This week my exploration of follies has led me to Old Wardour Castle; to the medieval.

Old Wardour Castle near Salisbury was built in the 14th Century, but I am not writing about its medieval beginnings, or its development into a fabulous Tudor residence; I am exploring it as an example of the Georgian fashion for blending romantic ruins into a landscape garden. After all not everyone has a real ruin in their garden and the fashion for follies meant others were building mock equivalents, aspiring to a former stately ‘keep’. It was the 8th Lord Arundell who asked ‘Capability Brown’ to incorporate the ruins into his new garden design.

The Arundell family were forced to leave Old Wardour Castle when it was damaged during a siege in the Civil War in 1644. They built a smaller house beside it in the 1680’s, outside the wall, and began developing the grounds. The early garden was established in 1730. It was formal and terraced, with a bowling green. It was not until the later 18th Century that the garden reached its romantic peak after the 8th Lord Arundell married an heiress in 1763 and set about building both a new house and a new garden.

The new house was quite deliberately perched upon the slope of a facing hill, so that it looked down on the romantic ruins, painting a picturesque view as the family would have seen sunlight shining back from the fallen walls of their ancestral home, framed by woodland.

The mock gothic Banqueting House which nestles beyond the castle’s curtain wall, was built in 1973-4, while New Wardour was still under construction. It is a place where guests may stop and dine after a visit to the ruins.

To add entertainment to the developing pleasure garden of course it had to have a Grotto, which was placed facing the ruins on the far side from the Banqueting House, on top of the old terrace which was still lined by a yew avenue. It was built in 1792 by Josiah Lane of near by Tisbury, a well known local builder of garden ornaments. And you can see like Pope’s Grotto, and that at Prior Park, it is eclectic, containing ammonites and stalagmites. It has twisting, turning tunnels, and numerous little niches in which the explorer might perch and a frightening aura about it, to inspire the fashionable gothic imagination.

Staying in the gothic style is what survives of Lord Arundell’s stone ring. To add even more authenticity and age to his pleasure garden he transported a 4,000 year old prehistoric ring of stones from Tisbury, and added two seats to it for his guests to idle away their afternoons upon, reading poetry, or painting. In these stone alcoves he incorporated decorated stone from the fallen ruins.

I can easily imagine a house party riding out from New Wardour to the ruins for an afternoon of adventure and exploration, for their entertainment. Running through the grotto tunnels, and climbing up through the ruined tower’s rooms to reach the highest point and there carving their names to remember the visit. They would have dined lavishly in the banqueting hall, enjoying their host’s hospitality and then perhaps sat in the alcoves of the stone ring or the grotto, flirting, resting, talking, painting or reading.

And yes there is Graffiti, some from the days of these house parties, and some from later days in the 1800’s when in 1830 the ruins were opened to the public and the banqueting hall became a place for visitors to obtain refreshment, including one private dining room for the more influential. Though in some places it is hard to tell the old graffiti from the new, where it has been worn away by rain and carved over again.

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

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