Wardour's castles – old and new




3.75 miles (6kms)

278ft (85m)
1hr 45min

About the walk

The austere ruins of Old Wardour Castle stand in a peaceful lakeside setting deep in south Wiltshire countryside. On a spur of high ground, protected by acres of secluded woodland, they overlook the Palladian mansion of New Wardour Castle and the tranquil Nadder Valley.

Unique design

Old Wardour was constructed in 1393 for John, 5th Lord Lovel of Titchmarsh, and remodelled in 1578 by Sir Matthew Arundell. It was not built as a fortress in the familiar sense of the word but as a tower house as much for comfort and lavish entertainment as for defence. There is no other castle like it in England, hexagonal in shape and with all its rooms and chambers contained within the one building. This unusual design is thought to have been inspired by similar structures in France, where Lord Lovel had been campaigning during the Hundred Years War.

Civil War sieges

During the Civil War in 1643, the castle had to be defended against a Commonwealth army. A garrison of only 50 soldiers and servants, along with Lady Arundell, conducted an heroic defence of Old Wardour, holding out for six days against 1,300 of Cromwell's regulars led by Sir Edward Hungerford. The Parliamentarian leader was notorious for depriving the most prominent Royalist families of their houses and property. Lady Arundell surrendered only when offered honourable terms, which the Roundheads immediately broke, sacking the castle and imprisoning her. Rather than destroy the castle, the Parliamentarians decided to install a garrison there and use it to protect themselves from a strengthening Royalist army in Wiltshire. However, Henry, Lord Arundell's son, resolved to recover his confiscated property and his home. After several unsuccessful demands for the Parliamentarians to surrender, the young Arundell lay siege to the castle in January 1644. During the siege, a gunpowder mine was laid in a drainage tunnel underneath the castle. When it exploded a large portion of the structure collapsed, leaving it uninhabitable.

Romantic ruin

Old Wardour was never restored after the war, the Arundells content to build a smaller house on the south side of the bailey wall. In the early 18th century, the ruins were surrounded by landscaped gardens, creating the flavour of a romantic ruin. Film buffs may recognise the castle as it was used extensively during the filming of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). New Wardour Castle was designed in a Palladian style by James Paine for the 8th Lord Arundell and built, between 1769 and 1776, on the other side of the park. It remained the seat of the Arundell family until 1944. This fine building has since been a school, and was converted into apartments during the 1990s.

Walk directions

From the parking area, turn left along the drive and pass between the castle and Cresswell's Pond. Pass the Gothic Pavilion, then at Wardour House (private) bear right with the trackway. Gently climb the wide track, skirting woodland, then at a fork keep right. At the end of the woodland, go through a gap into a field entrance and walk ahead along the right-hand side of the field, heading downhill to a stile.

Follow the path beside Pale Park Pond to a squeeze gate, then ascend across the field to a further squeeze gate into woodland. Shortly, bear right to continue along the main forest track, before leaving Wardour Forest beside a gate on to a gravel drive.

At the end of the hedge, cross the stile on your right. Head downhill across the field to a metal gate and follow the waymarked path through Park Copse, soon to bear left down a grassy clearing to a squeeze gate beside a field entrance. Follow the right-hand edge towards Park Gate Farm.

Cross a stile on to the farm drive and turn right (yellow arrow) to cross the concrete farmyard to a gate. Follow the path beside the hedge to a further gate, with the River Nadder on the left, then proceed ahead along the right-hand field-edge to a double stile in the far corner. Bear diagonally left across the field, aiming for the left-hand side of a cottage. Go through a gate and maintain direction to reach a stile.

Cross the farm drive and the stile opposite and head straight uphill, keeping left of the trees, towards a stile and woodland. Follow the path right through the trees and soon bear left to pass a building on your left. New Wardour Castle is visible on your right. Following the yellow-painted post and waymarkers, keep close to the bushes across the grounds towards the main drive. Descend two steps, go ahead through a hedge and turn right.

Join the drive and walk past New Wardour Castle. Where the track forks, keep right to a stile beside a gate. Follow the grassy track ahead across parkland towards Old Wardour Castle. Climb a stile beside a gate and proceed ahead, following the track uphill to a T-junction of tracks. Turn left and follow your outward route back to the car park.

Additional information

Field and woodland paths, parkland tracks, many stiles

River valley, undulating parkland

Under control around livestock

OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase

Old Wardour Castle (not free)

Old Wardour Castle (if visiting ruin)

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About the area

Discover Wiltshire

A land shrouded in mystery, myth and legend, Wiltshire evokes images of ancient stone circles, white chalk horses carved into hillsides, crop circles and the forbidden, empty landscape of Salisbury Plain. To many M4 and A303 drivers heading out of London through the clutter of the Thames Valley, Wiltshire is where the landscape opens out and rural England begins.

Wiltshire’s charm lies in the beauty of its countryside. The expansive chalk landscapes of the Marlborough and Pewsey downs and Cranborne Chase inspire a sense of space and freedom, offering miles of uninterrupted views deep into Dorset, Somerset and the Cotswolds. Wiltshire’s thriving market towns and picturesque villages provide worthwhile visits and welcome diversions. Stroll through quaint timbered and thatched villages in the southern Woodford and Avon valleys and explore the historic streets of the stone villages of Lacock, Castle Combe and Sherston. Walk around Salisbury and discover architectural styles from the 13th century to the present and take time to visit the city’s elegant cathedral and fascinating museums. And if all of that isn’t enough, the county is also richly endowed with manor houses, mansions and beautiful gardens.

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