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Image © Julian Paynter via Flickr

Top 5 Medieval Castles in the UK

17 July 2019 | Maisy Farren

From National Trust homes to regal manor houses, the UK never fails to deliver on impressive real estate. But harking back to a land before time (well, a time before running water anyway) nobility would build humongous castles to house their families and protect their land. Obviously, the upper classes of today have realised that vast homes made of stone are awfully tricky to insulate, so these days the castles exist as snapshots of British history. Head out with the kids this summer holiday and learn a little bit more about the island’s impressive past. 

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Image credit: Dover Castle via Facebook 
Dover Castle 
Kent 
 
The largest castle in England can be found amongst the stunning White Cliffs of Dover, where thanks to its location and defensive significance it’s been attributed the name “key to England”. In the early 12th century, Henry II spent a wild £6,500 renovating the castle – an alarming amount of money 900 years ago – and it saw a lot of further evolution in the Napoleonic era. The castle houses a Saxon church, a chapel and an 83 feet high great tower, as well as the more modern addition of a WWII underground hospital. An excellent spot to visit with kids, the castle’s Great Tower is furnished just as it would be in the 1100s, free from information panels to make it feel more realistic. On certain days over the summer the castle will swarm with nobility, as characters such as Hendry II himself wander the rooms to answer your historic questions (and pose for photos). 


Image credit: Nick Warner via Flickr 
Bodiam Castle 
East Sussex 
 
If you asked a kid to draw a castle, chances are they’re going to surround it by an impressive moat, so it’s disappointing to find most castles are pretty rooted on dry land. Bodiam Castle is one of England’s most loved castles, and it sits in the centre of an impressive body of water, accessible only by a bridge (although not a draw bridge, unfortunately). This castle is a fascinating one, as unlike other buildings of its kind, it was built all at once rather than added to bit by bit. That means that it possesses the same style throughout, something which is uncommon in historic architecture. It was also created to be a comfortable place to live as well as a stronghold of the area, so the design boasts vantage points of towers at each corner and a place to live and relax in the inner courts. Boasting fascinating spiral staircases and original lookout towers, this place is the perfect spot to walk in the footsteps of knights and nobility. Luckily, you’ll find that the remarkable moat no longer works as a sewage dumping spot for the castle’s 30 toilets, so the smell might not be as bad as it was in the 14th century. 


Image credit: Jordan Hatcher via Flickr
Edinburgh Castle 
Edinburgh 
 
The skyline of the remarkable city of Edinburgh just wouldn’t be the same without the castle towering above it, and it’s a must-see spot for visitors to the historic Scottish capital. The castle grounds have thought to be inhabited since 900BC, way before the start of the medieval era, and yet the castle has evolved in style and structure for hundreds of years after that. The hilltop location gave the castle a wonderful vantage point and the cities’ defences grew and grew. In 1457 it gained the Mons Meg, one of the greatest cannons ever made at the time. During a trip to Edinburgh Castle you can see the legendary Mons Meg, as well as seeing the stunning Honours of Scotland (the Scottish crown jewels) and the stone of destiny, an ancient sacred symbol of Scotland’s monarchy. Have a wander around the National War Museum or head to the replica of the castle’s vaults – home to hordes of prisoners and pirates! 


Image credit: Paul Churcher via Flickr​​​​​​​
Pembroke Castle 
Pembrokeshire 
 
Head to Wales over the summer holidays, where the historic town of Pembroke boasts a medieval castle that’s rich in Welsh culture. At the heart of the town, the remarkable walled castle is surrounded by the large Mill Pond, where you can hire a row boat and sail around this magnificent keep. The castle is famously the birthplace of Henry Tudor, the UK’s first and only Welsh king, and you can visit the famed Henry VII tower to learn more about the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty. Free guided tours leave multiple times a day, so although you’re paying for your entry you can be sure you’ll leave with an abundance of knowledge. In the grounds of the castle you’ll find both an 80-foot circular keep and the largest everpainting in the UK, a 1100 square meter map of Wales. Kids will love reliving battles of Wales’ past on this huge interactive map. No trip is complete without a visit to the castle’s Dungeon Tower, where you can peer through a hatch in the floor to see the lone prisoner John Whithorne and learn about his unfortunate fate. 


Image credit: patuffel via Flickr​​​​​​​
Windsor Castle 
Berkshire
 
It’d be silly to have a roundup of the UK’s best medieval castles without mentioning one of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions. Windsor Castle has been the home to kings and queens for over 1000 years, and to this day remains to be Her Majesty the Queen’s weekend retreat. If the Union Jack flies high above the Castle’s Round Tower then the Queen herself is in residence, but you can look around the castle grounds regardless of whether she’s there to greet you. The castle has been a home to the monarchy since the 11th century and has seen 39 monarchs grace its hallowed halls. During your visit you can partake in a free tour of the grounds, before heading inside to embark on a historical tour of palace rooms or see the reception rooms in which the Queen hosts state visits. Get down mid-morning to see the traditional Changing the Guard ceremony and be sure to visit the historic St George’s Chapel which recently saw Prince Harry meg Meghan Markle. A fabulously British day out. 
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