uk uncovered n britain’s castles
n Bamburgh Castle VisitBritain
y definition a castle is a private fortified residence; as well as providing a home for their owners and families, castles were built as defensive structures. While most fortifications that we acknowledge as proper castles were built in the 500 years after the Norman Conquest, many pre-date this. The first fortifications appeared in Britain from the 5th century BC; Maiden Castle (www.maidencastle.com) in Dorchester is one of the finest examples of an Iron Age hill-fort. However, these earthworks were easily overcome by the Romans, who replaced them with structures made of wood, brick or stone. Fine examples of these Roman structures still exist today including Portchester Castle and Pevensey Castle (see www.english-heritage.org.uk for both), twothirds of the towered walls of which still stand. Pevensey was the landing place of William the Conqueror’s army in 1066 and his first defensive structure was built within the walls of the old Roman fort. He continued to build castles across Britain to defend his line of retreat and within two weeks of landing, had
n The Tower of London
built castles at Hastings and Dover. On his ascendency to king, he gave his most loyal knights grants of land and permission to build castles; by the time of his death in 1087 there were 86 Norman castles in England. The early motte and bailey castles – primarily an earthen mound and wooden tower – were later rebuilt in stone, the focus of which was usually a large stone tower, such as the White Tower at the Tower of London and that of Colchester Castle. As society changed and the nobility wanted n Lincoln Castle more comfortable
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They were built as a show of power and strength or to defend against the enemy beyond. Today, the remains of some 800 castles and fortresses dot the British countryside, more than 300 still standing tall and proud and defining many of our towns and landscapes. Julie Thompson delves into their fascinating past
uk uncovered n britain’s castles
dwellings, the functions fulfilled by castles became better served by other buildings. The fate of many castles was sealed during the Civil War when they were attacked and either refortified by the opposing forces or left in ruins. Some simply fell into disrepair, their stones recycled in churches or grand buildings. Today, many of Britain’s remaining castles offer an entertaining insight into our history through historical re-enactments and family-themed events.
uk uncovered n britain’s castles
n Rochester Castle
n Leeds Castle was home to six queens
n Bodiam Castle
n Stay in 13th century Dalhousie Castle
castles with accommodation
n Deal Castle was built by King Henry VIII
n Windsor is the world's oldest inhabited castle
The home of British kings and queens for almost 1,000 years, Windsor Castle (www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle) is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. Built by William the Conqueror to secure the western approach to London, its easy access to the city and proximity to a royal hunting forest quickly identified it as a popular royal residence. The original Norman keep was rebuilt as the Round Tower in 1170; today you can take the Conquer the Tower tour to the top of one of the nation’s most iconic landmarks. One of the capital's most iconic landmarks, the Tower of London (www.hrp.org.uk/TowerofLondon) was also built by William I, not primarily as a royal residence but as a fortress-stronghold, with the White Tower proclaiming the physical power and prowess of the new Norman monarch. It was latterly used as a prison as well as the infamous place of execution of no less than three English queens – Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey – and, today, houses the Crown Jewels as well as offering a fascinating insight into royal history. Royal connections abound in the south’s castles. Hadleigh Castle, overlooking the Thames Estuary in Essex (see www.english-heritage.org.uk), was a favourite residence of Edward III following the Hundred Years War and was the subject of a painting by Constable. Little of it remains save for one tower; a sight that will become familiar to TV viewers watching the Olympic mountain biking finals on the adjacent circuit. The stunningly-beautiful Leeds Castle (www.leeds-castle.com) in Kent was inhabited by six of England’s Medieval queens as well as by Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Kent’s equally-alluring Hever Castle (www.hevercastle.co.uk) was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, passing in ownership to Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, and later America-born Viscount Astor and his socialite wife, Lady Astor. A trip to the Medway towns should include the imposing fortress of Rochester Castle as well as the Elizabethan artillery fort at Upnor Castle (see www.english-heritage.org.uk for both). One of the finest Tudor artillery castles in England, built by the order of Henry VIII, Deal Castle can be combined with a visit to Dover Castle (both www.english-heritage.org.uk), spectacularly-located above the White Cliffs of Dover. Its secret wartime tunnels and vivid recreation of the Dunkirk evacuation
london and the south
make for a great family day out. Set on the Kent/Sussex border, Bodiam Castle (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodiam-castle) is the perfect example of a 14th century Medieval moated castle, with its impressive towers providing wonderful views of the Rother Valley.
As well as serving as defensive structures, castles were built to provide accommodation for their owners.These days, there are a number of castles where you can stay. George III set the tradition of allowing loyal servants to live at Hampton Court (www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace) by grace and favour and, nowadays, self-catering apartments are available to stay in; Fish Court, situated in the service wing of the old Tudor palace, sleeps up to six people while the Georgian House, originally a kitchen, sleeps up to eight. At the foot of the South Downs, privately owned 900-year-old Amberley Castle (www.amberleycastle.co.uk), is enclosed by a 60-foot (18m) curtain wall and working portcullis behind which is a luxurious country house hotel, while the 64 individually-designed bedrooms at Bovey Castle (www.boveycastle.com), now a golf resort on Dartmoor National Park, are located in the original manor house and private mews. Sudeley Castle (www.sudeleycastle.co.uk), in Cheltenham, has country cottages midway between the castle and the historic town of Winchcombe, while Kent’s lovely Hever Castle (www.hevercastle.co.uk) offers luxury bed and breakfast within its Astor Wing. Ruthin Castle (www.ruthincastle.co.uk), in North n Live like royalty in Hever Castle Wales and just 20 miles from Chester, is a romantic hotel steeped in history, with notable owners of the castle including monarchs Edward I, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Scotland’s Dalhousie Castle Hotel (www.dalhousiecastle.co.uk) is a magnificent 13th century fortress set within acres of wooded parkland on the banks of the River Esk. Madonna famously married Guy Ritchie in 2000 in exclusive Skibo Castle (www.carnegieclub.co.uk), which is only open to members of the Carnegie Club and their guests. The club is currently considering applications for new members for acceptance in 2012. Buying your own castle might be easier.... n Dartmouth Castle
In the gatehouse is the original wooden portcullis, probably England’s oldest and a rare example of its kind. Arundel Castle (www.arundelcastle.org) overlooks the River Arun in West Sussex and features an original motte, an artificial mound, over 100 feet (30 metres) high from the dry moat.
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The sweeping south west coastline is the perfect setting for striking fortresses, and Dartmouth Castle (see www.english-heritage.org.uk) occupies one of the most stunning settings in England. For more than 600 years, the castle has guarded the narrow mouth of the River Dart; it was designed to protect Dartmouth harbour from attack by foreign vessels. Portland Castle, (see www.english-heritage.org.uk) one of Henry VIII’s finest coastal forts, offers spectacular sea views from its vantage point overlooking Portland Harbour in Dorset. The castle reopens on weekdays after August 12. Corfe Castle (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/corfe-castle), partially demolished in 1646 by the Parliamentarians, is one of England’s most evocative survivors of the English Civil War. Explore the ruins and visit the pretty village, with its Medieval church tower. A ferry to the Isle of Wight takes you to Carisbrooke Castle, where King Charles I was imprisoned, and Yarmouth Castle (both www.english-heritage.org.uk), the last and most sophisticated addition to Henry VIII’s coastal defences, with the first arrowhead artillery bastion built in England. Separated from the mainland by a causeway covered by the sea at high water, St Michael’s Mount (www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk) has religious and historical significance. An apparition of the Archangel St Michael is said to have been witnessed by fishermen in 495BC while, in 1588, it was on St Michael’s Mount that the first beacon was lit to warn of the arrival of the Spanish Armada. Other fine Cornish castles include St Mawes (see www.english-heritage.org.uk), one of the bestpreserved of Henry VIII’s coast artillery fortresses where you can still see the Latin inscriptions in praise of Henry and his son Edward VI on its walls, and the magical Tintagel Castle (also www.english-heritage.org.uk), said to be the birthplace of King Arthur and where you can visit the nearby Merlin’s Cave.
midlands and central/eastern england One of Suffolk’s finest bastions, Framlingham Castle (see www.english-heritage.org.uk), was once the refuge of Mary Tudor before she became queen in 1553. The magnificent wall walk offers splendid views over the mere. Warwick Castle (www.warwick-castle.com) is one of England’s most famous tourist attractions, with a history going back almost 11 centuries. A walled building in Warwick can be traced back to Saxon days, although William the Conqueror constructed a wooden motte and bailey here in 1068. Today the owners, Merlin Entertainments Group, offer an array of entertaining activities which recall the castle’s historic roots. Its quieter neighbour, Kenilworth Castle (see www.english-heritage.org.uk), is best known as the home of Robert Dudley, the great love of Queen Elizabeth 1. As well as the ornate palace he created, Dudley developed the famous gardens to impress his queen and you can follow in her footsteps today in the
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uk uncovered n britain’s castles
n Young knights at Carisbrooke Castle
l No two castles are the same. This is due to topography, taste, available materials, and the ability of the designer. l The spiral stairs in castle towers were designed to ascend clockwise so as to make the attackers expose more of their body and allow the defenders to use the sword in their right hand. l The keep at Bridgnorth Castle in Shropshire leans at 15 degrees, three times further than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, following an attempt to blow it up during the Civil War. l For a Christmas feast in 1206 at Winchester Castle, King John’s orders to the sheriff included 1,500 chickens, 5,000 eggs, 20 oxen, 100 pigs, and 100 sheep. l The world’s oldest surviving football was discovered at Stirling Castle; it was found
lodged in the rafters of the Palace. Made around 1540, from a pig’s bladder and a leather skin, it is now held by Stirling’s Smith Art Gallery and Museum.
at Hever Castle
did you know?
l A knight’s wages were 8d per day and he was expected to serve for 40 days. l 166 houses were pulled down in order to build Lincoln Castle.
(www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunstanburgh-castle); its rocky approach from Embleton beach makes it a striking walking destination. Bamburgh Castle (www.bamburghcastle.com) has one of the most gorgeous settings, spanning nine acres of land atop an outcrop of volcanic dolerite and sitting almost 150ft (45m) above sea level. It is also one of the world's most important Anglo Saxon archaeological sites. Further south, Prudhoe Castle (see www.english-heritage.org.uk) was the only castle in Northumberland to resist the Scots, and its towered walls enclose a fine Georgian mansion. Romantically-situated Lindisfarne Castle (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lindisfarne-castle), on Holy Island, is only accessible via a three-mile causeway and its dramatic perch on a rocky crag has spectacular views. Originally a Tudor fort, it was converted into a private house in 1903 by Edwin Lutyens and it also has well-preserved 19th century lime kilns which are among the largest in the country. You can walk the entire circuit of the impressive remains of Berwick-upon-Tweed Castle and Ramparts (see www.english-heritage.org.uk), once one of the most important of all the border castles; over the centuries that England and Scotland were in conflict, the castle was a key objective for the armies of both nations.
authentically-recreated Elizabethan Garden. The impressive Lincoln Castle (www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/visiting/historic-buildings/lincoln-castle) is home to the Lincoln Magna Carta, dating back to 1215, as well as the Charter of the Forest, while Stokesay Castle (see www.english-heritage.org.uk), set in peaceful countryside near the Welsh border, is the oldest fortified manor house in England. The timber-framed gatehouse, stone tower and parish church are some of the best-preserved examples of Medieval building in the UK.
northern england Heading north, Conisbrough Castle (www.conisbroughcastle.org.uk), boasts the finest circular Norman keep tower still surviving in England, while the splendid Richmond Castle (see www.english-heritage.org.uk), originally built to subdue the unruly north of England, is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in North Yorkshire. Northumberland offers more than its fair share of splendid castles, from Alnwick Castle (www.alnwickcastle.com), home of Hogwarts in the first two films in the Harry Potter series and one of the largest inhabited castles in the UK, to the ruins of one of England’s less famous castles, Dunstanburgh Castle
n Framlingham Castle: refuge of Mary Tudor
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scotland and northern ireland Scotland’s most famous and instantly recognisable castle, Edinburgh Castle (www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk) is perched on an extinct volcano and has been a stronghold for over 3,000 years. In 1995, the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh were inscribed as a World Heritage Site, and the castle remains the city’s most important building. Stirling Castle (www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk) is a great symbol of Scottish independence and the castle’s
uk uncovered n britain’s castles
castle facts n King's bedroom Many of the castles featured are owned or at Dover Castle operated by English Heritage (www.english-heritage.org.uk) and annual membership – £47 per adult with student, couple and senior discounts available – gives free access to all the castles and properties mentioned. For details of individual castles mentioned, see the listings detailed on the English Heritage website: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties. The National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) also looks after a number of key castles; annual membership is £53 but family and child discounts are available.
wales The castles of Wales vary in style, age and tradition and Cardiff Castle (www.cardiffcastle.com) evokes its history in many ways. In its 2,000 years, the castle has been a Roman garrison, a Norman stronghold and, in Victorian times, was transformed into a Gothic fairytale fantasy. Caernarfon Castle (www.caernarfon.com) is
interesting information VisitBritain
long, turbulent history is associated with great figures from Scotland’s past such as William Wallace & Mary Queen of Scots. Balvenie Castle (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk) has a vast, impressive curtain wall and the iron yett, the two-barred iron crossed-gate behind the main entrance, is unique in Scotland. Spectacular locations for castles are a given in Scotland; the dramatic cliff-top position of Dunnottar Castle (www.dunnottarcastle.co.uk) is one of the most stunning locations of any castle, while Eilean Donan Castle (www.eileandonancastle.com) is situated on an island at the point where three great sea lochs meet, surrounded by amazing scenery. It also featured in the James Bond film, The World is Not Enough. Glamis Castle (www.glamis-castle.co.uk), the ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore for over 600 years and the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, makes a magnificent wedding venue and was the childhood home of the Queen Mother. Carrickfergus Castle (www.doeni.gov.uk/niea) has been an imposing monument on the Northern Ireland landscape for more than 800 years; don’t miss its 17th century cannons. Situated beside County Fermanagh's River Erne, Enniskillen Castle (www.enniskillencastle.co.uk), was built almost 600 years ago to guard one of the few passes into Ulster, while Dunluce Castle (www.northantrim.com/dunlucecastle.html), sitting on the north coast along the causeway coastal route, is rumoured to house a castle ghost.
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As well as booking directly with individual properties offering accommodation, several companies can put together castle stays. Stately Escapes (www.statelyescapes.co.uk) organises group stays in luxury castles, as well as castle weddings. The Landmark Trust (www.landmarktrust.org.uk) has a vast range of castles and forts, as well as towers and follies for short breaks or special occasions. Scotts Castle Holidays (www.scottscastles.com) is a holiday lettings agency which offers the chance to rent castles throughout Scotland as part of its inventory, as does Cottages and Castles (http://cottages-and-castles.co.uk).
n Dunnottar Castle's spectacular setting
n Caerphilly Castle
“Many castles offer an entertaining insight into our history through reenactments and familythemed events”
If you are a true castle buff and want to know more about the castles mentioned and many that we haven’t, check out Castle Xplorer (www.castlexplorer.co.uk), which has castle listings for England, Scotland and Wales with history and general information.
possibly Wales’s most famous castle, built in 1283 by Edward I as not only a military stronghold but also as a seat of government and royal palace. The dark-stoned fortress that is Conwy Castle (www.conwy.com) has a commanding position above the Conwy estuary in the pretty, walled town of Conwy. Constructed by Edward I between 1283 and 1289 as a key fortress in his iron ring of castles to contain the Welsh, the intimidating presence of this magnificent structure is undimmed by time. Other Welsh Edwardian castles include: Harlech Castle (www.harlech.com), which almost appears as if keeping a watchful eye over Snowdonia; Pembroke Castle (http://pembroke-castle.co.uk), noteworthy as the only castle in Britain to be built over a natural cavern and also the birthplace of Henry VII in 1457; and Denbigh Castle (www.denbigh.com/castle.html), with its striking, triple-towered Great Gatehouse. Beaumaris Castle (www.beaumaris.com), on the island of Anglesey, is the great unfinished masterpiece of the iron ring; money and supplies ran out before the fortifications reached their full height.