Wandering Old Wardour Castle in Tisbury, England

Recently we were visiting friends who live in Shaftesbury, Dorset in England. Due to a hectic travel schedule involving both Vienna and Venice in under two weeks, my husband and I were only able to stay in England for a few days. The bulk of that time was reserved for catching up with Joey's high school bestie Jason and his wife and kids, as well as a day trip out to Stonehenge, which is about 40 minutes away from Shaftesbury. Needless to say, there wasn't a huge chunk of time left over for travel blog exploration.

But Jason's lovely wife, Emily, was immensely supportive of my travel blog and YouTube channel endeavours, and was excited to show me around the area so that I could make a couple videos and articles during my stay. A BIG shout-out to the beautiful and enthusiastic Emily; we loved staying with them and will hopefully repeat our stay in the near future!

One of the highlights of the Shaftesbury area is the Old Wardour Castle, a lakeside medieval stone ruin that is amazingly picturesque and surprisingly intact despite being partially destroyed during the English Civil War. Emily and I ditched the boys and headed out on a morning girls' trip to the castle to see what we could find.

The amazing view from Old Wardour Castle.

I'm not entirely clear on the boundary system in England, so I wasn't sure exactly where to say Old Wardour Castle is located. Although we were staying in Shaftesbury, which is located in Dorset, and the castle was just a short drive away, I did notice my GPS ping for the ruin stated we were in Tisbury. And according to Wikipedia, the castle is actually on the boundary between Tisbury and Donhead St Andrew in the county of Wiltshire, and no mention of Shaftesbury or Dorset is even made. So the best I can do is give you exact GPS coordinates (51.0365*N, 2.0888*W), and let you find your own path!

Luckily for me, Emily was driving, which let me relax and just stare out the window as the lovely British countryside rolled by. Coming from a snow-covered Alberta where we had been suffering from an oddly early winter, I was grateful for green-leaved trees and lush grass.

The castle walls and floors are green with moss and lichens.

The narrow, winding road to Old Wardour Castle took a sharp turn to the left, and suddenly we were there. The tiny gravel parking lot only had one other car present, so it seemed like we'd have the entire castle and grounds to ourselves. Peeking over the tall, stone-stacked wall was the top half of Old Wardour Castle, looking impressive indeed.

Our first glimpse of Old Wardour Castle from the parking lot.

A quick history lesson on Old Wardour Castle: The castle was built in the 1390s in a joint effort between the St Martin family and the Lovell family. After the Lovell family chose the wrong side in the War of the Roses in 1461, they lost possession of the castle and it passed through several hands until Sir Thomas Arundell snagged it in 1544. The castle passed from father to son in a convoluted manner - Sir Thomas was executed in 1552 for treason and the castle confiscated, but his son Matthew bought the castle back.

The castle almost seems cursed, because soon after Matthew gained possession of the grounds, he became involved in the English Civil War on the Royalists side (hint hint: he may have chosen the wrong side). While he was away on King's business, the castle was besieged by the Parliamentarian Army and nearly destroyed. Matthew Arundell ended up dying in battle while away, and his son, Henry, decided to blow up his own castle rather than let the Parliamentarian Army have it. Poor Wardour Castle was nearly pummelled into extinction during this time.

The ruins of Old Wardour Castle.

Eventually, the family regained power and finances, and were able to rebuild their castle, but a little further away. Hence, there is an official Wardour New Castle and then there is Old Wardour Castle, which is where we had visited that day.

Despite the tumultuous history that the castle had endured, there were still four stories standing high into the sky. Half of the castle was obliterated and open to the elements, but it was still possible to climb all four stories, walk among the rooms, stand near intact fireplaces, check out cubbyholes and water closets, and see part of the castle as it may have looked 600 years ago.

The Great Dining Hall, missing part of the wall and all of the roof.

You enter the castle through a courtyard, and have access to the kitchens and storage rooms that were found at ground level. Missing from the ground level was access to the destroyed west wing, which would have featured guest accommodations and the private rooms of the castle's lord. A grand staircase leads guests up to the dining hall and accommodations for the Lord and his family.

On the Grand Staircase leading up to the Great Dining Hall.

The dining hall was very impressive, with a two-story vaulted ceiling and high Gothic windows. Today, the vaulted roof is gone, but you can still get the impression of what the room may have looked like. The far wall is gone, which allows modern-day visitors a great view out onto the sprawling castle grounds and the lake beyond.

Emily models one of the Gothic doorways.

Past the dining hall, a twisting, narrow stone staircase leads up to the remaining two upper stories. As I stated before, there are still completely intact rooms to be found in the upper levels, but only on one half of the castle.

What really irked me was finding people's names scratched deeply into the walls of the castle, particularly along the stone staircase where security guards and other visitors are more unlikely to catch vandals. Why must people deface beautiful pieces of history like that? Drives me nuts. Want to write your name? Get a piece of paper and pencil like a normal human being. Leave a business card in a crack between the stones. But don't ruin the castle itself, for goodness sake.

One of the intact rooms on the third floor.

After I had satisfied my curiosity by exploring every available nook and cranny of Old Wardour Castle, Emily and I crossed the green lawn to what I thought might be a boat house. Turned out, it was the old gatehouse which had been renovated into a banqueting suite for fancy garden parties. Today, the little building is a picture-perfect wedding site. We left the little exhibition building with Emily plotting a second wedding ceremony unbeknownst to Jason.

The banquet house across the lawn from the castle.

We'd arrived in England on a very rainy and damp weekend, and as Emily and I exited the banqueting hall, the clouds opened and a deluge began. We scurried to the little admissions / gift shop booth to poke around a bit while the rain settled down. A surprising array of swords, axes, and replica maces were for sale, which astonished me considering the tiny size of the gift shop.

Be careful where you walk! 

One section of the castle grounds we didn't get to explore was the mysterious stone grotto - commissioned in 1783 after the death of one of the castle's owners. Made of brick and stone, this rugged-looking grotto is built right into a rock wall near the castle. However, its purpose was never fully disclosed, and it was raining too much for Emily and I to go check it out fully.

I would have loved to fly my drone around the castle ruins, but because of the castle's designation as a Grade 1 Listed Building with English Heritage, drones are sadly prohibited. It was still definitely a fun place to visit and a beautiful location in the English countryside.


  1. It looks so awesome!!! I always love the fusion of old and new architecture in one place.

    1. It is almost as if having the castle in ruins gives it more of a mysterious and noble aura!