Historic attractions abound in our green and pleasant land. There are ornate stately homes, gothic cathedrals and chocolate-box villages at every turn, but among the most impressive examples of the country’s heritage are the slew of majestic castles. Inspired by the latest Rough Guide to England, read on for our pick of the best castles in England.
Alnwick Castle is undoubtedly one of the finest in the country. It’s owned by the Percys, the Dukes of Northumberland, who have presided over the estate since 1309. More recently, however, the castle found fame as Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter movies.
Another Northumbrian gem, Bamburgh Castle, can be found in the little village of the same name. It’s most formidable when seen from the beach, where acres of sky, sea and dunes lead up to the castle’s dramatic setting atop a rocky basalt crag. The castle first appeared in Anglo-Saxon times, but was heavily reconstructed in the nineteenth century.
Its reflection shimmering in a lake, the enormous Leeds Castle resembles a fairy-tale palace. First built around 1119 AD, it has had a chequered history and is now run as a commercial concern, with a range of paying attractions including hot-air ballooning, Segway tours and jousting. The name is misleading: you’ll find it in the High Weald of Kent.
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No historical stone goes unturned at Dover Castle, an astonishingly imposing defensive complex that has protected the English coast for more than two thousand years. In 1068 William the Conqueror built over the earthworks of an Iron Age hillfort here; a century later, Henry II constructed the handsome Great Tower. The grounds also include a Roman lighthouse, a Saxon church and a network of secret wartime tunnels.
One of the country’s most picturesque castles, Bodiam is a classically stout square block with rounded corner turrets, battlements and a wide moat. When it was built in 1385, it was state-of-the-art military architecture, but fell into neglect until restoration in the last century. The extremely steep spiral staircases will test all but the strongest of thighs.
The oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, towering above the town of Windsor in the Berkshire countryside just outside London, Windsor Castle is still important as a ceremonial residence of the Queen. The castle itself is an imposing sight, while inside you can explore the State Apartments and artwork from the Royal Collection.
Ruined but well preserved, Warkworth Castle has Norman origins, although the main building was constructed using sandstone during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Take in the view from the north of the hamlet of Warkworth, from where the grey stone terraces of the long main street slope up towards the commanding remains of the Castle.
The moated Hever Castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, and where Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife, lived after their divorce. Bought by American millionaire William Waldorf Astor in 1903, it has been assiduously restored in mock Tudor style yet it retains an intimate feel. Outside you can explore Waldorf Astor’s beautiful Italian Garden including a splashy water maze.
Myth and legend surround the desolate ruins of Tintagel Castle, said to be the birthplace of King Arthur. Sited on an islet along a wild and rugged stretch of Cornwall’s coast, the remains of the buildings have nearly all but decayed since it was deserted in the seventeenth century.
This whopping castle standing over the River Avon is well worth visiting. Historians think the first fortress was constructed here by the Saxons, but the most significant expansions were made by the Normans and later in the nineteenth century. Save time to explore the extensive grounds, too.
From the dungeons to the ornate courtrooms, Lancaster Castle is a historical tour-de-force. Defences have been sited high above the river here since Roman times, and the building served as a working prison right up until 2011. Engaging guided tours bring the castle’s history to life.
Cumbria’s mightiest castle dominates the county capital Carlisle, were it has stood for over nine hundred years. Among its claims to fame is that it was where Elizabeth I held Mary Queen of Scots captive in 1568. Climb the battlements for great views over the town.
Intact and forbidding, Lincoln Castle’s walls incorporate bits and pieces from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries, with a wall walkway offering great views over town. Recently the former debtors’ prison has been revamped to exhibit several rare documents, most notably one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta.
Tucked away in the northern reaches of Hampshire, 20 miles north of Winchester, Highclere Castle will be very familiar to fans of hit period drama, Downton Abbey, which is filmed here. Home to Lord Carnarvon and his family, the house is approached via a long drive that winds through a stunning 5,000-acre estate, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens designed by Capability Brown.
The romantic castle ruins crowning the hill behind the village of Corfe Castle are perhaps the most evocative in England. The family seat of Sir John Bankes, Attorney General to Charles I, this Royalist stronghold withstood a Cromwellian siege for six weeks, gallantly defended by Lady Bankes. One of her own men, Colonel Pitman, eventually betrayed the castle to the Roundheads, after which it was reduced to its present gap-toothed state by gunpowder. Apparently the victorious Roundheads were so impressed by Lady Bankes’ courage that they allowed her to take the keys to the castle with her.
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