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Castles are as typically English as fish & chips or strawberries at Wimbledon (which is coming up next week!), and feature highly on many of our customers' ‘must see’ lists on their trips.

We are lucky to have these magnificent sites dotted all around the country. Castles, be they well-preserved fortresses or crumbling ruins, evoke a fantastic sense of history and make you imagine the scenes they have witnessed over hundreds of years. Some of the most well-known – Windsor, Warwick, Dover and Alnwick to name just a few – are all fantastic visitor attractions but here we are looking at some of the smaller and less well-known, but still fascinating, examples to be found across England. We hope this will give you just a taste of how rich in history our countryside can be!

The South-West

Corfe Castle

TCorfe Castle (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapeshe picture perfect village of Corfe Castle in Dorset is worth a visit in its own right but, as its name suggests, it is also home to the beautiful ruins of Corfe Castle.

One of Corfe Castle’s main claims to fame is that, in the 1640s, England was in the grip of civil war and Corfe Castle found itself on the front line of conflict between Parliament and King Charles I. When war broke out in 1642, the formidable Lady Mary Bankes made it her home while her husband Sir John was away serving the King. Within a year, almost all of Dorset came under the control of Parliament but Corfe stood firm against a number of attacks and lengthy sieges over the next couple of years. Sir John died in 1644 and the castle was under siege again in 1645. This time, after an act of treachery from inside the castle, Lady Mary was forced to surrender after 48 days under siege, but was allowed to keep the seals and keys of the castle in recognition of her courage. The scars from these days of violence are still clear for all to see.

Getting there: Park in the pay-and-display car park in the village which shares its name with the castle. Postcode BH20 5EZ. Run by the National Trust and an adult ticket costs £9.35.

Dartmouth Castle

Dartmouth Castle (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapesDown on the Devon’s south coast, Dartmouth Castle is one of two medieval castles which stands on the cliffs guarding the entrance to the Dart estuary. It’s easy to imagine what an impressive – and potentially foreboding – sight they would have been as ships were forced to pass under the guns on the battlements before heading up the river.

The castle is managed by English Heritage and the interesting exhibits detail Dartmouth Castle’s colourful history which stretches back more than 600 years. Unusually incorporating the fine church of St Petrox, the castle also saw action during the Civil War, and continued in service right up until the Second World War, when it formed an important part of Britain’s coastal defences. Some of the defensive and artillery posts are still visible.

Getting there: There is very limited pay-and display parking by the entrance (postcode TQ6 0JN). The unique location of the castle on the entrance to the Dart Estuary also means that you can approach it by water, so take the tiny passenger ferry from Dartmouth Harbour straight to the castle. An adult ticket costs £6.10.

The South-East

Leeds Castle

Leeds Castle (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapesLeeds is surely one of the most beautifully situated castles in the country – the castle sits proudly above a lake in the centre of its vast parkland. With history stretching back to its days as a Norman stronghold, there’s plenty of historic tales to explore.

Just one example is the story of Henry VIII’s royal visit in 1520 when Henry, with Queen Katherine of Aragon and a huge retinue of over 5000 people, spent a night at the Castle on his way from Greenwich to northern France for a ceremonial meeting with Francis I of France (known as the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’). Apparently royal records show that venison from the Leeds estate and butter from the dairies were supplied for the meeting.

Outside the castle walls, make sure to visit the traditional hedged maze and look out for the black swans, which are the castle’s emblem.

Getting there: The castle is 7 miles east of Maidstone in Kent and clearly sign posted by brown tourist road signs. For sat nav, the post code is ME17 1RG. There is free on-site parking. An adult ticket costs £24.50.

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapesAnother of the south-east’s impressive castles, 14th century Bodiam Castle looks as if it might have come from the pages of a fairytale. It really is the picture-perfect castle with massive corner turrets and a deep curtain wall surrounded by a moat.

In the impressive gatehouse is the castle's original wooden portcullis, an extremely rare example of its kind. Enough of the interior ruins survive to give an impression of castle life, and there are views of the surrounding country if you climb the spiral staircase to the top of one of the turrets.

Getting there: About 4 miles south of Hawkhurst. The postcode is TN32 5UA and there is a large car park on site. Run by the National Trust, they offer free guided walks and estate tours with the entry fee. £8.20 for an adult ticket.

Cumbria

Pendragon Castle

Pendragon Castle (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapesThis is undoubtedly the smallest site to be featured here. While only some of castle foundations and crumbling outer walls remain, this is a wonderfully atmospheric site, especially when moody clouds are passing quickly overhead, which is generally free from any other visitors and set amongst beautiful, countryside. The castle sits in remote Mallerstang which is part of the frequently overlooked Eden Valley, lying between the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales.

Pendragon Castle is reputed to have been founded by Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur. According to legend, Uther Pendragon and a hundred of his men were killed here when the Saxon invaders poisoned the well. There are also claims that the Romans built at least a temporary fort here. The castle ruins which can be seen today were built in the late 12th century but left in ruins after a fire destroyed most of the castle in 1541.

Getting there: The castle is on private land but can be accessed throughout the year. There’s a gate into the castle off the road running down through the Mallerstang valley between Kirby Stephen and Garsdale. The Castle is just to the north of the small village called Outhgill. Free entry and road-side parking.

Brough Castle

Brough Castle (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapesAnother castle in the little-known Eden Valley, the impressive ruins of Brough Castle stands on a ridge commanding the strategic Stainmore Pass, on the site of a Roman fort. Frequently the target of Scots raids, its towering keep dates from about 1200. More comfortable living quarters were later added by the Clifford family, only to be accidentally burnt following a 'great Christmas party' in 1521.

Like so many other castles in the region (including Pendragon), Brough was restored in the 17th century by the Lady Anne Clifford, and remains of her additions can still be seen. On a nice day, the Brough Castle Ice Cream Parlour next to the castle is highly recommended!

Getting there: There is limited free parking near the castle in the village of Church Brough. Postcode: CA17 4EJ. Free entry.

Yorkshire

Middleham Castle

Middleham Castle (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapesTucked away in the picturesque village of Middleham, in the eastern Yorkshire Dales (strictly speaking, it’s just outside the National Park boundary), the imposing ruins and fascinating history of Middleham Castle come as something of a surprise. The childhood home of King Richard III, the Castle played a large part in England’s medieval history. Held in the ownership of the powerful Neville family, the castle was once the powerhouse of Northern England. Richard ruled the north from Middleham while his brother, Edward IV, was on the thrown, before becoming king himself following Edward’s death (and the disappearance of his sons and heirs, the ‘princes in the tower’).

The ruins of Middleham Castle sit on the village edge and are in the ownership of English Heritage. You can look around the ruins, climb one of the towers for great views of the surrounding area, and learn more on the history of the castle.

Getting there: There’s no car park next to the castle but free on street parking in Middleham. Postcode DL8 4QG. An adult ticket costs £5.

Bolton Castle

Bolton Castle (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapes600 year old Bolton Castle sits high above Wensleydale, with gorgeous views down the valley. Still in the private ownership of Lord Bolton (the direct descendant of the castle’s original owner Sir Richard le Scrope, who still lives just down the valley in the impressive Bolton Hall), the well preserved castle tells the fascinating history of this fortress and home.

The castle provides beautiful views from both inside and the garden, where displays of medieval activities regularly take place, including archery, falconry and hawk and owl displays (as well as feeding with wild boar!). The castle’s most famous ‘guest’ is Mary Queen of Scots, and she spent about six months in captivity here during Elizabeth I’s reign.

Getting there: Open between mid- February to the end of October. There’s a large car park on site – postcode DL8 4ET. Adult tickets costs £8.50.

If you’ve been inspired to explore some of England’s historic castles, please get in touch and we can put together your own personal itinerary to take in some of these fantastic sights. Also, if you’re interested in staying in a castle, don’t forget to have a look at our review of the wonderful Thornbury Castle.

  • About my Blog

    On this blog, I am going to share some of my favourite things about Britain – taking beautiful country walks, trying out classic british pubs, exploring castles, palaces and stately homes, getting involved in some uniquely British experiences and events and much more. I hope that this blog will whet your appetite for a trip of a lifetime in Britain.

    Helen Coppin
    Founder, Great British Escapes

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