Flooded River Avon in Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

A circular walk from Salisbury to Old Sarum

March 30, 2014 · 6 comments

Date walked: 16th February 2014

Map used: OS Explorer 130; Salisbury and Stonehenge

Distance: around 8 miles (that includes a lot of wandering round Old Sarum and some doubling back where the paths were flooded.)

There are public toilets at Old Sarum (before you get into the area that you have to pay for)


This was the last day of our 10 day stay in Salisbury and only the second day where the sun appeared to intend to shine for more than a few fleeting moments. Anne and I had celebrated our 32nd anniversary of us getting together (a very specific event marks the day which I am not at liberty to disclose) the night before at Crane’s across the road from our apartment in 95 Crane Street. It’s a nice restaurant with good food and the very friendly manager had topped up our very enjoyable and well lubricated meal with a couple of glasses of Champagne as a nightcap. So I started the day a bit thick-headed and wasn’t out of the house before 12.

Old Sarum is situated about two miles due north of the current cathedral in Salisbury. Originally an Iron Age Hill Fort, a cathedral was built there at the end of the 11th century, but more of that anon.

My intention was to take a footpath that follows the west side of the River Avon out of the city. Although the river was very high, I knew that at least the beginning of the path was passable as Anne and I had walked as far as the car park near the City Hall in the first few days of our stay. And for the first half a mile or so so there wasn’t a problem.

Storm felled tree next to riverside path of the Avon in Salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes

One of several blown over trees I passed that day.

The storms had brought down a few trees and the frothing torrent of one of the complex of drainage channels was fairly full. 

This channel was being controlled by floodgates.

Salisbury is at the confluence of 5 rivers so is vulnerable to flooding

A family of four swans appeared happy to be swimming even closer to the path than usual in their obvious seeking of sustenance from passers-by.

Swans on the swollen River Avon in Salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes

They got nuffin from me

The path passed under the railway line and over a minor road crossing Scammels Bridge before reaching the A36.

19th century iron railway bridge across the Avon in Salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes

The arches were cast by Joseph Butler & Co at Stanningley Ironworks in 1857. The wrought iron lattice parapets and concrete piers were not part of the railway structure and date from erection of the bridge in its new location in 1898

Here the swollen waters had filled the underpass to such a depth that the only option was to walk carefully along the top of the wall by the river, stooping so as not to bang my head on the unforgiving concrete.

Flooded underpass next to the river Avon in Salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes

An opportunity to develop my parkour skills?

A little further on the river was over the path  to the depth of a few inches so I was grateful that my boots were both waterproof and came up to my ankles. 

River Avon in Salisbury flooding adjacent footpath, photographed by Charles Hawes

I’m glad that I keep applying waterproofer to my boots

But a few hundred yards further on I would have needed waders to have kept dry, so I headed into the middle of the adjacent park and made for a bridge where the water was splashing up through the planks but the passage still visible.

River Avon flooding in Salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes

Time to made a planned deviation

It still required a dash over running surface water about two inches deep to get there.  The playground to my left was under water but  I thought I was going to be alright until I came to a dead-end where the path had been overwhelmed and had been closed off.

Flooded playground in Salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes

My map indicated that an alternative route on the east side of the river existed, passing by the Leisure Centre so I retraced my steps, still managing to stay dry as I sploshed through the field for a second time.

Flooded park in Salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes

Still, plenty of opportunity for nice water pics

 This route though what is designated as the Avon Valley Local Nature Reserve was definitely on higher ground and although the river had transgressed its banks here, it wasn’t so much of a  problem as a photo opportunity.

Flooded stretch of river Avon in the Avon Valley Nature Reserve, Salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes

There’s plenty more flooded Avon pics to come

It was around this time that I became aware of the sounds of light aircraft passing by every few minutes and looking up saw a couple of parachutists drifting earthwards.

Parachutists over Salisbury, photpgraphed by Charles Hawes

No, I don’t fancy that.

The path leaves the nature reserve and follows the road past some allotments and through a little suburb called Stratford Sub Castle.  Over to the right the site of Old Sarum appears as a small flat-topped hill, but of obviously man-made construction.

Flooded road through Stratford Sub Castle, photographed by Charles Hawes

The village website said that this is the first time the road had become impassable since 1947

Just as the road reached the pretty St Lawrence’s church it was flooded and impassable, but a christening party seemed in good spirits as they three-point-turned their way to find places to leave their cars for the service.

St Lawrence Church, Stratford Sub castle, photographed by Charles Hawes

It’s grade 1 listed

I had never seen such prominence given to the benefactor of a church, his name emblazoned across the base of its tower. Such ostentation!

Incription of the benefactor of St Lawrence Church, Stratford Sub Castle, Salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes

Thomas Pitt was the grandfather of William Pitt (the Elder), British Prime Minister

I took the opportunity of a look around the churchyard and found another unusual feature (at least from my little experience of churchyards). Over to one side were the graves of at least 40 Fist World War victims, their uniform stones carrying dedications from several regiments and a good many of them Australian.

World War 1 Gravestones in St Lawrence churchyard, photographed by Charles Hawes

Not so unusual – there are apparently 170,000 Commonwealth gravestones in the UK

(It seems many had died of their wounds in a local hospital.)

With luck a footpath takes a route just above the road through a field for a few hundred yards and though squelchy it was fine to walk on. The swollen river had all but covered the land by Stratford Bridge and here I took the road climbing the hill to the back of Old Sarum.

The river Avon, near Statford Bridge, Salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes

In a small pickup parked in a driveway of an unassuming house a bearded man stared out to the roadside, stark still. It took a second look to realise that it was a dummy.

Old sarum walk-25

A deterrent or just a joke?

Above the road I saw several people circumnavigating what emerged to be the top of the bank of the outer ditch of the site, and as I climbed up this bank I saw the steep ditch that separates the outer bank from the inner much higher defences.

On the outside of the site on the eastern side was an extensive area of a pig farm and beyond that the Old Sarum airfield that continued to launch little planes and microlights.

Old Sarum airfield and pig farm, near salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes

I suppose these must be considered to be free range piggies, but their diet appears to be limited.

The site of Old Sarum is under the management of English Heritage, who have helpfully constructed a bridge across the second deep ditch to the inner part of the site which contains the ruins of the castle and settlement. I decided to walk around the top of the outer ditch first, enjoying the fine view out to Salisbury.

Salisbury and the catherdral photographed from Old Sarum by Charles Hawes

The storms had blown down one large Yew that had been managing to cling to the chalky sides of the ditch for many decades – a sad sight although this was not the only casualty.

Yew tree blown down by gales on the ramparts of Old Sarum, photographed by Charles Hawes

I can’t see English Heritage being able to do anything to save this one

The top of the bank is mostly planted with Beech which though clearly had managed to reach maturity, must be very vulnerable in such an exposed spot.

Beech trees at old sarum, photographed by Charles Hawes

These are not that old but do add to the attractiveness of the site

The whole site is well served by good number (but not too many) of explanatory boards showing artists recreations of the place. I don’t intend to try and tell you its history, Wikipedia can do that job, but one such sign that I saw early on did give a wonderful impression of the settlement nearly 1,000 years ago.

Interpretation board at Old Sarum, Wiltshire, photgraphed by Charles Hawes

Hope you can read the text (try reading glasses)

The old cathedral lay in the outer bailey and although only a few remnants remain, its outline is clearly visible on the ground.

View of the old catherdral at Old Sarum, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Lovely day!

For the best view of it, though, you need to pay your £3.90 and brave the pushy English Heritage rep that stands guard at the entrance who wants to sign you up for membership. All the National Trust and English Heritage places seem to post these annoying people at their entrances now and it really pisses me off.  

Old Sarum, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles HawesFor the next half an hour or so I enjoyed my wander round, trying and failing to imagine what life could have been like there.

The shop does coffee (and ice creams) so I took advantage of this facility to go with my packed sandwich. Overhead the passing microlightists had the bird’s eye view.

Microlight flying over Old sarum, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Now these I have always fancied.

 The place had clearly captured the imagination of one little Maid Marion who raced around in her satin tunic, firing arrows at her parents. 

Child playing with bow and arrows in Old Sarum, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

The English Heritage website actually says that the bows and arrows are on sale ” to help the kids imagine what life might have been like all those years ago”. Hilarious!

My route back to Salisbury was far less interesting than the outward one.

Pig  in pig farm next to Old Sarum, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

No smell! perhaps the wind was blowing the right way.

I chose a path that skirts the pig farm (next to sheep and Aubracs my favourite farm animal) and then a part of the city that is strung out along the A435.

Old sarum walk-44At a school I took a long flight of concrete steps into this nondescript suburb, finding little of interest or merit in the front gardens, though this Leylandii hedge seemed to me a novel treatment of an unpopular tree.

Leylandii hedge in Salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes

This is called raising the canopy.

After some fairly random left and right turns I was back at the riverside walk. Not a spot of rain had fallen but I think the river had risen a good few inches in the last few hours. I was sure (meaning of course, that I was not sure) that his boat was out of the water earlier on.

River Avon encroaching on bottom of garden in Salisbury, Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Still, it makes launching the boat easy.

The family of swans were still cruising their waterside pitch.

Swans on the swollen river Avon in Wiltshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Just for a change of scene I took a turn to take me along Castle Street, passing Husseys Almshouses …….

Husseys Almshouses, Salisbury, photographed by Charles Hawes……and then a brick built building where all the windows had been filled in and painted white. How odd.

Old sarum walk-51

Time for tea and toasted Hot Cross Loaf – an excellent invention (Courtesy of Marks and Sparks). Happy days.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

John March 30, 2014 at 8:05 pm

I’m staggered at the lack of comments after more than 12 hours. Wake up everybody (including Anne). It takes a special kind of observer to see this many photo opportunities in a mere 8 miles: I clearly need to refine my own approach! There are shots in this post that I wouldn’t have thought of wasting time on yet they all take on a certain beauty when the other end of the finger on the shutter button is connected to an expert. And as Charles is “king of the caption” they are entertaining too! Sunday mornings aren’t the same without the walk along the blog.

But, and there is a big but! Over recent weeks we have been invited to guess the reason why you and Anne have a sheep fascination, challenged to guess the origin of a waistcoat, left in limbo as to a statue in the middle of Choristers’ Green (it wasn’t there in 2011 but that’s all I can say; it was somewhat remiss of you not to ask about it while you were still there), and now left wondering about some annual mating ritual that happens around February each year (maybe it involves jointly darning any appearing holes in the wedding woolens or Anne wearing a hat but probably not). Please avoid any further future buts!

Also, given an earlier post involving some ambulance chasing, please will you stop being so selfish and remember that there are those who would greatly miss you (well, to be more correct, miss your posts!) were you to succumb to some sort of episode whilst precariously balanced on some parapet between a flooded path and a flooding river or, indeed, on the edge of some other precipice. You have an obligation to your adoring (tries to stop coughing fit) public you know.


Charles March 31, 2014 at 10:50 am

Thank you, John, for your devotion! And for your kind comments as ever over the photography and captions. I don’t mean to be obscure with my “teasers”, but it’s kinda fun to invite the select handful of readers to ponder and indeed guess at my riddles. As for continuity, I will continue to try and meet your needs, and to that end am pursuing plans to get my ticker tickety boo. Will update as matters progress. If I do expire en route my second to last thoughts will be of the deprivation I shall cause. Having said that, I must warn you that I am behind again in the schedule and may well have to skip a couple of weeks before the next post.


Paul Steer March 30, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Lovely, the poplars reflected in the floodwater is the one for me. Yes I too adore you !


Charles March 31, 2014 at 10:51 am

Thank you kind sir! I will ponder on the Adoration of Paul on the road to Aberdovey.


Neil April 9, 2014 at 8:20 am

Hiya. Used to stop off at old Sarum a lot when I worked in, and drove across Wilshire. Nice place to stroll around (as you say, the outer rings were free to access). Salisbury plain is also fascinating, and has some good walks (when the shelling stops)…. Nice set of pics and fun read 🙂


Charles April 10, 2014 at 5:25 pm

See, there are still one or two things I didn’t know about you!Glad you liked the piece!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Copyright Charles Hawes (2012)