Best of British: Castles
5th March 2014
A vital part of the country's military and social history, British castles are dramatic and rich with history. Take your pick from the royal courts of the Monarchy to some of our strongest wartime defenses - you'll find them scattered throughout the British Isles, from the gothic Edinburgh skyline to the magical Cornish coast. Whether you’re looking for gruesome ghost stories, brutal tales from the battlefield or a taste of Tudor life, we've picked out some of the best castles that Britain has to offer – all brimming with fascinating stories:
1. Winsor Castle
Originally built to protect the Norman's dominance of London but perhaps best known as a royal residence, Windsor castle covers 484,000 square feet in the English county of Berkshire. Once home to Henry VIII and now the preferred weekend home of Elizabeth I, it is the world's largest occupied castle. A very popular destination for tourists from across the globe, visitors have access to the lavish state apartments and St Georges Chapel, where the tombs of Henry VIII and Charles I rest.
2. Tintagel Castle
Set high on the dramatic coast of North Cornwall, Tintagel Castle's spectacular location only heightens the sense of mystery that surrounds it. Said to be the birthplace of Kind Arthur, you'll often find a storyteller there, ready to bring the legends of Arthur and his knights to life as you explore the magical ruins to the sound of the Atlantic crashing against the cliffs below.
3. Warwick Castle
A key attraction in the Midlands, Warwick has everything you could possibly want from an English castle. Described as the 'ultimate' castle, it is steeped in medieval history, myths and legends, and comes complete with dungeons, turrets, a moat and drawbridge. A perfect day out for the whole family, you can also enjoy a 'Flight of the Eagles' show, archery displays and jousting, along with a tour of the dungeons with actors bringing to life some of the most gruesome times in the castle's history.
4. Alnwick Castle
Known as the Winsor of the north, Alnwick castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England and one of Europe's most majestic. Home to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland since the 14th Century, you'll discover everything from years of medieval history to the Percy family's opulent State Rooms and art collections. You might also recognize the castle from its role as Hogwarts in the famous Harry Potter films.
5. Edinburgh Castle
Dominating the skyline of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh Castle sits high on an extinct volcano. A medieval military stronghold, it has been held under the control of Edward I, Robert the Bruce and Oliver Cromwell. Visit to see St Margaret's Chapel (the oldest building in Edinburgh), the Scottish crown jewels, the Stone of Destiny (an ancient coronation seat) and it's cavernous stone war prisons.
6. Caernarfon Castle
Originally a Roman fort, Caernarfon Castle was rebuilt in 1283 by Edward I, as a means of intimidating the rebellious Welsh. It came under attack in an uprising led by Madog ap Llewelyn in 1294, then again by Owain Glyndwr in 1403. In 1911, Edward VIII was invested there, as was Prince Charles in 1969. The castle eventually became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
7. Corfe Castle
Perched high on a hill, in the heart of the Dorset's Isle of Purbeck, sits the jagged ruins of Corfe Castle. Full of charm, surrounded by cobbled streets and rows of quintessentially English cottages, it has been suggested that Corfe might have once been one of the most important castles in England. Built by William the Conqueror, the castle was owned by the Crown until it was sold by Elizabeth I. Eventually, in 1645, the castle was partially demolished by order of Parliament. The castle is now owned by the National Trust and open to the public.
8. Bamburgh Castle
Not far from nearby Dunstanburgh and Lindisfarne, the sight of Bamburgh Castle has been home to a fort of some kind since prehistoric times. The Normans built a new castle in the 11th century which, unfortunately, simply decayed until a Victorian industrialist paid for its restoration. Sitting on an outcrop of volcanic rock above the choppy North Sea, its dramatic location makes it a popular location for weddings and filming - you might recognize it from Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett.
9. Dover Castle
Known as the 'Key to England', this stunning castle sits high above the famous White Cliffs of Dover - a great protector of our south coast. Over 20 centuries old, it has been both a home to the royal court and military base in every European war that involved Britain. It's secret wartime tunnels, extravagant Great Tower and fascinating exhibitions are a must-see.
10. Dunstanburgh Castle
Another favourite from Northumberland, Dunstanburgh is perhaps the most dramatic castle in the northeast but, due to its remoteness, it remains off the beaten track. The Earl of Lancaster began building work in 1313 but was eventually executed nine years later. John of Gaunt took over but its history is fairly uneventful until it fell victim to the War of the Roses in the 1460s. It never recovered and today, its grand ruins dominate some of the most beautiful coast in the north.
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