A legendary cave found hidden in the western slope of Wawel Hill, where visitors can journey down a tight, spiral staircase into the 81m cavernous dragon's den below. Children and adults alike will enjoy the rich 12th century story and history attached to the cave and, better yet, the metal sculpture of the dragon itself that breathes fire every few minutes.
Castle Howard is set in thousands of acres of beautiful North Yorkshire countryside, and the gardens have just won the Historic House Association/Christie’s Garden of the Year Award.
As you explore, surprise vistas keep unfolding - a wonderful example of architecture and nature in perfect harmony.
Close to the house you’ll find the enchanting 18th century walled rose garden, and a stroll along the grass terraces will bring you to Ray Wood, which is particularly impressive at this time of year with a plethora of rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias in bloom. There are lakes and fountains, statues, temples and architectural follies galore, as well as the impressive mausoleum which is still used as the Howard family resting place.
There is even an ornamental vegetable garden, and an adventure trail for families. If you - or your offspring - get inspired, then you can call at the garden centre on your way out.
Castelo de Almourol is a small Knights Templar castle built on an island in the middle of the Tejo river. The only way to get to it is by small boat, ask at the cafe nearby if no-one's around. The boat will leave you for an hour or so to explore. It's remarkably intact for its age with battlements and towers to climb with viewpoints up and down the river, set in what resembles an overgrown garden.
Not just a 'hidden gem' of a moated castle set in luscious north Oxfordshire parkland, but the site of Civil War conspirations, sieges and battles, and the setting for the film Shakespeare in Love. Broughton Castle is still occupied by the Saye-Sele family and lowers its drawbridge on selected days from Easter onwards. June and July always promise a myriad of events, from corricle racing on the moat to Shakespeare productions in the parkland, and this is also the time when the walled garden is in full rose-scented bloom.
Durham Castle may be overshadowed by its more revered neighbour, the Cathedral Bill Bryson described as “the best on planet earth,” but both are part of a UNESCO World Heritage site and the castle is fascinating in its own right. Not just a historic attraction, the castle is a working college for students at Durham University. Students live in its wood panelled dorm rooms and act as tour guides for visitors. The tours take in several great sights, including the creaking black staircase and original medieval kitchen – and reveal quirky academic traditions like “sporting the oak” - but best of all is the Norman Chapel deep in its bowels. Its historic use as a chapel was only recently discovered by an archaeology post graduate at the University and over the years it has doubled as a bike shed, billiards and table tennis room for students.
A half-ruined castle with Civil War and Jacobite history in an epic coastal setting. Unlike some castles, this isn't a show home.
Historic hand carved tunnels which lead to rockpools and blue flag beaches.
Best to go here when the tide is low giving you a better chance to see a wider variety of 'creatures'.
Also not very far from the tunnels is the Watermouth Castle. As well as the castle and dungeon there is a theme park, gardens and maze.
Set amid sprawling greenery and a floral splashed moat Bodiam Castle is the epitome of fairytale. The ruins are are compact and easy to explore with spiralling stairways and picturesque archways that lead between the ramparts. Built in 1385 the castle was both a defence against French invaders and a family home, and during the peak season there are medieval events and costumed actors on hand to provide further insight.
The Orkney Isles are one big historic site!
A treasure trove of sites which span the centuries from the stone age to WWII. Visit magical stone circles, atmospheric tombs, the oldest surviving dwelling in Europe, quaint fishing villages -all with stunning loch and coastal locations to boot!
My favourite is Noltland Castle on the small island of Westray. No tickets or stewards -simply knock on the door of the nearby farm house for the key. You'll most likely be the king or queen of your castle and have it all to yourself!
Gwydir Castle is a 16th century Tudor castle lovingly restored by Judy and Peter Welford– with the help of several eccentric locals, all to be found in Judy’s fascinating account in her book ‘Castles in the Air’. It is known for its many ghosts and has the reputation for being one of the most haunted houses in Wales. To get you in the mood you arrive at a huge fortress type gate with large dogs barking behind it. Once inside the dogs turn out to be friendly – if a little wolf like – and Judy extremely welcoming. The two rooms available for B & B are in a (heated) wing next to the main castle. Huge four poster beds and genuine period furniture in the bedrooms – but all mod cons in the bathroom!! We were offered complementary tea and cakes served on an enormous silver tray in the castle parlour next to a roaring fire, followed by a tour of the castle from husband and artist Peter who regaled us with stories of the many ghosts – human and animal - lurking in all corners. We made it safely through the night and had a fabulous ‘full welsh breakfast’ sourced from local produce. Peter and Judy’s (and dogs) love of their castle is infectious – you’ll come away loving it too, despite the ghosts!
Good restaurants and cafés in Llanwrst and on edge of Snowdonia national park.
Spectacular medieval castle - lots of rooms and spiral staircases and views from the top of tower. Good history information on the site.
Castle Lane, Goodrich, County of Herefordshire HR9 6
Google map: bit.ly/aimQDi
I've been to a few castles in my time. Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh in particular are stunning, holding out against the sea. But for the real afficionado, you need a tour of castles.
Cross to Wales at Chepstow and see the castle looming above the valley; stay at a Youth Hostel in the rather French-looking castle at St Briavels, stay just in England for the splendid half-red half-ruin of Goodrich in its lush landscape. Then work your way into the increasingly hilly, fortified, historically contended country of South Wales, like an unwelcome Norman. A castle every half hour or so. Picturesque Grosmont; a neighbourhood of them in White, Skenfrith, Raglan; a relic of the Welsh princes at Carreg Cennen, black, shattered and startlingly grim with a subterranean tunnel; wonderful reinventions of the idea (Cardiff, Castell Coch); grand fortresses like Caerphilly; and plenty more. Stunning country around and in between. A very high standard of food and beer in pubs in the Brecon Beacons.
Or do something similar in the Cathar country in France. Most of the castles in the Cathar conflicts are long destroyed, but many were replaced. Montsegur, Peyrepeteuse, Queribus and Lastours are all jawdropping and very atmospheric. Food also ace, cheap sparkling Blanquette de Limoux wine, and cassoulet. Go look for a grail.
Beginning at Newcastle Keep and ending 200 miles later at the stunning Edinburgh Castle, the NCN Coast and Castles (South) cycle route allows for the perfect exploration of some of the UK’s finest castles against the backdrop of the beautiful north-east coastline.
Along the route Bamburgh Castle is my favourite. As you turn into the idyllic coastal town of Bamburgh on your faithful two-wheeled steed you will be greeted by the magnificent castle, standing proud aloft the rocky cliffs. The castle's continued grandeur illustrates its past life in great detail making it easy to cast yourself back in time and absorb its history.
Today it is open to the public and has guides and audio tours to enhance your visit. Events and group trips are also hosted.
For those less interested in pedalling their way, the castle is 42 miles from Newcastle and can be accessed by road, bus and rail.
Bamburgh Castle -
Coast & Castles Route Map (Sustrans) - www.sustransshop.co.uk/products/5045-ncn-coast--castles-south
Coast & Castles Route Website - www.coast-and-castles.co.uk
Google map: tinyurl.com/37mgvda
The distinctive red sandstone ruin of Edzell Castle in Angus is perfect for exploring, but the real treasure is finding an Italian Renaissance garden nestling at the foot of a Scottish glen. This walled garden or pleasance was originally built in 1604. Triangular beds of dwarf box hedging create amazingly intricate designs while the wall is home to 16th century German carvings using heraldic and symbolic imagery, plus flower-filled recesses. You won’t meet one of the former guests – Mary Queen of Scots – but will you encounter the ghost of the White Lady?
Castell y Bere is a Welsh castle built by Llewellyn the Great in around 1221. It was besieged by the English in 1283 then later abandoned. It is a fabulous ruin with remains of towers, walls and a barbican. It is like walking back in time when you walk up the path to the castle entrance. The views from the towers are peaceful green hillsides that rise to heights above the castle. It is easily accessible, completely free and often deserted.
I don't really know Norwich Castle as a visitor - it's my local, and I've known it since I was small. It dominates the city of Norwich, where you can't really move without stumbling over some bit of medieval history - a church every 50 yards, a bit of city wall here, an ancient pub there. But Norwich Castle tops it all - quite literally - from its Norman mound. It's never been ruined because it's never been out of use. The keep is all open inside, and feels strangely small after you've looked up at its monolithic form from outside. It certainly gives you an idea of what it must have been like for the Normans, crammed together in a stinky, smoky hall. And you get a sense of everything that's gone on since. It was a prison for hundreds of years, and must have been pretty grim, but now I find it rather homely. It's got an art gallery (with stalwarts from the almost-famous Norwich School of painters) and even, slightly bizarrely, a rather good but compact natural history museum. As a local, I reckon its best moment was when they introduced the one hour, one pound ticket.
Castle Meadow, Norwich, Norfolk
Castle ticket £6.20, children £4.40
Google map: tinyurl.com/2wkkq5t
As any 12-year-old will tell you, the castle at Warkworth is a text book example of a motte and bailey. Set out in 1200 and the favoured residence of the Percy Family from the 14th to the 17th century, the ruin is managed by English Heritage. We love it because there is plenty of scope for children of all ages to use their imagination. Stand in the shadowy passage of the gatehouse and picture missiles being dropped through murder holes on would-be attackers, wander through the buttery, once stacked with beer barrels, or imagine a banquet in the Great Hall. The tiny port of Amble, framed through the ruined windows, is worth a stop for fish and chips at the end of you visit.
Adults £4.50, children £2.30
Google map: tinyurl.com/3ytugda
This is one of the most beautiful castles I have ever visited. It has an action-packed past. Look it up and try to work out how its past has impacted on the stones; it has barbicans that still inspire a closer look and inner baileys with mysterious buildings you can argue about for years. Even better it is rarely visited and overlooks the Tweed. Some of its more illustrious neighbours don't come close. Turner painted it, Scott gave it a verse in his poetry and Mons Meg helped to bring it down.
This is one of my favourite places. You will not be disappointed. Take a picnic. Not sure if English Heritage let people in anymore (they stopped employing people to spend hours twiddling their thumbs) but it's an open site, impossible to restrict - the Sheep Gate is closest to the car park. Just find your way through a gate - no one else will be there!
A childhood favourite, Carreg Cennen Castle is unique in Wales as it is the only castle built by the Welsh, for the Welsh. The other castles you are likely to recognise and visit west of the border were instruments of subjugation, used by English (or, more accurately, Norman) rulers to keep the Welsh under control.
Carreg Cennen is all the more interesting because of its isolation and spectacular location, perched on a ridge in the remote west of the Brecon Beacons national park, its romantic setting has inspired generations of artists, including Turner.
Approached through a farmyard, you will need decent shoes for the steep path and, unusually, a torch. The latter is necessary to follow the tunnel which starts within the castle walls and descends deep into the cold, wet rock below - a spooky climax to the visit for children and grown-ups, where it is believed prisoners were held captive for months on end in the pitch black.
Once you step, blinking, back into the daylight, the downhill trek will return you to the farm and car park where lunch, snacks and cream teas can be bought.
Nearest village is Trapp. Nearest station is Ffairfach on the Swansea - Shrewsbury line. Llandeilo, Carmarthen and Swansea are all 20-45 minutes away.
01558 822291, carregcennencastle.com
Adults £3.70, children 5-16 £3.30
Google map: tinyurl.com/3yznou3
A beautiful, tidal island with a majestic castle on a rocky outcrop above the North Sea. The castle faces the imposing Bamburgh Castle, and has views of the farne islands. You can only cross at low tide, so make sure you check the timetable! Miles of sand, rockpools and rugged walks, it is amazing at dawn seeing the sun rise over the sea and castle. I love it so much I got married there.
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