When it comes to holidays, generally, we are creatures of habit and if there is somewhere that steals our heart, we are likely to make many a return visit. One such place for me that I visit often on a weekly basis is Old Wardour Castle, set in the picturesque Wiltshire countryside.
I first visited the castle on a school trip many years ago and the romantic ruin immediately captured my imagination. For years afterwards, I temporarily forgot about it, taking it for granted with it being right on my doorstep, until a chance passing of one of the English Heritage signposts made me turn up the trackway and make a return visit. I soon discovered that as an adult, there was so much more that I could appreciate about the castle than I ever could as a child.
The fact that so much of it remains intact, considering that it was originally built in the 1390s, is rather impressive, and the view from the top of the East tower out across the countryside, with new Wardour Castle hovering in the distance, stuns me every time.
I think what makes the site so special is the fact that every time I go there, I notice something different; some new carving of ancient graffiti from Medieval visitors, or from some of the soldiers that were stationed there during the wars; a tell-tale pattern of stone which shows where a doorway once stood but over time was blocked up; a new set of steps, which seemingly lead to nowhere.
Not only that, but the scale of the castle, considering that it was built to be an elaborate family home, with no defensive purpose in mind, is quite amazing. Even with 35 rooms having been blown away by gunpowder at the back of the building, there is still an impressive collection of rooms to explore inside, all of them painting a historical picture of domestic life in such a place over 600 years ago.
One of my favourite rooms is the great hall, in which you can still see some of the ornate decorative stone flowers embedded in one wall and if you close your eyes, it is easy to imagine the room full of people at a feast, with a fire crackling in the huge fireplace and musicians playing along the minstrels gallery whilst guests enjoy many a flagon of ale or cup of wine.
The castle also has a certain commercial appeal, as it was one of the film locations for the 1991 Kevin Costner film ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.’ It features in the opening scenes as Robin’s father’s castle, where Brian Blessed is murdered by Alan Rickman and his band of men. The castle’s grotto is also visible in the film as the place where Robin, Duncan and Azeem take shelter for the night of Robin’s father’s murder, before continuing on their quest.
As a dabbler in fictional writing, the castle provides the perfect setting for a bit of inspiration for a story. It is easy to imagine a dragon lurking behind the locked gate in the darkened cellar, which isn’t open to visitors, and to create chilling ghost stories surrounding the existence of the castle’s alleged resident ghost, Lady Blanche.
But don't be put off by spooky tales, you can return to the safety of your Dorset cottage thereafter.