Here we are with our third and final part of our Favourite Castles blog – and this time we’re looking at castles in England!
We have such a diverse range of castles, from those that are little more than ruins to grand palaces, those that are looked after by bodies such as the National Trust and those that are still much-loved family homes.
No two castles are the same and they all have something different to offer, so we’ve pulled together some of our favourite English castles that we think you should visit. Here we go!
Hever Castle is a strangely cosy castle, originally built in 1270, and of the original structure only the gatehouse remains. Inside the typical castle walls, you find a Tudor manor added by the Boleyn family in the 15th century, which transforms this building into a comfortable home. It was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, later came into his possession after the death of her father, and was subsequently awarded to Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, as part of her annulment settlement.
One of the treasures you can see at Hever is the Book of Hours (prayer book), which was reputedly carried by Anne Boleyn to her execution at the Tower of London.
After falling into disrepair, Hever Castle was bought and restored by William Waldorf Astor in 1903. He is largely responsible for how the Castle looks today, and he also added the stunning Italian Garden to display his collection of states and ornaments.
Well worth a visit.
Powderham Castle has been home to the Earls of Devon for an amazing 28 generations. It lies on the banks of the river Exe in Devon, and was mentioned in the Doomsday Book.
We really recommend the Castle guided tour, where their super-knowledgeable guides tell you fascinating tales from the Castle’s long history, before you explore the grounds at your leisure. The gardens include the peaceful American Garden, the Rose Garden and the Belvedere Tower.
Make sure you book the Deer Park Safari by tractor-trailer, which takes approximately 35 minutes and allows you to experience Powderham from a different perspective, as well as seeing their herd of deer up close!
Quite possibly situated in the most beautiful coastal location, Bamburgh Castle is a wonderful sight, sitting high on a rocky plateau above the village, overlooking the sea, as it has done for the last 1400 years. It began as the capital of the Kingdom of Northumbria, and has been a royal fortress, Norman stronghold and coastal home of the Armstrong family, who bought it in 1894 and restored it to the glorious building you see today.
We actually think this is the quintessential coastal castle, and we can’t think of a more perfect location to visit and explore. Highlights include the State Rooms and stunning Kings Hall, as well as taking the opportunity to climb onto the Battery Terrace and see the stunning coastal views towards Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands.
If you have time, we strongly recommend a stroll along the beach so that you can look back across the sand dunes and see the stunning view of the castle dominating the skyline in all its glory.
FUN FACT: Bamburgh was the castle than Mallory identified as the mythical Joyous Gard, home of Sir Lancelot in Arthurian legend.
Muncaster Castle is situated in the Western Lake District and has been home to the Pennington family for over 800 years. The castle is believed to have been constructed on Roman foundations, with a coin from the time of Emperor Theodosius (AD380) being found on the estate, and the oldest parts of the building today are the Great Hall and 14th century pele tower.
It is also home to the Hawk and Owl Centre, and regular flying displays take place so you can get to see and find out more about these magnificent birds.
Our top tip: make sure you check out the stunning Octagonal Library which is home to over 6000 books.
Muncaster is also famous for its ghosts! Reputedly one of those who wanders the corridors is Thomas Skelton, who was the jester of Muncaster and the original ‘Tom Fool’, often said to have inspired Shakespeare’s King Lear.
Possibly the most beautiful ruined castle we know, Corfe Castle towers above the village of the same name. Approaching from Swanage, you get the perfect view of Corfe Castle’s strategic location, situated in a gap in the Purbeck Hills, that gives you the best indication of how the castle would have looked when it was whole. Sadly, it was destroyed by Parliamentarian troops during the English Civil War following two sieges, so that it could no longer be used as a royalist stronghold.
Corfe Castle is widely considered to be the inspiration for Enid Blyton’s Kirrin Island, and was used as a filming location for both the 1957 film series Five on a Treasure Island, and 1971 film Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
It was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1981 and now welcomes 250,000 visitors a year.
Walmer Castle is the youngest castle on our list, built in 1539-1540 as an artillery fort by Henry VIII in order to protect the Kent coast from threats of invasion from Europe. Since the 18th century it has been the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, which are a series of important ports along the Kent & Sussex Coast.
Prime Minister William Pitt made Walmer his main home and, with his niece Lady Hester Stanhope, made the castle more private by creating the gardens and grounds around it into much the area that you see today. The land was bought by his successor, Lord Hawkesbury (later Lord Liverpool), who gifted it to the castle forever.
It has had many notable residents including Arthur Wellesey, the Duke of Wellington, who is most famous for his victory at the Battle of Waterloo. He also has the distinction of being the inventor of the Wellington Boot, when in the early 1800s, he asked his shoemaker to make a pair of boots that could be worn with the fashionable trousers (as opposed to woollen breeches that had been the norm, which were worn with boots called ‘Hessians’). The Duke of Wellington’s fame as a military victor at the Battles of Vittoria and Waterloo helped to cement his position as a fashion icon and others began to wear the same style of boots, but it wasn’t until after his death that the first rubber or gum boots were made.
Walmer Castle was consequently the responsibility of the Government until 1904, when it was transferred to the Office of Works (a precursor to English Heritage, who is still responsible for the castle today). In 1905, the castle and gardens were opened to visitors when the Lord Warden was not in residence, and it is therefore one of the first buildings in state care to open as a tourist attraction.
Well, we couldn’t write a blog about castles without talking about the most famous of them all! Windsor Castle is the favourite home of our monarch, HM Queen Elizabeth II, and is the longest-occupied castle in the world. Originally built as a motte-and-bailey castle in the 11th century, it was gradually replaced with stone fortification, and a luxurious royal palace was built by Henry III and rebuilt by Edward III. The extravagant Baroque interiors were added by Charles II when he rebuilt Windsor Castle following the Reformation of the Monarchy, and later during the Georgian period the palace was rebuilt and renovated to create the lavish state apartments we see today.
Outside of the Castle, Windsor is surrounded by acres of parkland, including the 2.65 mile Long Walk, a double-lined avenue of trees stretching through Home Park. Home Park also adjoins Windsor Great Park which covers around 5000 acres.
Windsor Castle also includes the St George’s Chapel, home to the Order of the Garter. It has been the venue for many Royal weddings and is also the final resting place for many members of the Monarchy, including Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville, Henry VI, Edward VII, Henry VIII & Jane Seymour, Charles I, George III, George IV, George V, William IV, George VI, Elizabeth HM the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
If you happen to be visiting Windsor, make sure you check when the Changing of the Guard takes place. It’s normally on alternate days during the week, and it’s an opportunity to see some classic British Pageantry in action. Simply put, it is when the guard on duty at Windsor Castle changes, and soldiers march through the streets between the barracks and castle, normally accompanied by a military band.
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