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Visiting Old Sarum

Iron Age Hill Fort & Norman castle near Salisbury & Stonehenge

Entrance bridge across moat to Old Sarum Castle Salisbury

Entrance bridge: across moat to Old Sarum Castle

Old Sarum is a great earthwork, with its huge banks and ditches, just a couple of miles north of Salisbury.


It is an interesting place in its own right but is conveniently on the main route between Salisbury and Stonehenge. The Stonehenge bus from Salisbury stops outside.


Old Sarum official website

Old Sarum history

An Iron Age Hillfort

What attracts you first are the immense earthen banks forming the defences of the original village, still very much in evidence 2,000 years after they were first created. The banks were part of an Iron Age Hill Fort, part of a truly impressive defensive system with the village inside.


The Romans

This settlement remained intact until the Roman invasion. At this time it was called Sorviodunum and was at the junction of two major Roman roads.


The Normans - a classic castle

Well after the Romans had left when the Normans came in the 11th century they quickly realised its strategic importance and constructed a classic motte and bailey castle within the old earthworks.

New, grander designs

This was replaced by a stone keep in 1100, and a royal palace was erected within the banks in 1130. In the meantime the first cathedral on the site was completed in 1092, but it burned down only 5 days after it was consecrated. A new, larger cathedral was completed around 1190.


Relations between the clerics of the cathedral and the castle guard were punctuated with outbreaks of petulance and occasional violence. The churchmen became so exasperated that in 1219 Bishop Richard Poore decided that enough was enough, and he determined to build a new cathedral at a location several miles to the south.


Salisbury grows...

A settlement grew up around the site of the new cathedral, and it is this settlement that is the modern city of Salisbury.


The castle declines

With the shift of settlement away from Old Sarum to New Sarum (Salisbury) the old site lapsed and the castle fell into disuse. Despite the fact that the site was derelict, Old Sarum continued to send a representative to Parliament until the mid 19th century.


Visiting Old Sarum

Today, visitors can see remains of both the castle and the second cathedral, though little of that building exists beyond an outline of the walls on the grass. Old Sarum is run by English Heritage.


You can enter inside the site with no charge. There is a small charge to enter into the Norman Castle. The remains of the cathedral and the earthworks of the Iron Age settlement are free access.

English Heritage have a gift shop and a shop selling ice cream etc. There is lots of grass and majestic views across the countryside. For opening times and current admissions to the castle click through to the official website, (link at top of page).


Getting to Old Sarum

The Stonehenge Tour Bus From Salisbury

Tour Bus: Stonehenge/ Old Sarum from Salisbury

Old Sarum is just a mile or so north of modern day Salisbury. Travelling independently it is possible to walk there by following the riverside path of the River Avon on its western side until you see Old Sarum high up above you on the hill.


There is a bridge over the river and public footpaths up to Old Sarum. The whole walk will take around an hour and the last half of the walk is across fields.


There are also relatively frequent Salisbury local buses up to Old Sarum from the bus station, most continuing beyond Old Sarum to Amesbury at the bottom of the hill from Stonehenge.

Stonehenge tour bus

Given that most people will be visiting Stonehenge, the most appropriate transport for independent travellers would be the Stonehenge hop-on, hop-off bus that starts in Salisbury and visits both Stonehenge and Old Sarum in a loop.

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