Six British Castles Visited
The castles featured here are not necessarily the top half dozen castles in Britain, and they are just a few of the castles we’ve visited on our holidays in England and Wales; but they are amongst some of our favourite castles visited. Largely, for a number of these castle, either because they hold regular medical festivals and or are living museums giving a glimpse into the past.
A Link To The Past
Across England, as with most of Europe, there are castles in just about every city and town dating from Roman times such as Colchester castle, to 19th Century Victorian follies like Cardiff Castle. And if you include the full size castle at LEGOLAND, then modern castles too.
Castles with Medieval Festivals and Living Museums
Many of these castles are in disrepair while others have been restored to their former glory. A number of them, not just in England but France and no doubt other parts of Europe, regularly host medieval festivals and events. And some, like Mountfitchet castle, are permanent living museums with live animals roaming the castle grounds that are appropriate to the time period.
In this article is a small sample of some of the great castles we've visited during our holidays and day trips around Britain.
Location of British Castle in This Article
Mountfitchet castle is a great living museum depicting Norman life following their conquest of England in 1066.
Regularly holds impressive medieval events and festivals; makes for a great day trip.
Renowned for holding re-enactments of the English civil war, that makes a great day out for the whole family.
Not the most memorable of castles we’ve visited but having a spectacular day event made the trip worthwhile.
Built in 13th century by King Edward I as a defence against the Welsh
Mountfitchet Castle 1066
A Living Museum Portraying an Early Wooden Norman Castle
My Favourite has to be Mountfitchet Castle situated in the village of Stansted Mountfitchet in Essex. With a prominent position overlooking the Stort Valley, Mountfitchet Castle is located on its original site. Rich in history this site was originally an Iron Age hill fort, then it became a Roman signals fort and later a Saxon and Viking settlement before being attacked in 1066 by William the Conqueror army who built a wooden motte (an enditched mound) and bailey castle.
As with any invading army occupying new lands speed is of the essence so during the early days of the Norman Conquest initially wooden motte constructions were by far the quickest means of settlement defences. As the Normans gained a foothold as an occupying force it wasn't long before they started to build the traditional and more familiar stone Castles, with stone wall defences, throughout England.
Mountfitchet Castle is an historically accurate reconstruction of one of the early wooden Norman castle, which enables visitor to travel back in time to the Norman occupied England of 1066. Visitors can explore the Castle, roam through the Norman Village behind the castle walls and explore the houses; smell the log fires burning and experience the ambience of an ancient bygone lifestyle.
A Living Museum, giving visitors the opportunity to mingle with the animals that roam freely throughout the castle grounds, as they would have done all those centuries ago, thereby giving you an experience of a living, hands-on and interactive experience.
Animals at Mountfitchet Castle (Authentic for 1066)Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mountfitchet Castle Village Life DepictedClick thumbnail to view full-size
The People of Mountfitchet CastleClick thumbnail to view full-size
Defences and Village of Mountfitchet CastleClick thumbnail to view full-size
Norman Castle Where Medieval Events Are Regularly Held
By keeping an eye on local events we ensured that each of our two day trips to Warwick castle were on weekends when Medieval events were held in the castle grounds; which makes for a far more enjoyable and memorable day out. A day trip we thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone.
Warwick Castle is a medieval 'shell keep castle' in Warwick, Warwickshire, England; a 'Shell Keep Castle' being the successors to motte-and-bailey castles. The castle, situated on a cliff overlooking a bend in the River Avon, was built in 1068 by William the Conqueror in the vicinity of the Anglo-Saxon burh of Warwick. A Burh being 'Old English' for a fortified dwelling Place,which were commonly used by Alfred the Great (The Saxon King of Wessex) in the 9th century to defend against regular Viking raiding parties.
Warwick castle was used as a fortification until the early 17th century, when Sir Fulke Greville converted it to a country house. It was then owned by the Greville family, who became earls of Warwick in 1759, until 1978.
Medieval festivals, banquets and a host of other events are regularly held in the castle and grounds. Visit the official Warwick Castle website for more information.
Wars of the Roses Re-enactment at Warwick Castle
Trebuchet Live Demonstration at Warwick Castle
Civil War Re-Enactment of 1645
This is another castle we've visited on several occasions, the last couple of times being on the same day as the English civil war re-enactments; with one of the re-enactments playing out the events as they occurred at Berkeley castle in 1645. Organising our day trip to Berkeley Castle for the same day as the re-enactments make the day rather special and a day trip I would recommend to anyone.
Berkeley Castle has been lived in by the same family for over 900 years. It's where Edward II was murdered, where the Barons of the West gathered before Magna Carta and where Queen Elizabeth I hunted and played bowls. It also played an active role in the English civil war of 1642-1651, and the grounds for the re-enactment of the Berkeley castle civil war of 1645.
With the defeat of Lord Goring at the battle of Langport and the capture of Bristol from Prince Rupert, the south-west of England was effectively closed to the King from mid-September 1645. In order to secure his position before advancing to complete the conquest of the west, General Fairfax sent Colonel Rainsborough to besiege Berkeley Castle, the only Royalist stronghold between Bristol and Gloucester. Rainsborough stormed and captured Berkeley after a three-day bombardment on 25 September 1645. Meanwhile, Lieutenant-General Cromwell marched with 2,000 horse, three regiments of foot and a formidable artillery train to clear remaining Royalist strongholds threatening the road between Bristol and London.
Medieval Festival and 18th Century Battle Re-enactment at Berkeley Castle
Re-enactment of the English civil war at Berkeley castle in 1645
Mock Battle of Nibley Green, Gloucestershire, England in 1469
Lulworth Castle and Grounds
With The Knights of Lulworth and Their Horses Impossible
Lulworth Castle is another English castle we visited on the day of medieval events in the grounds of the castle; being able to watch medieval craftsmen at work, the jousting and the impressive display by the Horses Impossible team made for another great day out visiting English Castles. Unlike Mountfitchet castle, Warwick castle and Berkeley castle all of which worthy to visit even if its on a weekend when there are no events I felt that without the medieval event at Lulworth castle the castle itself wouldn’t be such a great place to visit unless you happened to be passing through the area at the time and wanted to spend just a few leisurely hours to see the castle and castle museum as a short break from your journey.
Lulworth Castle is an early 17th-century hunting lodge, originally built to attract James I to hunt in the Isle of Purbeck. In 1929 the castle was gutted by fire but years later it was restored and today is open to the public. The grounds which houses a living museum of farm animals has also been home to 'Horses Impossible by Impossible Horses' who as the Knights of Lulworth put on a very impressive jousting display for the castle's visitors.
Horses Impossible at Lulworth CastleClick thumbnail to view full-size
Cardiff Castle in South Wales
Cardiff Castle being just across the border from England (On the other side of the River Severn) and only an hour’s drive from Bristol I’ve visited a few times over the years, and it always for an enjoyable day out. The main castle itself is a Victorian Folly but in the centre of the castle grounds is the remains of the original Norman castle, and under Cardiff castle a very fine Roman Wall with sculptured statues along its full length has been excavated and is open to the public.
Conwy Castle in North Wales
Conwy Castle is spectacular, a lot bigger than Cardiff castle and as you will see from the videos a lot more to see although being in North Wales isn’t an easy journey for us so we’ve only had the opportunity to make the one visit.
Other British Castles and Medieval Events
The picture above is Castle Green, Bristol, the site where Bristol Castle once stood. Bristol Castle was originally a timber motte and bailey castle built by the Normans shortly after their conquest of England in 1066 but by the beginning of the 12 century had been rebuilt as a substantial Norman stone castle which was extended and had extensive use for the next few centuries until by 1540 when it was showing signs of neglect.
However, a century later when the English civil war broke out Bristol castle was partly restored by the city who sided with the Parliamentarians (Roundheads) against King Charles I and the Royalists. In spite of the restoration of the castles defences Bristol city fell to the Royalists in ensuing battles and the castle was then occupied by them it until the end of the civil war; after which Oliver Cromwell ordered its destruction and it was demolished in 1656.
Not all British Castles are Living Museums or run medieval events and not all Medieval events are run on the site of old castles. Other English and Welsh castles I’ve visited over the years where there’s been no such events but nevertheless the visit (in most cases) have been worthwhile, making for a great day include Cardiff Castle in South Wales, Conwy Castle in North Wales, Colchester Castle and Hedingham Castle in Essex. We also made a brief visit to a Kent Castle as we were passing but being a small castle didn’t take long to explore.
On our day trip to Legoland in Windsor we were tempted to also squeeze in time to visit Windsor Castle (which is big) but was put off by the high entrance fee, long queues and being Guided Tours only; when we visit a castle we like to meander around the castle and grounds at our own pace, for at least part of visit rather than be rushed through on a guided tour only. Most British Castles, if they are not in ruins, either have parts of the castle fully open to the public to wander at their own pace with guided tours to select areas or are fully open to the public to wander as you please.
Although we didn’t visit Windsor Castle itself on our day trip visit to Legoland in Windsor we were pleased to see a lego model of Edinburgh Castle and rather amused to see a full size replica of a castle.
We use to visit Harwich, Essex regularly to visit relatives and on one such visit had an enjoyable day when the town ran an open air Medieval Harvest Festival, as shown in the pictures below. Although not on the site of a castle and not a regular event Harwich does have a redoubt (small round fort) which we visited once years ago; long before the days of digital photography so unfortunately I don’t currently have any photos of it.
Some Other English and Welsh Castles I’ve VisitedClick thumbnail to view full-size
Harwich Medieval Harvest Festival, in EssexClick thumbnail to view full-size
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2009 Arthur Russ