More of a wander than a walk, but a lovely place to spend a some time outdoors and explore some fascinating local history.
The History Bit
Old Wardour Castle is a semi ruined 14th century castle. Although it fell into bad shape after being caught up in the English Civil War, it was quite a talking point when it was constructed. Built to impress by John Lovell, a soldier and political man who had married well and needed a home that reflected his growing wealth and status.
Using locally quarried stone to a design that borrowed heavily from French castles of the time, the original Wardour was less castle, more country pile. A place where visitors could be hosted and impressed. Look at the detail in the image above; the herring bone brickwork in the fire place and the carved flowers on the wall above. Beautiful details. Guest lodgings involved luxuries including individual fireplaces and latrines. In room amenities were a whole different game back then.
In the 1500’s the castle came into the hands of the Arundell family. It was modernised under the guiding hand of Matthew Arundell who rejected the trends of the day and kept the backbone of the medieval design. A bold decision, with beautiful Elizabethan homes like Longleat being constructed not so far away.
By the 1600’s, Civil war was dividing the nation and Wardour was caught up in the conflict. The Arundell family sided with the King and the men went off to fight. A local Parliamentary commander advanced upon Wardour with thoughts of occupation. He could think again; he hadn’t reckoned upon Lady Blanche Arundell who, having been left in charge of the castle, had no intentions of just handing it over. She, her daughter-in-law and a small band of servants held out for six days.
Blanche did eventually surrender, but the castle didn’t remain captured for too long. Blanche’s son, the 3rd Lord Arundell, tipped up to take it back. In the process of doing so, he accidently blew half of it up. Badly damaged, but back in the family.
A century later, Wardour was beyond repair. The 8th Lord Arundell moved up the road a built a thoroughly modern, all-bells-and-whistles country home known as New Wardour. The castle remains, now Old Wardour, were incorporated into a fashionable landscape garden complete with the later addition of a banqueting house. And that brings us neatly to the Old Wardour of today…
The Visitor Bit
Care for the ruin has fallen to English Heritage, but ownership of the site and surrounding land remains with the Arundell family. The turbulence of yesterday makes for a beautiful bit of castle and parkland for today. The family added to the site over the generations- a bit of planting here, a stone grotto there. All a bit whimsical, and utterly in keeping with the centrepiece that is the castle itself.
Although lacking the rip roaring history of the ruin, the Gothic style banqueting house is also worth a look. An 18th Century addition, the little house was built as a place for visitors to take refreshments. Featuring stained glass windows, lakeside views and pretty fireplaces, it is very charming.
The castle itself is perfectly imperfect. Ruined enough to have a fairy tale feel, in tact enough to get in and explore. Elaborate windows and door ways frame lovely views across the Wiltshire countryside.
On the exterior, the Arundell coat of arms and a bust of Jesus stand in surprisingly good condition considering the years they’ve been there. It’s easy to imagine what a grand place this once was. If you feel like you recognise aspects of the castle, you might have spotted it on the big screen. Old Wardour was a filming location for the 1991 movie Robin Hood : Prince of Thieves.
The Useful Info Bit
Old Wardour is tucked away in the Wiltshire countryside near Tisbury. The route involves lots of winding country roads, many of which are only wide enough for one car. Getting here is an adventure in itself. Use postcode SP3 6RP . Free parking on site.
The site is now managed by English Heritage. Admission charges apply, free for EH members. Full details here.
Old Wardour is dog friendly, but dogs are requested to be kept on lead.