisbury? it lays roughly east of Old Sarum, and you can see the spire of the cathedral from the fortress. Unfortunately the sun was sitting in the east and the clouds kept on coming and going, but I did manage this image.
And so Old Sarum was left to its ghosts, and I do not think this would be a nice place on a dark and windy night. There was a decidedly creepy feel about it
So I said my farewells and headed off to my next destination. The site is not really one with a lot to see, but it has a rich and complex history and I cannot begin to cover that here. It is however a very pretty place and its worth just going there to walk the area, Who knows, I may go back one day. I am sure there is more to see if only I look more closely.
© DRW 2014-2021. Images recreated 17/04/2016