Medieval Guildford

Medieval Guildford

When company came to visit from across the ocean, we put together a large itinerary that would let us hit all the major sites. But when all was said and done, we had an extra day with nothing planned. It fell at the beginning of the trip, so we decided to hit somewhere close to home, to give everyone a chance to recover from their long flights. Luckily we live just a hop, skip and jump away from Guildford, so we decided to do a tour of the medieval city.

Our first stop was Guildford castle, which is a “motte” and “bailey” style castle. Meaning that they dug a giant ditch around the castle and used the dirt to create an artificial hill. The castle was originally built by William the Conqueror, sometime around 1066. It later became the lavish home of Henry III and his family.

On our way to the castle, we passed through the gardens, opened to the public in 1888 to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. They are meticulously maintained and absolutely gorgeous. They have flowerbeds of coordinating colours arranged in patterns along all the open space.


In between are small ruins of the 12th century castle, as well as what appears to be a mausoleum. Out on what was once the bowling green, where the nobility would have played games, there’s now a war monument devoted to all those from Guildford who died in service.

We spent a lot of time wandering the garden grounds (they are fabulous!) before we made our way up to the castle proper. In terms of castles, Guildford’s is a small one. Really just a tower.


Originally it would have consisted of a single floor, located above a store room. A second floor was added later, when other royal families took up residence. The royal chambers would have been reached via a spiral staircase located on the outside of the tower, now replaced by a pair of metal stairs.


At some point after the royals vacated the castle, it was used as a prison. The walls still bear the scratchings of several prisoners.


There’s also a narrow spiral staircase inside the tower which leads up to the second floor, now open to the elements. From atop the tower, you can see why the Normans built there; you can see the whole city, so the Normans would have been able to keep an eye on everything.

(The view from the top)

When we finished at the castle, we hopped down the street to The Star Inn, which claims to be Britain’s oldest brewery, for lunch. We needed to get one of our group members a meat pie that hadn’t been sitting in a gas station for eight hours (long story).

After lunch we went to the Guildford Museum to look at artifacts from the city’s history. One of the cool things about England is that every town seems to have their own museum filled with artifacts dating back to Rome, and sometimes earlier. The first inhabitants of Guildford were pagans, and they have a section devoted to the artifacts uncovered from their burial sites. They also have a section devoted to Lewis Carroll, who died in Guildford and was subsequently buried there.

Our favourite piece in the museum was called “Souvenir of the Crystal Palace” and had to be viewed through a tiny spy hole on the front.


(When viewed normally)

We planned to visit the refurbished guild hall after leaving the museum. Unfortunately, it seems to have been closed, as no one was available to let us in. We did pause to take pictures of the clock outside, and a local gentleman stopped to tell us it is the third most photographed clock in the country (the first being Big Ben and the second being located in Winchester).


We wandered the main street and found some other interesting buildings, including an old hospital which is now an apartment complex and a pub called Three Pigeons which is fashioned after an old ship.

We rounded out the day by introducing everyone to our favourite Indian restaurant, Everest. Overall, it was a great start to a fabulous vacation.

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