Between Tidworth and Andover is the small town of Ludgershall, to the north of which stand the evocative ruins of a medieval castle and cross. Owned by English Heritage but free for all to visit, these ruins are a beautiful and evocative place.
The early history of the castle is hazy, but it was probably begun in the late 11th century by a sheriff of Wiltshire. It passed to the Crown at some point in the early 12th century, and was then substantially improved in the 13th century by King John and his son, Henry III, who both used the castle as a hunting lodge. Three walls survive, and also the extensive earthworks around them (with, curiously, a private farm in the middle).
It seems to have been a popular royal residence in the 13th century. Henry III is known to have visited at least 21 times and ordered many additions and improvements, including a great hall for dining and entertaining and new royal apartments. Two separate parks were delegated for royal amusement – the northern one was too small for hunting but probably staged other entertainments and tournaments which could be viewed from the castle buildings and earthworks. The southern one was much larger and kept well stocked with deer for the King’s pleasure.
The castle was visited less frequently in the 14th and 15th centuries and by the 1540s had already been dismantled and much of it levelled over. The most prominent survival is the tower.
It’s a great place to explore and walk around the two sets of earthworks, with the kids able to enjoy running up and down the banks. A woodpecker may entertain you from one of several of the tall trees on the slopes overlooking the castle.
The Medieval Cross
You can divert a couple of hundred yards south into the small town to see the remains of a 14th century cross.
Most of these types of crosses were destroyed in the Reformation so, even though it is a struggle to make out the original features, it is good to see a rare example still standing.
It was probably an impressive 6 or 7 metres high originally, and would have been richly decorated on each of its faces.
The East face is the clearest, showing the Descent from the Cross, and has a helpful diagram and information board beside it to enable you to make out the scene of several figures, including Mary and Joseph of Arimathea, lifting the body of Jesus down from the Cross.
About half a mile to the north of the castle lies Collingbourne Wood, a large area of ancient broadleaf woodland, predominantly beech, which is great for walkers and cyclists. For cyclists there are wide tracks to the length and breadth of the woods, for walkers there are clearly defined narrower paths that crisscross the whole area. Here there is an abundance of wildlife, and several woodpeckers can be heard.
VISITING LUDGERSHALL CASTLE AND CROSS
How to get to Ludgershall Castle
Postcode: Castle Street, Ludgershall, Wiltshire, SP11 9QT
Public Transport: Regular buses connect Swindon, Marlborough, Andover, Salisbury and Ludgershall. The nearest bus stop is at the Co-op, which is 0.14km walk from the castle.
Parking: There is a small free carpark with 4 spaces on Castle Street just 50 metres from the site. There is further parking in the town centre.
When is Ludgershall Castle open?
The site is open from dawn until dusk
How much does it cost to visit Ludgershall Castle?
The site is free to visit and there are no charges for parking either.
Are there any facilities at Ludgershall Castle?
There are no facilities on site other than a car park and the site is not staffed. Toilets and cafes are available in Ludgershall town centre.