The ancient, historically notable city of Old Sarum in the south of England has many stories to tell. Most visitors to the area know of Salisbury Cathedral literally down the hill from it, but the view of Salisbury from the hill fort is a real photographic opportunity.
Evidence of human habitation from 3000 BC has been identified here. The site was settled by Roman legions and occupied from about 43 AD-410 AD and called "Sorviodunum," taken from Celtic and translated to mean "the fortress by a gentle river." Old Sarum hill fort was built around 552 BC, during the Iron Age of Britain, by Cynric, the Saxon King of Wessex who defended the area against Viking raids. A huge dry moat dug around the bottom of the hill is forty feet from top to bottom.
The flat hilltop is roughly 400 metres (1300 ft.) long and 360 metres (1180 ft.) wide, and it has an entrance on the eastern side. The top of the hill is oval-shaped and was walled in by medieval residents. The thriving settlement was at the junction of two major travel roads and the Avon River. William the Conqueror paid off his armies after peace was established and ruled from Old Sarum. The Domesday book listed the area as "Sarisburia" in 1086. The Normans added a curtain wall to protect the castle in the center of the hilltop. In the early 1100's, King Henry I of England built a royal palace within the castle that was used by several Plantagenet monarchs. King Henry II imprisoned his wife, Eleanor of Aquitane in the castle when his sons revolted in 1173.
The castle was demolished by 1219 and the town moved off the hill to the present site of Salisbury. A descendant of King Henry, Peter of Blois, described the area as "barren, dry and solitary, exposed to the rage of the wind." The new cathedral on the banks of the river, was begun in 1220 and finished in thirty-eight years, which was a speed record given the time period. It is considered to be "Early English" architecture. King Henry VIII sold the old castle on the hill in Old Sarum for materials after he had no more use for it.
The Salisbury Cathedral holds one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta and has the oldest mechanical clock in England from 1386. It is also known for its association with Ken Follet's best seller, "Pillars of the Earth."
Stonehenge is a mere two miles from Old Sarum and Bath only 53 km (33 mi.) north of it. These sites would all be day trips from London. There are many hotels in the Salisbury area so an overnight stay would be pleasant before traveling on to Windsor Castle about 91 km (56 mi.) away, and the castle is only 20 miles west of London. There are tours covering these specific areas so access is easy and dependable and the climate is mild all year.
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