* Prices may differ from that shown
When on holiday anywhere in England I feel it is essential to visit at least one castle whether it is an audacious and grandiose spectacle or pitiful ruins and thankfully I was able to find both in one place and that was at Sherborne Castle, rather unsurprisingly located in the town of Sherborne in Dorset. Getting to the castle (free car park) by road is pretty easy depending on your direction via the M5, A30, or A352 as it is very well signposted although you're going to want to follow the signs as SatNav will apparently lead you astray. By rail you should aim for the Sherborne station which is just a 10 minute walk away and buses also drop you off in Sherborne again a similar walk away so public transport should hopefully be pretty easy. Sherborne Castle is used for weddings; corporate events such as trade fairs, exhibitions, training days, charity events etc. and public events like country fairs, wine fairs, classic car rallies and fireworks displays so on your visit you may have to skirt around such events if you unluckily coincide with them (we arrived on a wedding day and nearly ended up slap bang in the wedding marquee which could have been embarrassing) but this doesn't affect the enjoyment of viewing the house or absorbing the magnificent grounds and lake. So, the first question that may spring to mind is why are there two castles in one place? Well if you can sit through a quick history lesson you'll find out...
==Quick history lesson==
The original Sherborne castle (known as Sherborne Old Castle) came in to existence in the 12th Century for the Chancellor of England Roger de Caen who was the Bishop of Salisbury. He used this castle/palace to oversee the western part of his diocese and by Tudor times the succeeding Bishops decided to build a small Hunting Lodge in the deer park attached to this castle to observe the chase. So, what was that about God's creatures all being sacred and stuff, hmmm? It was in 1592 that Walter Raleigh bought the Old Castle and at first he tried to refurbish it, but then just decided to build a new four storey rectangular house to later include hexagonal turrets to make it look a bit more castle-y on the site of the Hunting Lodge. In 1617 Sir John Digby took over the house and extended it further. The Old Castle underwent two sieges in the civil war (the Digbys were Royalists) and the Parliamentarian army succeeded in destroying it in 1645 and it was left as battle scarred ruins. This was when the house became known as "Sherborne Castle". This castle has remained in the Digby family ever since and has been remodelled over the generations as styles and latest fashions dictated notably with an extension to the west side of the house to provide more bedrooms and better staff accommodation. In the First World War Sherborne Castle was transformed into a Red Cross hospital and was also used by the army in the Second World War.
Sherborne Castle, New Road, Sherborne, Dorset, DT9 5NR
Tel. 01935 812072
==Prices & Opening Times (2013)==
The castle is open from 30th March - 31st October every day apart from Mondays and Fridays (Bank Holidays are open) between 11am and 4:30pm (the shop and castle interior open at 2pm on Saturdays).
Children (0-15 years) - FREE
Annual Season tickets - £50
===Castle and Gardens: ===
Adults - £10
Senior - £9.50
Children (0-15 years) - FREE
Party Rate (groups of 15) - Adults - £8.50 each, Children - £3.50
Party Rate (groups of 15 with introductory talk) - Adults - £10.50 each
Private Views (groups of 15) - Adults - £12 each, Children - £6
Annual Season tickets - £60
So, after purchasing your tickets at the castle itself you have the option to explore the gardens and surrounding grounds first or plough on through the castle interior. There are a lot of rooms to see, so if you're pushed for time I'd recommend doing the house first as the sheer amount of antiquities such as suits of armour, clocks or stuffed animals to name a few; art and tapestries; furniture; panelling, and the general décor to view steeped in a rich history dating back to even before the English Civil War is a must see. Each room has a steward on hand to answer questions and if they are otherwise engaged there are information sheets to explain about each room and to identify every important item in the room, typically the paintings or special furniture with bit of blurb about their origins etc. Buying a guidebook is useful, but not essential as the room guides seem a friendly lot all more than willing to impart their expertise and if anything you'll probably learn a lot more from them. So the array of rooms in all their sparkling splendour is impressive from bedrooms to boudoirs, a library to dining and drawing rooms and the quality is dazzling and brilliantly maintained with exquisite wallpaper and wooden panelling, carpets and rugs, art and tapestries, ornate fireplaces and intricate ceilings.
There is in fact so much to learn about I'm not convinced you'd be able to absorb it all in one visit, my brain certainly cannot add that much information to my internal database without a transactional failure, so I think this place certainly allows for repeat visits if you are interested enough in the history to want to take it all in, but if you simply want to soak in the atmosphere one visit should suffice. The more interesting things I discovered were about some of the people linked to the castle, one little taster being Jeffrey Hudson who was a very famous 17th Century dwarf of normal proportions who was considered one of the "wonders of the age" due to being, rather dubiously one might suspect, only 18 inches tall. He found a place in the court of Queen Henrietta Maria until it all went wrong when he killed a man in a duel and was exiled before being captured and enslaved for 25 years by Barbary pirates during which time he apparently grew in size to 45 inches if the stories are to be believed. Plenty more stories like those available around the castle. Once you've finished with the rooms of the house you move on to the kitchen and then a little exhibition area on the lower floor filled with old cooking equipment and archaeological finds like coins, weapons and fossils again probably only interesting if you enjoy history.
This then takes you through to the gift shop filled with the usual assortment of tourist knickknacks like books, castle related stationery, confectionary, little trinkets and ornaments, plus lots aimed at kids such as replica bow and arrows. Outside leads to a nice little courtyard wherein lies the teashop where you can get all the usual suspects such as tea and coffee, light lunches like salads, soups and sandwiches and of course the obligatory cakes and naughty treats. There are lots of nice places to sit and eat as well in the actual courtyard terrace or down on the Gingko lawn so is a lovely, relaxing place to gets some refreshment and have a quick break. An exploration of the grounds can then occur and you can take in the beautiful flower borders and lovely architecture of the house with its hexagonal towers, pale stone walls and see if you can spot which were the newer wings, before strolling round the massive lake which will afford you the chance to find the ruins of the old castle. The lake is very large and we decided not to try to circumnavigate the whole thing due to excessive levels of tiredness so plumped for just visiting the old castle and then make a U-turn.
The whole area that we covered is beautiful with so much greenery, trees and sweeping landscapes (much of it designed by Capability Brown) that the Green Party would weep with joy and lots of fun little things to spot like Raleigh's Seat (a viewing point), a cascade, an icehouse, a boathouse and pier and a Turkish field gun so keep your eyes peeled. Once you arrive at the old ruins you can only gander from afar, so if you want to actually walk around them you must do so via a different entrance run by the English Heritage but we didn't try to find it so I don't know how easy this is to get to from the Sherborne estate itself. There is also a folly to find, a fake tower built in the 18th century to beautify the old ruins somewhat before either attempting to walk around the whole lake which would take you towards Earl Henry's Bridge but I fear would also take quite some time and energy or returning back to the new castle where you can view the orangery and some stables if you missed them. So there you have it, a trip to Sherborne Castle will easily take a whole day to do justice with some brilliant history and impressive sights within the new castle and an equally wonderful estate to explore which should have something for both adults and kids to enjoy, at a very reasonable price especially considering kids are free.
* There are two sets of toilets, one at the foot of the castle and the other in the Castle Yard which has wheelchair accessibility and baby changing facilities.
* There is a picnic area beyond the castle for packed lunches.
* Dogs are welcome in the grounds, but not the Castle, Shop or Tearoom.
* Baby backpack carriers are not allowed in the Castle due to risk from low doorways, steps and arches, and pushchairs are only allowed in at the discretion of the staff. Front sling carriers are permitted so if you are bringing a baby it may be wise to check first how accessible everything is.
* There is a free quiz available for children at the front desk.
*Photography (and mobile phones) is not allowed inside the Castle.
* Helpers get in free.
* Only the ground floor of the castle is available for wheelchair/scooter users but there is a slide show giving information of all the inaccessible rooms.
* There is a Braille version of the guidebook for the blind.
* The gardens and grounds offer some accessibility to wheelchair/scooter users with smooth gravel paths for the majority. The Castle courtyard however does have lots of ancient and uneven cobblestones so may pose a problem.
* There are lots of benches dotted around to offer respite from long walks.