England’s heavily fortified countryside and coastline reminds us of centuries past. In medieval times, the threat of attack was real rather than imagined. Residents faced numerous skirmishes, battles and incursions, so it’s no surprise that those who could afford to do so built themselves a fortified base that would be easier to fend off attack. Today, however, their defensive role is redundant. Instead, they form the focus of fun and interesting days out. If you’re planning a trip to the UK soon, here are Mundana’s picks for the best English castles you can visit.
Of the many castles in the English county of Northumberland, Dunstanburgh is perhaps the best located. This waterfront castle sits atop a low cliff overlooking the North Sea. To reach it, there’s a flattish walk along the cliff top from the village of Craster. Along the way, you might have to navigate a herd of cows. But as you draw near to this ruined castle, the walk will have been worth it. Its story is fascinating. Earl Thomas of Lancaster started to build it in 1313. It was grand, a clear signal to the king he despised that he was a powerful enemy. After Lancaster’s death in 1322, ownership passed to John of Gaunt. He was responsible for converting the twin-towered gatehouse into a keep.
Bodiam, East Sussex
This moated ruin in the Rother Valley is a National Trust property. Sir Edward Dallingridge and his wife Elizabeth commissioned it around 1385. It’s likely the castle gradually fell into disrepair a few centuries later when it was owned by absentee landlords. More recently, a succession of owners splashed the cash to renovate and repair the place. MP John Fuller, nicknamed Mad Jack, was the first. After his death, it was sold to George Cubitt, the 1st Baron Ashcombe. Lord Curzon, 1st Marquess of Kedleston and former Viceroy of India was the last private owner. He bequeathed the place to the National Trust so the castle could be enjoyed by the general public and it remains that way to this day.
UK folk can be a little confused by this place. Leeds is a city in West Yorkshire, but this place is much further south in Kent. The first stone castle took shape from 1119, replacing an earlier manor house on the site. Two small islands on the River Len were chosen for their defensive potential. The keep was on the smaller one and the bailey, which contained the working buildings, occupied the larger one. A drawbridge connected the pair. From the 13th to the 16th centuries, it was a royal castle. Several Edwards and Henrys were connected to the place. Most famously, Henry VIII transformed it into a lavish palace for himself and his first wife Katherine of Aragon.
Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight
You’ll find Carisbrooke Castle on the charming Isle of Wight, reached by ferry from the mainland. The castle is best known for its donkeys. Visitors can give them a fuss in their stables and paddocks, or time their trip to watch the animals work a 16th century tread as they raise water from the castle’s well. During its history, Carisbrooke Castle, it has been a prison; Charles I was incarcerated here. Centuries later, Queen Victoria’s daughter Beatrice made her home here while she carried out her duties as the island’s governor. A popular modern addition to the castle is the Princess Beatrice Garden; you’ll also enjoy taking a peek at the beautiful St Nicholas’ Chapel.
The sandstone keep at Kenilworth in the Midlands dates from the 1120s. This place used to be a hunting ground and overlooked a large manmade lake. King Henry II took it for himself in the 1180s; a few decades later, King John (of Magna Carta fame) spent a great deal of money improving the place. Over the centuries, it remained in the hands of the Royal family. Queen Elizabeth I gave it to her long-time friend Robert Dudley in the 16th century and stayed as a guest several times. After the English Civil War, interiors were stripped out, buildings were demolished and trees were felled. Kenilworth fell into ruin but has intrigued tourists and history buffs ever since.
Travel down to England’s most southerly county to visit Tintagel. The place has been associated with the legend of King Arthur since the time of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Modern day visitors reach the castle over a dramatic footbridge. On a fine day, the views over the craggy coastline and the ocean beyond are spectacular. Once on the island, the ruins of a 13th century castle await, once home to Richard, Earl of Cornwall. There’s a 2.4 metre tall bronze sculpture to admire. Named Gallos – which means power in Cornish – it depicts a king, but is a general nod to the history of the place rather than a statue of King Arthur himself. In summer, when the tide’s out, you can step inside Merlin’s Cave on the beach below.
Walter de Lacy came to England after the Norman Conquest of 1066. He was granted the Manor of Stanton which included Ludlow in what’s now Shropshire close to the Welsh border. His sons oversaw the construction of the earliest parts of the castle that you see today. By the 15th century, Ludlow Castle was home to King Edward V, best known as one of the Princes in the Tower. During the Civil War it was a Royalist stronghold. The Earl of Powis leased it from 1771 and later purchased the property outright. The place remains in the same family. Regular tours are conducted for interested visitors.
To discover more historic castles, take a look at the English Heritage and National Trust websites. These imposing fortifications are scattered right across the country. So, whether you’re planning a London sojourn or a trip through the English countryside, there’s likely to be one that’s easy to slot in to your plans. Mundana’s local expert can make suggestions and help you shape an itinerary based around your needs. Why not get in touch today?