When I went to visit Stonehenge, which you can read about here I also went to visit Old Sarum, which is part of The Stonehenge Tour. I admit that I’d never heard of Old Sarum until I started investigating how to get to Stonehenge by public transport, but I’m glad I took the opportunity to go. It’s an Iron Age hill fort that was also the site of a castle and the original site of Salisbury Cathedral.
It is, as you can see, all ruins now. Unlike Stonehenge there is no audio tour on offer and only a few information points dotted around the site, so it’s really through the purchase of the guidebook that you get a sense of where the site fits in English history and how you understand the sheer scale of the buildings that used to be there.
Old Sarum was once an important centre of government – controversially so as until 1832 it continued to elect members of Parliament without actually possessing the population to do so. It was the site where William the Conqueror decided to build a castle and one of the first castles to be built as he attempted to establish Norman rule after 1066.
It also seems to be where Eleanor of Aquitaine was kept under house arrest for getting her sons to rebel against their father, Henry II.
Work on the first cathedral began in around 1075, the position probably chosen because it was so close to the castle. The cathedral was reported to be large and beautiful, and also very expensive. You can see the outline of the cathedral site in the picture below.
By 1220 growing issues with the site at Old Sarum – the scarcity of water being a major sticking point – meant that the changes needed to be made. Work began to demolish the cathedral and many of the stones were re-used to build a new cathedral – the one that stands at Salisbury now. That move gradually lead to the deterioration of the site to what it is today.
Old Sarum is definitely worth a visit if, like me, you quite like looking around ruins but it certainly wouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours to explore it all. I certainly found it worth the price the Stonehenge Tour charge.