A few of my favourite things
If there’s one question that’s pointless to ask me, it’s “what’s your favourite castle?”, because there’s too much choice and variety. However, there are some that stand out.
Arguably the king of castles is the Tower of London, which neatly encapsulates the political history of the last thousand years of England/Britain. It’s seen and done it all: the building of castles for both practical and symbolic reasons after the Norman Conquest, home of the ousted regimes during the Wars of the Roses, prison and execution site for political/religious opponents of the Tudor monarchs, home of the Royal Mint and royal menageries, place of execution of a German spy during the Second World War, prison to the Krays, and, of course, tourist attraction. And it has the full range of castle buildings from a number of different periods.
It’s the location that makes it for me with Peveril Castle in the Peak District. All I can say is they had some seriously good builders to be able to perch it on that cliff! The original entrance (over a precipice) has long gone, so the modern access is via the “easier” back door route. Easier it may be, but it’s still impossible to imagine attackers charging up the hill in full armour.
Bolton Castle in North Yorkshire also scores points for its location. It’s not a defensive position at all, but it has pretty stunning views for the inhabitants to enjoy. It’s also notable for a number of features that haven’t survived in many other castles (if they even had them in the first place), such as an oubliette, priests’ cells in the chapel and foundations for animal pens in the courtyard. Not to mention the fact that you can still get up onto the roof to enjoy the views.
Norham I have a soft spot for because of one of the few quotes I can remember. The Northumbrian knight Sir Thomas Grey described it as being “the most dangerous place in Britain” around 1318, giving a colourful impression of the state of Anglo-Scottish relations in the 14th century.
Also in Northumberland is Warkworth Castle, which has an amazing keep. Aside from the fact that it’s an unusual shape, it’s also great for exploring. There are nooks and crannies and rooms everywhere! Particularly good are the passages that disappear from the corner of a room, only to emerge on other floors. It’s obviously highly practical for moving round such a large building (though not necessarily a good thing defensively to allow such access), but it’s not something you see very often. Great fun for inquisitive modern visitors.
The last honourable mention today goes to Colchester Castle in Essex, which has the distinction of having the foundations of a Roman temple in the basement. Colchester was one of the towns that was razed to the ground during Boudicca’s revolt in AD60 or 61, but that small piece survived and the Normans decided to build their castle on top of an earlier symbol of authority.
Of course, other people will have their own favourites, and no doubt on another day I’d choose different highlights. But that’s part of the fun!