top of page

Tisbury and its Three Castles


It is only a couple of months since I last visited this area. That was a cold damp day which soured my mood somewhat, and the conditions underfoot were dire after what seemed like weeks of continuous rain. So a forecast of freezing weather with clear blue skies were enough to tempt me back to Tisbury, in the hope that the boggy ground in this part of the world would be frozen. I was not to be disappointed.


There is little doubt that this part of Wiltshire is one of the most beautiful. The sunken lanes leading to pretty villages and hamlets, deep coombes and extensive woodland have long attracted admirers. You would think you would encounter many more people on a walk here but during my second outing in as many months there is solitude and peace everywhere. And it has attracted man for thousands of years as we will discover.


Accompanied by my regular walking buddy and neighbour Stu, we again headed for the free central car park in Tisbury. But I was very tempted to abort the journey. As we drove alongside the lake on the Fonthill estate mist was rising from the water and the surrounding fields glistened in the early morning sun, a dazzling white from the hard frost. It was a photographer’s paradise. But we had a long walk ahead of us so after stopping at the side of the road for a quick photograph we continued to nearby Tisbury.


Our first objective of the day was the Iron Age hill fort of Castle Ditches. This involved crossing the railway at a pedestrian crossing outside Tisbury station just after turning off the main street by a house that wouldn’t look out of place on a sugar plantation in the Caribbean.

A Colonial Mansion in Tisbury

This led us straight into a very run down graffiti strewn industrial area. Not what we expected in the pretty village of Tisbury! But on the far side of the car park we spotted a gate and a gap in the hedge – this was to be our escape route.

Tisbury Station

The path led steeply upwards, the views of Tisbury opening up behind us. Passing a bench with its views across the village the path flattened out and crossed large open fields. Soon we were on the open hillside. In the near distance ahead and high above we caught our first sight of Castle Ditches. A view that was to reappear throughout the day.

First Glimpse of Castle Ditches

Descending through the field towards Tisbury Row we passed two marker cairns – strangely out of place in Wiltshire.

Marker Cairns

Joining the lane called Tisbury Row we turned right for a short distance before turning left to climb a sunken track through the old quarry, passing Haredene Cottage on the corner. This track has clearly seen human traffic for hundreds if not thousands of years, leading as it does up to the hill fort. It was sunk deep into the landscape - steep and rough going.

Sunken Track Through Hardene Quarry

Mercifully the ground was largely solid from the freezing conditions but it must be a quagmire in anything but the driest of conditions. Even on this day it was boggy near the top. The route flattened and followed a fence with views across what looked like parkland to Haredene Wood.


Castle Ditches and Haredene Wood

Soon we reached the bottom of the wooded slopes of Castle Ditches hill fort. Sadly the fort itself is in private hands – in part the preserve of game crops for birds destined to be shot. We were later told by a local walker that the landowner does not welcome visitors. Public rights of way skirt around three quarters of the perimeter and the route map follows the western edge. However we spent an hour exploring the perimeter, before following the footpath up to the south eastern entrance of the fort.


Not much seems to be known about Castle Ditches which is unusual for what must have been an important landmark in the Iron Age. Its prominence in the landscape, dominating the skyline for miles around, and its huge area (24 acres/9.7 ha.) together with its trivallate construction involving three massive earth banks with associated deep ditches, would have involved a heroic amount of labour. On the summit there is apparently a long barrow, presumably Neolithic, so man was present here thousands of years before our Iron Age ancestors. A small excavation by archaeologists in 1989 discovered pottery so presumably all this effort to build a defensive structure was to protect a settlement within.


“Private “signs abound up here so unfortunately we are forbidden to follow the long steep climb to the main north west entrance to the fort.

Castle Ditches North West Entrance

But we are permitted to approach via the less impressive south east entrance where the footpath leads to a short track passing through what are still deep ditches and high earthworks taking us to a gate onto the summit – a gate adorned with another “Private” sign. From photographs I have seen the bluebells in the woods surrounding the castle are outstanding in the spring.


Castle Ditches Earthworks

Castle Ditches Hillfort Summit

After exploring the area we descended to the south of a substantial house at Withyslade Farm, all the time tracking in a south westerly direction. The lower we got the boggier the ground became, the many ponds and pools shown on the map between the farm and Swallowcliffe being something of a clue.

Withyslade Farm

South of Furzelease Farm and after a very short stretch on Jobbers Lane, we again took to a footpath through woods. Reaching the edge of the wood we stopped at a junction of paths for a coffee, whilst watching first a fox then a pair of magnificent hare close by. The map shows pillow mounds here but apart from one almost imperceptible lump we could see no evidence of them on the ground, or of the ponds which must have been hidden in the nearby scrub.


At this point, having finished our coffee, we had our one really serious route-finding problem of the day. With only a very weak phone signal leading us to question the accuracy of our OS Maps app on our phones. Despite both of us being very experienced and proficient map readers we made a mistake. Not once but several times. The OS map shows the path following the right hand side of a fence line, with the pillow mounds on our right. And there is indeed a track here which we followed. But this is not the way! This is no longer a public right of way and indeed the track curves away to the right, and away from our compass bearing, towards Totterdale Farm. Not where we wanted to go - we wanted to head to Pheasants Copse. After at least half an hour of wandering (and wondering) up and down this track, disbelieving the evidence of our own eyes and the compass on our phones, we realised what the problem was. The footpath had been diverted and the map was simply wrong. All we had to do was pass through the gateway by which we had been standing whilst drinking our coffee, into the field on the other side of the fence line. And sure enough after about 50 metres there was the first of several Wiltshire Council footpath signs leading us up towards Pheasants Copse.


Looking for Pheasants Copse - coffee stop and the gate through which we should have passed

This area of woodland was pretty and well signed. However, it was very boggy. We soon met the first walker we had met all day. A man from Swallowcliffe who confirmed that the footpath did indeed use to follow the other side of the fence but was diverted at the request of whichever landowner runs the local shoot. This made us feel a little better about our mistake. After a while moaning about Wiltshire Council and their failure to rectify so many reports of blocked and illegally diverted rights of way (although in this case due process appeared to have been followed) we said our goodbyes and continued with our respective walks.


At the bottom of Pheasants Copse we emerged into a meadow with a huge ugly barn up to our left. The footpath traverses diagonally to the right and up to the far side of the meadow, a small copse standing at the top. With no clear path on the ground we carefully followed the line on our OS Maps app. This led us to a house in the corner of the meadow where we found ourselves looking right into the lounge window. The map showed the path passing to the left of the house and emerging onto the lane behind it, which is where we wanted to be. But there was a large garden hedge in the way. Then, a short distance to the right of the house, we spotted a gate. We headed to the gate where we found a sign urging us to keep to the footpath! Well we had, only to find it blocked by a garden hedge. It looked like another path had been diverted that the OS Maps app had not caught up with. By this time we were getting angry but at least you won’t make the same mistake if you read this.


Hexagonal House - Twelve Acre Copse

Passing through the gate we turned left back to the house that blocked our way. It was a curious looking place. It looked modern at the back, the first view we had of it, but from the road at the front much older and seemingly hexagonal. It stood on the corner of the lane and two tracks. We wanted the track between High Wood and Twelve Acre Copse that led up to Park Pale. This well surfaced track climbs steeply through the woods, again cut deep into the surrounding landscape. At the top, by a farmhouse on the edge of High Wood, we followed Park Pale in a south easterly direction, stopped in or tracks by what appeared to be a miniature pyramid or Silbury Hill to our right in the garden of the farmhouse.

Pyramid or Miniature Silbury Hill- High Wood


Park Pale is defined thus on


A park pale “…. marks the ditch and bank that formed the boundary of a medieval deer park. On the ground they might still define an area of woodland pasture, while banks several metres wide, once surmounted by a palisade or, perhaps, still carrying a stone wall, can be substantial even after centuries. The ditch that runs on the inside of the bank is usually less distinct. Their design allowed deer to bound into the park, but prevented them from leaping out again, making the deer park like a huge, terrestrial lobster pot, harvesting meat for the aristocratic table.”


Park Pale

So we assumed Twelve Acre Copse, now to our left, was once a Medieval deer park. Be warned – the track is a restricted byway and is very boggy. After rain it must be a quagmire as it is clearly used by a lot of horse riders. Emerging from the wood to our left we turned sharp right across the fields, now on a footpath. But the local horse riders don’t seem to bother with such restrictions and the ground was severely churned up by horses hooves and even by tracks from a quad bike. I wondered if the hunt had passed this way. Either way, frozen solid, it was hard going but when soft after rain would be little more than a bog. Meanwhile, we tried to distract ourselves with the magnificent views south to Ansty Down and White Sheet Hill, and with the prospect of our first sighting of our next castle – Old Wardour.


We soon entered a wood, The Hanging, through which there was a clear and distinct path. Within moments we were greeted by our first glimpse of Old Wardour Castle, partially hidden by the trees, nestling at the head of the valley. In the distance beyond was New Wardour Castle.

First Glimpse of Old Wardour Castle from The Hanging

This truly is a magnificent setting. On this winter weekday the castle was closed and the silence was interrupted only by bird song, and the sound of a great spotted woodpecker drilling into a Scots pine across the wood. The unmistakable sound of a nuthatch was tantalisingly close but the bird remained hidden. Descending to the reputedly haunted tunnel we climbed a path that crosses the roof of the tunnel and decided this was a suitable place to stop for lunch.

Haunted Tunnel - Old Wardour Castle

The stillness uninterrupted by human sounds was all pervading. We stood in silence, in awe at the view before and imagining the scene in the 1390s when this small five storey hexagonal castle was completed for John, Lord Lovell. Lovell didn’t get much time to enjoy the fruits of his time as a mercenary-knight as he died in 1408.


The castle was eventually acquired by the Arundell family in 1547. It was lost then re-acquired by them in 1570 but its eventful history was to continue. In the English Civil War the family sided with the Royalists and the castle was besieged by Parliamentarian forces on 2 May 1643. The then Lord Arundell, Thomas, was away fighting for the Royalists in Oxford so the castle was defended by his wife Blanche and 25 men, assisted by maids who re-loaded the guns for the soldiers. The castle was taken by Sir Edward Hungerford and the Parliamentarians after six days. Meanwhile Blanche’s husband had been killed and his son Henry returned to Wardour determined to re-take the castle. He did so after a three month siege when the garrison commander Edmund Ludlow surrendered to Arundell when Henry blew up part of his own castle! With the eventual victory of the Parliamentarians in the Civil War the castle was once again taken by them in 1648 but upon the restoration Henry recovered what was now a ruin in 1660. What a story! Is it any wonder there are stories of ghosts?


Old Wardour Castle Entrance

But the story doesn’t end here, In 1763 the Arundell dynasty decided to build a new castle for themselves a few hundred metres to the west – New Wardour Castle. The parkland between the two was designed by Richard Woods, despite Capability Brown having been engaged by a previous Lord Arundell. Brown actually returned to reconfigure the landscape after the original designs by Woods were deemed too expensive. We passed by Ark Farm and its forge, looking every bit the rural idyll as smoke from a wood fire billowed from one of its chimneys, before following the path through the parkland on our way to the Palladian mansion that is New Wardour.

Ark Farm

Again, we encountered the bogs that are a feature of this part of Wiltshire despite the freezing temperatures. The Arundell family still own the site of Wardour castle and much of the surrounding parkland.


Wardour Park

New Wardour Castle

A number of public footpaths lead through the estate and very close to the house. There are several other buildings in the grounds such as the chapel, and a 19th century hexagonal annexe looking more like a Greek or Roman temple, which can be seen as you wander through the grounds. The house itself was sold by the Arundells in 1946 and became a Leonard Cheshire home in the 1950s. In 1961 it became a girl’s school which closed in 1990. It now houses a number of individual apartments. Jasper Conran sold his in 2020 for £4m! It has also been used as a film set – scenes from Billy Elliott were filmed there – presumably it was the dance school where the young Billy auditioned. Conran described the staircase in the house as possibly the finest in England.


New Wardour Castle - Hexagonal Annexe

We were now “castled out”! We left the grounds of New Wardour and followed a narrow path alongside Wardour School to the road, now busy with the cars of parents collecting their children. We passed through a gate heading across fields and the little River Sem on our way towards the railway. We crossed the line in the opposite direction to which we crossed it on our last walk from Tisbury in November 2023. You will find a link to that blog below. In the hamlet of East Hatch we turned north west by the thatched Nadder House which I photographed from the previous blog, climbing steeply up a narrow lane towards Manor Farm. Here we passed through a gate to our right into a field and the final leg back to Tisbury, stopping to commune with two little pigs.

Communing with Pigs

The fields across which the path follows was extremely hard going, churned up as it was by the cows which were presumably tucked up in a ban somewhere. By now, in the rapidly advancing darkness, the ground was freezing again and what would have been a bog was now ankle breaking clods. As we crested the rise at the end of the slog through the meadows distant Castle Ditches loomed into view again in the half light, sitting high on its hill above Tisbury.


At Tuckingmill we decided to turn down a lane towards the site of the Medieval Village of Wyck which we visited on our November 2023 walk. This lane was busy with cars driven by people on their way home from work. Care should be taken if you use this route but there are other options.


Site of Medieval Wyck

It was now almost dark as we arrived back in the centre of Tisbury, the village looking like a fairy tale as the remaining Christmas lights twinkled in the gloaming. Despite our complaints about the boggy ground we had thoroughly enjoyed our day in one of the most beautiful parts of Wiltshire. We ended up walking about 10 miles but that was in part due to our exploration of Castle Ditches hillfort and our efforts to find our way to Pheasant Copse.

St John the Baptist Church, Tisbury

The route as plotted on the map below is 8.21 miles/13.21 kms but there are plenty of options to shorten it. I’ve seen another similar route on the OS Maps app that took in Ansty but since Elaine Perkins visited Ansty in another blog (link below) we decided on an alternative route. But my advice would be to do this walk when the landscape has thoroughly dried out. On a warm sunny day after a long dry spell it would be perfect.

Route Map (courtesy of Ordnance Survey)


Recent Posts

See All


Lynn Genevieve
Lynn Genevieve

I love this part of Wiltshire too - family connections but more importantly, memories. In the 90s I took my young family there as we’d just seen the Kevin Costner film ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ - the Loxley castle is old Wardour, easily recognisable in the film and also in his father’s grave scene, behind Costner you can see the ‘Grotto’ in the grounds, a very distinctive feature. When we visited it was an English Heritage site that had not yet been ‘upgraded’ - there was a man and a hut… but he proudly shared all his photos and stories from the shooting of the film - I recall that he specifically identified Costner as a quiet unassuming man…

Paul Timlett
Paul Timlett

Thanks Lynn. Glad you enjoyed it.


Sean Kaye-Smith
Sean Kaye-Smith

The building you describe as a ‘Carribean mansion’ was, I think, at one time a pub called the Arundel Arms. I first travelled West in 1975 - from where I grew up in West Norfolk - with a friend who was into real ales, and he had the CAMRA handbook to tell him where to find them, and we went to this pub to sample a West Country brew called Eldridge Pope (which, although a bitter, tasted a lot like cider). I’m not 100% sure it was this building, but I think it was. When I returned to Tisbury decades later it was a private house, and no doubt still is.

Paul Timlett
Paul Timlett

Thanks Sean - I have a vague recollection it was a pub too. I think I'm going to edit the post and change the description to "colonial mansion". That was the phrase I was looking for when I first wrote it!

Eldridge Pope was a fine beer. Such a shame when the brewery in Dorchester closed down.

bottom of page