When my Mum asked me what I wanted to do and see during our trip to the UK, I simply said – everything! I’ve wanted to visit England specifically, since I was a little girl. It didn’t matter if it was cobblestone streets, sheep in a pasture, cliffs at the ocean, and all the sights LondonTown had to offer. I just want to BE there. Alas, I quickly realized that as long as our trip might be, there is a lot to see and we can’t see it all.
I thought back to young-Bree and the pictures I used to draw, the books I used to read, the shows and films I used to watch and there was always one common denominator. So, when my Mum asked me again what I wanted to make room to see, I had one word: CASTLES!
(There is a show on Netflix called The Secrets of Great British Castles, something I would’ve queued up regardless of my trip – in fact, it’s been on my Watch List for a while. When I finally started watching it, I was thrilled to see that we’ll be visiting almost every castle featured in all the episodes!)
It isn’t just the stone itself but the stories and history that each castle houses; from William the Conquerer’s escapades to the Tudor dynasty, to the effect that Dover Castle had on World War II, or that the Tower of London was used as a zoo in addition to being used as a prison, these great buildings have inspired poetry, war, murder, and now, filming locations. They’re beautiful, haunted – eerie even. And I have a feeling that every time we visit one, I’ll ask to be left there for a little while longer…
Castles we’ll be touring:
Castle History: During much of the middle ages, the castle was used as a garrison and a defence for England’s border against attack from Scottish forces. For the last 700 years, Alnwick Castle has been home to the Percy family – it remains today one of the largest inhabited castles in the UK with the 12th Duke and Duchess of Northumberland still living inside the keep.
You might recognize this castle for filming: Harry Potter, Robin Hood
Castle History: The town of Carrickfergus has been in existence since medieval times. The earliest known name for the area was Dun-so-barky, meaning ‘strong rock or hill’. Then, in the sixth century, Fergus Mor, the son of Eric of Armoy, left Ulster to found a kingdom in Scotland but was drowned on his return. Reputedly buried at Monkstown, Newtownabbey, the area was thereafter variously called Carriag na Ferg, Krag, Carriag, Knock, Krag Fergus, and of course, Carraig Fhearghus, meaning ‘rock of Fergus’.
During the rebellion of 1641, Carrickfergus was a refuge for fleeing Protestants, soon becoming a base for a counterattack and subsequent massacre of Catholics at Islandmagee.
Carrickfergus found itself entangled at the very heart of national and European politics when, in 1688, the town and castle were held by the garrison troops for James II despite the population’s overwhelming sympathy for the Williamite cause.
Then on June 14, 1690, King William of Orange stepped ashore at Carrickfergus destined for the Battle of the Boyne, where he defeated his father-in-law James II and claimed the English crown as his own.
Castle History: The original site had been fortified by the Romans in the 1st century AD, although no remains are visible above ground.
In 1361, Robert Stewart, son of King Robert II, and brother of King Robert III, was created Earl of Menteith, and was granted the lands on which Doune Castle now stands.
It was also used as a dower house by Mary of Guelders, Margaret of Denmark, and Margaret Tudor, the widowed consorts of James II, James III and James IV respectively.
You might recognize this castle for filming: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones, Outlander
Castle History: Founded in the 11th century and described as the “Key to England” due to its defensive significance throughout history. It is the largest castle in England and the most iconic of all English fortresses commanding the gateway to the realm for nine centuries: The oldest surviving lighthouse in the country, and one of the oldest in the world, the Roman Pharos. Once used to aid navigation by Romans across the English Channel from France. Winding medieval tunnels, burrowed beneath the castle during and after the Siege of 1216.
You might recognize this castle for filming: As a stand-in for the Tower of London in numerous films, wartime tunnels used in Avengers: Age of Ultron
Castle History: Dunluce Castle is a now-ruined medieval castle in Northern Ireland. It is located on the edge of a basalt outcropping in County Antrim, and is accessible via a bridge connecting it to the mainland. The castle is surrounded by extremely steep drops on either side, which may have been an important factor to the early Christians and Vikings who were drawn to this place where an early Irish fort once stood.
In the 16th Century when Sorley Boy McDonnell came over from Scotland to consolidate McDonnell territories in both Ireland and Scotland, his main base became Dunluce Castle. Dunluce Castle is one of the most iconic monuments in Northern Ireland situated as it is rather precariously on the craggy and treacherous Antrim coast and it provides a very important chapter in the history of the McDonnells of Antrim and North East Ulster.
You might recognize this castle for filming: Game of Thrones
Castle History: Archaeologists have established human occupation of the rock since at least the Iron Age (2nd century AD). The castle stands upon the plug of an extinct volcano, which is estimated to have risen about 350 million years ago during the lower Carboniferous period. Edinburgh Castle is the home of the Crown Jewels, also known as the Honours of Scotland, they are joined by The Stone of Destiny. The Great Hall was built in celebration of the marriage of King James IV to Margaret Tudor of England. In 1566, Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to the future King James VI of Scotland and I of England in the Royal Palace.
Castle History: The castle stands on the site of an earlier house, which was built on the foundations of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Winchester, who owned this estate from the 8th century. Since 1679 Highclere has been home to the Earls of Carnarvon and their forebears. During the First World War, Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, transformed the Castle into a hospital, and patients began to arrive from Flanders in September 1914. During the Second World War, the Castle briefly became a home for evacuee children from north London.
You might recognize this castle for filming: Downton Abbey
Castle History: Work on the castle began in 1743 and replaced an earlier 15th-century castle. Inveraray Castle is the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell, since the 18th century.
You might recognize this castle for filming: Downton Abbey
Castle History: A fortress, residence and later a garrison stronghold, containing the oldest surviving barracks on the British mainland. Built in the mid-1400s, it remained the base of the mighty Campbells of Glenorchy for 150 years. After the first Jacobite Rising of 1689, Kilchurn was converted into a garrison stronghold, but was abandoned by the end of the 1700s.
Castle History: Has been a Norman stronghold; the private property of six of England’s medieval queens; a palace used by Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon; a Jacobean country house; a Georgian mansion; an elegant early 20th century retreat for the influential and famous.
Castle History: Before the union with England, Stirling Castle was one of the most used of the many Scottish royal residences. Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1542. There have been at least eight sieges of Stirling Castle, including several during the Wars of Scottish Independence, with the last being in 1746, when Bonnie Prince Charlie unsuccessfully tried to take the castle.
Research carried out in 2011 revealed that King Arthur’s round table may well have been hidden beneath the historic King’s Knot that sits below the castle.
The green lady of Stirling Castle is said to be the ghost of one of Mary, Queen of Scots servants. Mary herself has been said to be the identity of the ghost of a pink lady.
Castle History: It is claimed that the Archangel Michael appeared before local fishermen on the mount in the 5th century AD. On the beach, marks the site of a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary, where pilgrims paused to worship before ascending the mount. The monastic buildings were built during the 12th century and in 1275 an earthquake destroyed the original Priory Church, which was rebuilt in the late 14th century, remaining in use. Sir Henry de la Pomeroy captured the mount, on behalf of Prince John, in the reign of King Richard I. After improvements to the harbour in 1727, St Michael’s Mount became a flourishing seaport.
Sixty-five years after the Second World War, it was suggested that the former Nazi Foreign Minister and onetime Ambassador to London, Joachim von Ribbentrop, had intended to live at the mount after the planned German conquest.
Local Legend: During the 6th century, before a castle was built, the island St. Michael’s Mound sits upon what was once home to an 18-foot giant named Cormoran, who lived in a cave with his ill-gotten treasures from terrorizing local towns and villages. That is, until a young farmer’s son named Jack took on this gigantic menace, who had an appetite for cattle and children, and killed him by trapping him in a concealed pit, bringing down his ax upon his head. When he returned home, the elders in the village gave him a hero’s welcome, and henceforth, called him “Jack the Giant Killer”.
You might recognize this castle for filming: Dracula
Castle History: The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. While a grand palace early in its history, serving as a royal residence, the castle was also used as a prison from 1100 until 1952. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings Richard the Lionheart, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries.
The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history. It was besieged several times, and controlling it has been important to controlling the country. The Tower has served variously as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public record office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of England.
The beginning of the Tudor period marked the start of the decline of the Tower of London’s use as a royal residence. Executions were usually carried out on Tower Hill rather than in the Tower of London itself, with 112 people executed on the hill over 400 years. Before the 20th century, there had been only seven executions within the castle on Tower Green, among those held and executed at the Tower was Anne Boleyn. Beheaded in 1536 for treason against Henry VIII; her ghost supposedly haunts the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, where she is buried, and has been said to walk around the White Tower carrying her head under her arm.
You might recognize this castle for filming: Doctor Who
Castle History: An Anglo-Saxon burh was established on the site in 914; with fortifications instigated by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great. The burh she established was one of ten which defended Mercia against the invading Danes. A medieval castle developed from an original built by William the Conqueror in 1068, it was used as a stronghold until the early 17th century. William appointed Henry de Beaumont, the son of a powerful Norman family, as constable of the castle. In 1088, Henry de Beaumont was made the first Earl of Warwick.
The line of Beauchamps Earls ended in 1449 when Anne de Beauchamp, 15th Countess of Warwick, died. Richard Neville became the next Earl of Warwick. During the summer of 1469, Neville rebelled against King Edward IV and imprisoned him in Warwick Castle. Neville attempted to rule in the king’s name; however, constant protests by the king’s supporters forced the Earl to release the king. Neville was subsequently killed in the Battle of Barnet, fighting against King Edward IV in 1471 during the Wars of the Roses. Warwick Castle then passed from Neville to his son-in-law, George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence.
The castle, as well as lands associated with the earldom, was in Crown care from 1478 until 1547, when they were granted to John Dudley with the second creation of the title the Earl of Warwick.
Warwick Castle is known in the advent of tourism, with visitors flocking since the 17th century. Through the 20th century successive earls expanded its tourism potential as a means to fight off debt until, in 1978, after 374 years in the Greville family, it was sold to a media and entertainment company, who opened it as a tourist attraction.
Castle History: Residence of the British royal family and the longest-occupied palace in Europe. Originally designed to protect Norman dominance around the outskirts of London and oversee a strategically important part of the River Thames, Windsor Castle was built as a motte-and-bailey, with three wards surrounding a central mound. Henry III built a luxurious royal palace within the castle during the middle of the century, and Edward III went further, rebuilding the palace to make an even grander set of buildings in what would become “the most expensive secular building project of the entire Middle Ages in England”. Edward’s core design lasted through the Tudor period, during which Henry VIII and Elizabeth I made increasing use of the castle as a royal court and centre for diplomatic entertainment.
Today, more than 500 people live and work in Windsor Castle, making it the largest inhabited castle in the world.