Scenic Ruins In The South-Central Region
The south-central region has more than its share of scenic or "romantic" ruins. Besides the two most famous, Corfe Castle and clifftop Clavel Tower (recently repaired or rebuilt, respectively), there are other ruined castles, churches, even a ‘deserted village.’ These are often neglected by guidebooks, perhaps because they are off the beaten track, and are not staffed like the major tourist sites. In other words, you’re on your own if you want to find and explore them. (See the links at right to view or download a Google-Earth or OS map section.)
Clavel Tower, which had stood derelict since a 1930s fire, has just been rebuilt inland, and isn’t included in the list below as it’s being refurbished as modern holiday accommodation run by the Landmark Trust, and hence won’t be a ruin any more. The listing below comprises ruins of formerly roofed, i.e. habitable, buildings – church complexes, castles, royal palaces, houses. It doesn't include prehistoric standing-stone sites like Stonehenge, which will be covered in a separate guide.
Maps
You may need to use an Ordnance Survey map to gain detailed directions to some sites. (And there are dozens of other ruins less well-known - look out for where the map gives a place name followed by "[ruin of]". ) Although the printed versions of OS maps [#192, #193, #194] are really a necessity, and well-worthwhile, you can also access and download relevant map sections free, here. The site is searchable, and you can download the section you need to show road and footpath access.
You can also utilised the “Google Earth” service to view satellite photos (usually 6 months to 3 years old), rather plain maps, or (recommended) photos with a map overlay (usually road and town names) when you select the “Hybrid” tab. When loaded, the initial view from the links below shows the entire south-central region which we cover. You can zoom in from there using the “+” slider control.  Map View | Hybrid View
Note: the photos are rollover images: hover your mouse over them to see the 2nd image underneath. If you discover any incorrect info, let us know: Report Errors Here
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Top Ten Scenic Ruins In The South-Central Region
Abbotsbury Abbey & St Catherine’s Chapel, W Dorset
Abbotsbury takes its name from the Benedictine Abbey built there. This monastery, sponsored by the wife of a henchman of Canute’s and dedicated to St Peter was built from 1023 onwards, with the main part 14th C. It is situated just above the tidal Fleet Lagoon which is enclosed by the Chesil Bank, the longest pebble ridge in Europe. The Fleet was the basis for its famous Swannery, today a tourist attraction as the world’s only managed swannery (with over 600 Mute Swans), along with the 18th C. subtropical gardens adjacent. (In the mediaeval era, of course, the swans were for the monks to eat, the feathers sun-dried to sell as quill pens.)
The main part of the Abbey was totally destroyed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. The stone was reused by the new landowner Strangways for his manor house, but even this was blown up in 1644 in a Roundheads-v-Cavaliers battle. The 270’ long Abbey Tithe Barn, the world’s largest thatched barn, built in 1390, survived, becoming a farming museum and now a children’s rural-life playground. Besides the Mill Pond, two gatehouse archways and the end walls of the Abbot’s lodging are all that survive of the main buildings. The site, owned by the Strangways-Ilchester estate and maintained by English Heritage, is quite popular (tearoom onsite).
Also surviving but less frequented is St Catherine’s Chapel on Chapel Hill above, which also acted as a seamark for shipping [hover mouse over photo to see image underneath]. Though the access is via a cow pasture which is mucky in wet weather, this 14C chapel is worth a visit, offering a view down the Fleet Lagoon towards Portland, Chesil Bank and the West Dorset coast, part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.
Abbotsbury Abbey is S of the main A35 coast road running W between Dorchester and Bridport and Lyme Regis, by Abbotsbury village [take the B3157]. You can visit the Abbey and chapel without buying entrance tickets to the Swannery and/or Gardens, which are down towards the Fleet Lagoon, and there is no Abbey entrance fee, only for using the car park. (Note: For those wishing to explore farther afield here, there is also a mock ruin on the estate seashore, viewable from the Coast Path. Strangways Castle alias Abbotsbury Castle (not to be confused with ‘Abbotsbury Castle’ hillfort above) at the W end of Chesil Bank, is the ruin of a ‘mock-castle’ built in the 18th C and used by the Strangways as a summer seaside residence until a 1934 fire ruined it.)
Abbotsbury Abbey and Chapel
Burrow Mump Burrow Mump, E Somerset
Burrow Mump is a ruined hilltop church. It stands atop a conical terraced mound which may be a natural hillock, though perhaps built up as a Norman castle ‘motte’. (For a while, it was claimed the church was built using the stones of an ‘adulterine’ castle, i.e. one built without royal authority; but it seems now there is no evidence of this.)
Its early use is unknown, though its situation overlooking the Somerset Levels makes it a natural vantage point. (Did Alfred’s men use it as a lookout when he was hiding out and burning the cakes in the marshes of nearby Athelney?) Its oldest known name, Toteyate, could mean gateway of the dead, if you take ‘tot-‘ as related to German todt, dead. ‘Tot’ hill names are quite common in English; here the extra –ey- syllable could mean ‘isle’, referring to its location at the junction of two rivers (as well as perhaps to a time when the Levels were largely water covered). Its slightly Tolkienesque present name is Saxon, implying a hill (mump as in ‘the mumps’) that was a fortified centre (burrow as in ‘-burgh’). The marshland of Sedgemoor lies below, and it's said Tolkien was inspired to write his "dead marshes" scene in Lord Of The Rings by the description in Lorna Doone of all the corpses lying just below the water after the disastrous Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685 .
Its mediaeval name was 'Myghell-borough', Myghell being the old spelling of Michael. The land belonged to Athelney Abbey (to the west) and the mediaeval “Free Chapel of St. Michael” stood here. (Hilltop chapels tend to be dedicated to either St Michael or St Catherine, with another example of each in the listing below.) This chapel was damaged in a 3-day Roundhead-v-Cavalier battle in 1645. A replacement parish church begun around 1724 was never completed. A third attempt and final attempt was made in the 1790s to colonise for the Christian faith what was once no doubt a pagan site. (It has a spiral track up it, similar to the one at Glastonbury Tor, which New Age literature tends to describe as a ritual ‘labyrinth’ pathway). This 3rd church was begun with funds from, among others, Pitt the Younger, but also left incomplete. There is a standard legend found elsewhere (e.g. at Christchurch) where locals try to build a Christian church on a pagan hilltop site, and are mysteriously thwarted until they give up, and build their church down below, which is what happened here.
Instead, the hilltop site was its partly-built church was preserved by the local parish as a folly-style skyline adornment! (‘Folly’ towers etc. became fashionable in the 18C.) The mound was given to the National Trust in 1946, officially as a war memorial. It offers a 360-degree viewpoint over the Levels, and the BBC Somerset website has a webcam panorama online demonstrating this, though shot on a dull day. (On a good day, you should be able to make out Glastonbury Tor, to the NE.)
Burrow Mump is at Burrowbridge [ST359305] in E Somerset. The A361 running E-W loops around its base, with the NT car park on the SE side.

Twynham Castle, Christchurch, E Dorset
Christchurch's Twynham Castle stands in the centre of the town of Christchurch. Its proper name of Twynham Castle reflects the old, Saxon name of the town, Tweoxnam, referring to its situation “’tween” the mouths of the Stour and the Avon. Adjacent is the Priory, England’s longest parish church, which gave the town its present name.
The castle whose ruin you see was begun in the early 12C by the local lord of the manor, Baron de Redvers, though it may have supplanted earlier timber fortifications dating back to Saxon times, for this was one of Alfred’s ‘burghs’ or fortified towns. It was mainly constructed 1100-1117, with additions in the 13C. You can find a (slightly fanciful) description of how it appeared in its mediaeval heyday in Conan Doyle’s historical novel The White Company.
It was a considerable fortification for what was then a small port and one theory it was to guard against an invasion up the Avon Valley towards Salisbury. It certainly saw its share of mediaeval conflicts (details available locally), but by Tudor times, had lost its military function and was used as the town cattle pound. Like many castles, it saw its last action in the English Civil War of the 1640s. Mediaeval castles were inevitably occupied here by one side or another as natural strongpoints, and afterwards Parliament ordered such castles be ruined, using tunnelling (undermining) or gunpowder.
The keep (inner stronghold), once 3 storeys high but since 1652 just a remnant, stands on a mound, the standard Norman motte, which again may be artificial. It still offers a natural viewpoint. A signboard shows how the river waters were diverted in the 12C to make an all-around moat. Next to the stream is the ruin of its partly-Norman, partly 13C hall, called The Constable's House (the Constable being the man in charge of a castle), one of the oldest houses in England.
Sheltered in the trees at the edge of the grounds is another ruin, that of a later private mausoleum (it has an explanatory sign).
Christchurch is just E of Bournemouth. The castle is right downtown. The grounds are open and can be accessed via the riverside car park next to the Priory, with good access along the millstream created in the Anglo-Saxon era.

Twynham Castle
 Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle, nr Swanage, Dorset
Corfe Castle has been so well represented photographically on calendars, in tourism magazines, and in tourist brochures since the days of char-a-banc sightseeing that it scarcely needs describing. Historically, its situation on a mound in the Corfe Gap of the Purbeck Hills, made it the gateway to the entire peninsular “Isle Of Purbeck.” Poole Harbour could also be watched over from its towers.
There has been surmise there was a watchtower here in Saxon times, before the hilltop Norman castle was built. Certainly there was a royal hunting lodge here in Saxon times. We know this from accounts of the assassination of Prince Edward the Martyr here in 978. (This is attributed to his step-mother, to place her son Aethelred on the throne - soon famous as Ethelred the Unready. The church opposite the castle entrance is dedicated to St Edward.)
The castle was probably begun in the 10th C. but built up mainly in the late 11C. and then around 1200, with the outer walls added in the 13C. It served as a royal residence, treasure house, and dungeon for political prisoners, particularly in King John’s reign. It thus has its tales of untimely death and disappearance.
As with other such strongholds, its last action was a siege in the English Civil War, when it was famously held for two years by Royalist forces commanded by the wife of the local landowner. After this Parliament ordered it blown up and undermined, in 1646. The castle was so well built that this was not as successful as the government had hoped, and a huge pile of upright masonry remains, with the various parts of the castle – keep, gloriettte tower, etc quite identifiable. Since 1646, it has been one of England's major scenic ruins, its jagged ‘gothic’ silhouette instantly recognisable.
Corfe Castle village is off the A351, between Wareham and Swanage. The castle entrance is just off the Square. There are car parks at the N and SW ends of the village, and you can also visit from Swanage by steam train. A model exhibit in Corfe Castle village (opposite the museum) shows the castle as it was before it was ruined.
See also our Guide to Corfe & Swanage.

Glastonbury Abbey, Glastonbury, Somerset
Glastonbury is so well-known it needs little historical introduction. Visitors come to the Abbey grounds from all over the world to see the legendary graves of King Arthur and his Guenevere, and much of the town is now given over to merchandising New Age services and products (to the annoyance of many locals). It is also the destination of annual, rival, Christian pilgrimages (Catholic and Church Of England), as this was long regarded as the site of the founding of the first church in England.
The main site, the 36-acre Abbey grounds, is a well-cared-for ruin. You can see the walls of the great abbey which was once the wealthiest in England, and the various areas are signposted – the supposed Arthurian grave-sites, the Lady Chapel by the claimed site of England’s first church, etc. There is also the Glastonbury Thorn said to be an offshoot of the one planted by Joseph of Arimatheia when he retired here after the Crucifixion, bringing with him holy relics like the Grail. Such relics became a fixation of mediaeval Christianity, to the point parts of the site were dug up, by monks, by the king’s courtiers, and later by Puritan soldiers out to destroy ‘idols.’
Although it can only be glimpsed from the Abbey [see photo], the whaleback-shaped Tor with its lone tower was also part of the Abbey. At the Dissolution Of The Monasteries in the 1540s, Henry VIII had the last abbot hanged from the tower, which is all that survives of St Michael’s Chapel. The chapel itself was ruined earlier by an earthquake, and the present tower belonged to a 15C replacement church, the rest of which was destroyed in the Reformation. The tower was left intact presumably as landmark, lookout, and possibly a memorial, and the site is now maintained by the National Trust. The Tor on which it sits is terraced with a spiral pattern which suggests to some it had a pre-Christian ritual use. Glastonbury Tor is also an imposing landmark, much photographed, and a spectacular viewpoint over the Somerset Levels.
Glastonbury is off the A361. The Abbey grounds are right in the middle of town. Note that parking is difficult in tourist season, especially when pilgrimages are happening. The Tor can be reached on foot via the street leading past the Chalice Well. Local walk-guides and maps are available at many shops locally.
For more information on Glastonbury legends, see our page here.

Glastonbury Abbey
Knowlton Knowlton Church, E Dorset
Knowlton Church [SU024103] has an almost unique situation. It stands inside one of those prehistoric bank-and-ditch combinations that archaeologists call henges. Knowlton Henge is itself the remnant of a much large Neolithic complex (parts of which are still being located in the surrounding fields). The site was part of a much larger pagan ceremonial complex built around 2500 BC, though other visible traces, such as its standing stones are long gone - mostly buried or broken up by local farmers.
Some sources say the building of churches on pagan sites was part of a deliberate policy set by St Augustine in the 6th century. The basic church is Norman, with a 14C tower. The conventional ‘romantic’ story is it was abandoned in 1350, when the Black Death wiped out the parish - along with half of England - but there is evidence it was still in use until the 18th C.  It seems it was simply too remote from any surviving population centre to survive when other churches were built. The standard history of Dorset by Hutchins says an annual fair was being held here in the 1730s. Later legend has it that the church bells were stolen.
After the church fell into disuse, the site was overgrown for centuries, and it acquired a rather sinister reputation (anecdotes of dogs refusing to enter the site etc). Archaeologists had found skulls there suggesting (to some) human sacrifice, and there were suspicions modern satanists were using it. However after the war, the Ministry of Works, now English Heritage, took over management, and it is now a well-kept site. Today it is popular with dowsers, who claim they can sense powerful force fields there, and sometimes arrive by the coachload, from as far afield as Germany
Knowlton is up a side road leading W off the Wimborne-Cranborne B3078 road, not far from the Horton Inn, which offers the closest opportunity for refreshments. The only parking is just outside the gate.
Old Sarum, SE Wiltshire
The site is known simply as Old Sarum, without a qualifying term such as Castle or Abbey because it was not simply one type of building, but was an entire walled town built around its Norman castle precincts, within which also stood a cathedral. It is also another example of a multiple-use site – a ruin built atop an earlier site, in this case an Iron Age hillfort of c 500 BC built by the British before the Romans arrived to build a small town, which they called Sorviodunum. (There is no agreement on the meaning of the name.) The site is surrounded by a dry-moat of such depth it resembles a disused railway cutting – the deepest ditch in Wiltshire - creating an impressively steep hill. Within that is an inner bailey. It is no doubt this natural defensive position that attracted later occupants. The Saxons did not take it till 552, suggesting it was for a long time a key stronghold opposing their century-long westward advance. It became one of Alfred’s burghs, sacked by Danes in 1003.
William the Conqueror built a timber and then stone castle, which he designated a Castle Royal. The Church also decided to move its central administration here from Sherborne Abbey, and the German Bishop, Hermann, had a cathedral built in the German style. While the original site was militarily impregnable from attack, it lacked an adequate source of drinking water, and there were growing tensions between the garrison, clergy and merchants, who were all sharing a confined area. The first cathedral built there, in 1075, was ruined as soon as it was finished by a lightning strike. The Bishop ordered the next cathedral, completed in 1092, built inside the castle precinct to protect the clergy from increasingly hostile townsfolk.
The townsite was abandoned when the town was relocated in 1220 to a more amenable lowland site a mile or so South, being renamed New Sarum (after the old Latin form of the name, Sarum), in English Sarisbyrig [=Saris-burgh] and then Salisbury. The old town stonework was reused to build the new one. The Cathedral was not actually pulled down till 1327, and the Castle till 1514. It was used as a gaol and last garrisoned in the Wars Of The Roses in the later 15C. Despite having no population, it remained on the parliamentary list as a ‘borough’ and landowners continued to elect 2 tame ‘Sarum’ MPs, until such “Rotten Boroughs” as this (denounced by radical journalist William Cobbett in his 1820s Rural Rides) were eliminated by the Reform Act of 1832.
The ruins you can see today are of the main buildings which were the centre of the 12-13C town of Sarum. What remains on this are foundations of the Norman castle, the adjoining cathedral and the bishop’s palace. These are outlines visible on the grass. All that is left above ground is the crumbling remnant of the old town’s fortified gatehouse.
The site is 2 miles N of Salisbury, off the A345.
Old Sarum
Rufus Castle and St Andrews churchyard

Rufus Castle & St Andrew’s Church, Portland, Dorset
This is a double site on the peninsular Isle of Portland, overlooking Church Ope Cove. The castle is a roofless, pentagular flat-topped tower, in a precarious cliff-edge position [SY697712] on a crag. The ruined churchyard sits just below it, in a recessed area in the cliff. The castle is in private hands (sold for £1 in 1997) after being declared unsafe for the public due to its ruinous state. However it can be viewed from the signposted path leading down under its archway to a parapeted cliffside walkway. This leads down and then back up again to the ruined churchyard, from where the castle ruin can be seen [see photo].
Both the castle’s names are later examples of folk attribution – ‘antiquarian’ names given in hindsight rather than historically accurate names from the Norman era. It was known as Rufus Castle after William the Conqueror’s son William Rufus, who as William II was killed in 1100.
What remains is post-mediaeval: a blockhouse from around 1432-6 or 1450 (estimates vary). Its embrasures are not considered slits for bows and arrows, but splayed gun-ports, making the alternate name of Bow'n Arrow Castle equally fanciful, and suggesting some of it was built even later, in Tudor times, when guns were more in use. However there is a basis for its mediaeval names: the 15C blockhouse was actually a replacement for a rumoured Norman castle of 1090-.
Besides ruined Norman castles, the oldest genuine ruins around are those of Norman churches, and there is one here too, which can be explored, rather than just viewed from outside. Just below the castle crag are the ruins of the 12C St Andrew’s Church. This was ruined in a 14C fire, the ruin further damaged in WWII by a bomb. The overgrown churchyard includes a tomb (under a tree,  south end) with a skull’n-crossbones carving, said to be the grave of a local pirate or Knight Templar, though sadly there is no evidence for this (Freemasons later used the same insignia).
The site is on the E side of the Isle of Portland, above Church Ope Cove. The Rodwell Trail, created as a walking/cycling route in 2000 on the trackbed of a Victorian steam railway line, leads south out of Weymouth towards, but not quite up to, the site. Both churchyard and castle can be viewed from the same footpath, which forms a loop joining the road at both ends. The N end of the path leading under the Rufus Castle archway reaches the road near The Mermaid pub. The nearest public car park is nearest the S end of the looping path, leading down through a wood which runs past Pennsylvania Castle, which is not a ruin but a relatively modern stately home - built in 1800.

Tyneham & Worbarrow, Purbeck, Dorset
Tyneham is Dorset's 'Deserted Village' – to use the motif employed by Romantic poets at the time of the Inclosures schemes and the Industrial Revolution. However, its population was evicted not by greedy 18C landlords, but by the Army in WW2, as part of a live-firing artillery Range and D-Day practice area. Despite official promises, the villagers were never allowed back, but the MOD have maintained Tyneham - as a carefully preserved ruin. Only the church and schoolhouse have roofs, the houses being shells, but the village area is cleaned-up and the lawns are mown. While it is not as ‘Gothic’ as some other ruins, it is a rather sad place, haunted by its historical circumstances. The schoolhouse has examples of the work the children did, much of which was nature-oriented, using local plants and wildlife.
While it is perhaps too out-of-the-way to be a ‘proper’ tourist attraction, it offers an attractive Sunday-afternoon walk, and the MOD has provided an entire field as a car park. A track also runs from there down to Worbarrow Bay. The ruined fishermen’s and coastguard cottages here are not maintained, but left in their natural overgrown state.
Access to Tyneham is via the hilltop road that runs along the Purbeck Hills Ridgeway (W from Corfe, then down a signposted steep side road, left). The site is only open when the Tank Range is not in use, which is basically weekends and a few weeks in August.
Tyneham
Wolvesey Castle or Palace Wolvesey Castle or Palace, Winchester, Hampshire
If you are in Winchester, this offers a ruin you can walk around in, the town’s royal castle unfortunately not having survived beyond the intact Great Hall (where the famous Arthurian Round Table replica hangs). Wolvesey Castle, referred to more accurately as Wolvesey Old Bishop’s Palace, is a Norman-era ruin, though what you see is mainly mediaeval, the remnant of the old residence of the Bishops of Winchester. (The current bishops’ residence is visible nearby.)
The politics of the day meant the bishops needed to live behind fortifications to be safe from barons jealous of their wealth or angry at their tax and legal claims, as well as local mobs incensed by their corruption and self-interested rulings. Built 1110-38 by the first Bishop of Winchester Henry of Blois, brother of the then-king, Stephen, it survived the Stephen-v-Matilda civil-war era called the Anarchy. Henry II ordered it destroyed when he came to power in the 1150s, as a threat to his sovereignty. Instead, it was turned into a bishop’s palace in the 1160s, to make it more comfortable and suitable as a residence and offices for the bishop and clerical staff.
The site is in central Winchester. It can be accessed via the Weirs Walk, a riverside walk leading S from the main street by the bridge at the E end of town, where the Bishop-On-The-Bridge pub now stands. You can walk about in the shell of the keep, great hall, towers and courtyard, with signboards telling of the political history of the place.
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