Winning tip: beautiful ruin, Gower peninsula
I grew up quite close to 12th-century Pennard Castle on the Gower peninsula and it enthralled me as a child; it’s a ruin but still obviously a castle and in my imagination it was full of knights on horses jousting and lots of arrow slits so you can ambush your mates. The castle’s situation is dramatic and beautiful: it is perched on the edge of the valley, with a sheer drop below to the north and west. From it there is a sweeping view out towards Three Cliffs Bay, among the most beautiful beaches in the UK. From Parkmill village you walk about a mile down the Pennard Pill river through the woods before the castle reveals itself. It’s free to visit.
Oozing with history, Northumberland
On a rocky outcrop overlooking a golden beach in Northumberland, Bamburgh Castle still takes my breath away. Not only is the castle oozing with fascinating and rich history, it’s on of the most beautiful and underrated coastlines in the UK. I grew up in Newcastle so Bamburgh Castle was always somewhere we would enjoy as a family no matter the time of year. Costing £14.10 for adults and £6.95 for children, the castle also offers outdoor theater and cinema experiences, craft and art days, historic re-enactments and much more.
Remember the rebels, Somerset
Twelfth century Taunton Castle in the center of town houses the excellent free-to-enter Museum of Somerset, including castle walls and a dry moat. It has displays of local and regional archeology from fossils and prehistory to the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and the Monmouth Rebellion (the castle was used for the Bloody Assizes). Great for adults and children alike. One gallery hosts temporary exhibitions (currently on Coleridge, who lived and wrote in Somerset) and there is a lovely cafe, shop and a very pretty courtyard.
Spectacular views, Lincoln
A large fire-breathing dragon burst through the wall beneath Cobb Hall, once the site of public executions. It’s a strange welcome for visitors to lincoln castle. Within the castle walls, the intact Victorian prison with its unique chapel offers a glimpse into Lincolnshire’s criminal past, while the modern Magna Carta Vault displays the original 1215 document and links history to present day. A stroll around the medieval battlements provides spectacular views of Lincoln Cathedral, the city and surrounding countryside. Free guided tours recount the castle’s 1,000 years of history. The informative and entertaining staff will regale you with tales of dark deeds, pardons, escapes and much more. Admission £15/£8.30.
‘Cor, that’s steep’, Harlech
You can hardly walk around a bend in Wales without tripping over a castle. But as you drive around a bend on the A496, the view of Edward I’s Harlem Castle atop a rocky outcrop is particularly magnificent. It’s not a huge castle but there’s still plenty to see. It’s very well maintained and the views from the top are exceptional. There’s a small pay-and-display a short walk from the entrance, but don’t get caught out by turning down the “world’s steepest street” next to it (Ffordd Pen Llech at 37.45% took the title from a road in Dunedin, New Zealand in 2019). The castle has a small cafe, or there are options in the village. Admission £8.30/£5.80.
clifftop perch, ayrshire
Arrive early for stunning 18th-century Culzean Castle, on top of a cliff on Scotland’s west coast. The castle interior wows from the start, with a huge display of flintlock pistols in the entrance hall, continuing with an elegant Robert Adam staircase and reception rooms, including President Dwight Eisenhower’s apartment. Clamber down to the beach to explore rock pools for urchins and starfish, or spot waterfowl at the swan pond. Visit the lovingly tended walled gardens and orangery, or wander the 260 hectares of country park, with llamas and red deer. Kids will love the Adventure Cove and Wild Woodland play parks. Home Farm kitchen provides good food, but there are also picnic areas. With so much to explore the admission price of £18.50/£10.50 is good value.
Siege mentality, Kent
We absolutely loved our day trip to Rochester Castle, an impressive early-12th-century structure on the banks of the River Medway, which has survived no fewer than three sieges during the 13th century, and in 1381 was ransacked during the Peasants’ Revolt. We roamed the ruins and explored the passageways for a few hours and got a real feel of what the castle would have been like when it was inhabited. The views of the historic city from the top were stunning. After our visit, we enjoyed a picnic on the lawn and then explored the neighboring cathedral. It’s an English Heritage site, costing £7.40 adult, £3.20 child.
Dunes, stones and ruins, Bridgend
A two-in-one treat, Ogmore Castle and Candleston Castle, both free-to-visit ruins, stand on opposite sides of the River Ogmore in south Wales between Bridgend and Porthcawl, about 600 meters from each other. Stepping stones link the banks of the broad stream. Ogmore is thought to have been built at the beginning of the 12th century, while its 14th-century neighbour, Candleston, stands on the edge of the Merthyr Mawr nature reserve and its sand dunes – some of the highest in the UK. When you’ve had your fill of castles and sand, snag a waterside table at Hilary and Iain by Sea for fish and chips with a view of the endless sea traffic on the Bristol Channel.
Doing time, Dartmoor
Lydford Castle, built in the 13th century on the western edge of Dartmoor, has been a destination for picnics, nature walks, peaceful sunbathing and treasure hunts for four generations of my family. Its spacious grounds and quiet, unspoilt location in a pretty village make it a rare gem. However, its history is not all sweetness and light, as the tower was used as a prison. One of its most famous inmates was Richard Strode, MP for Plymouth, a tinner jailed in 1510 after complaining that mining debris in the moorland rivers was silting up the harbor at Plymouth. He described the castle as “one of the most annoious, contagious and detestable places wythin this realme”. Visiting it is free, as is the parking.
Lovely buns, Skipton, North Yorkshire
Late 11th-century Skipton Castle, survivor of a three-year siege during the English Civil War (it was occupied by royalists) is a superb place to visit. The guides are knowledgable and entertaining and the dungeons are particularly terrifying. The kids can follow a picture trail and spot interesting things. Rather more pleasant were the buns and cake in the cafe. And the grounds and ancient woodland of Skipton Castle Woods are great for a burst of fresh air after your visit. Often you’ll find archers demonstrating their talents there. Entry is £10.20 adult £6.90 child. The castle is the start of the 100-mile Lady Anne’s Way long-distance path to Penrith
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism