Wessex Attractions: Old Sarum

Old Sarum is an iron age hill fort, dating back to c400 BC, that was the original site of what later became Salisbury. It was continuously occupied during the Roman period and a mint was recorded there in 1003. Its original cathedral was built shortly after the Norman invasion of England, as was a motte-and-bailey castle. It was at the latter that the Bastard gathered his nobles in 1086 to swear the Oath of Sarum, a loyalty oath which centralised power in his hands that had previously been delegated to local reeves.

According to legend, the site of the cathedral was moved in 1220 to another one two miles away after an archer shot an arrow into the valley to determine where it should be built. Two miles seems a long way to shoot an arrow, but one variation of the legend is that the archer hit a deer which then ran for that distance before finally expiring.

The Norman castle remained in use until the 15th century, after which Old Sarum was largely abandoned in favour of the newer town. It continued to send members to Parliament until the Reform Act of 1832, however, one of two so-called "rotten boroughs" in Wessex (the other being Newtown on the Isle of Wight).

Today, Old Sarum is maintained by English Heritage. Advance booking is recommended, via their website.

Wessex Attractions: Totnes Castle

Totnes is best-known as the landing site of Brutus of Troy in Geoffrey of Monmouth's origin myth for Britain. But it also houses one of the best-preserved Norman castles in England. After William the Bastard invaded in 1066, he ordered a string of castles built in order to subjugate the native English population. Saxon Totnes was a thriving market town on the River Dart, with a mint. The castle was thought to have been built by one Juhel de Totnes, a Breton commander in the Bastard's army, later passing to the De La Zouche family.

Today, the castle is owned by English Heritage. It is currently closed due to lockdown.

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is  TQ9 5NU.

Wessex Attractions: Stoney Littleton Long Barrow

Stoney Littleton is an example of an easily accessible neolithic long barrow near the village of Wellow in Somerset. Dating from around 3500 BC, it is a barrow of the Cotswold-Severn type, measuring around 100 feet by 40 feet.

The barrow was first excavated around 1760, though perhaps raided would be a better word. The landowner, a local farmer, plundered it in search of building stone. Sadly, most of the original contents have since been lost or stolen, but the barrow was restored to its original specifications in 1857.

The approach to the barrow takes the visitor over landscapes that remain largely unchanged since neolithic times. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is BA2 8NR. The nearest bus service is Somerbus service 757, which only runs once a week and drops you a mile away from the actual site.