Monday, April 5, 2010

Medieval Dungeon Darkness

Say the word 'dungeon' and it conjurs up an instant notion of darkness and fear. Well it should too! Dungeons were an integral part of many medieval castles, particularly those castles built in areas of political and social unrest.

Take Carlisle Castle for example. Located on close to the border of England and Scotland, it has been a target for attack at different times in its turbulent 900 year history - from William Wallace to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite rebellion. It is not surprising, therefore, that when you visit Carlisle Castle, the dungeons at the base of its great keep make a strong and memorable impact upon the mind of the visitor. They are cold, damp and dark; their atmosphere is unique and difficult to convey in words. Suffice it to say, as you stand there absorbing this 'environment', it is easy to imagine the terrible plight of anyone who was imprisoned there. It is no surprise to learn that the medieval dungeon was also known as an oubliette - from the French oublier (to forget) and meaning a place where people were left to be forgotten and eventually die.

Read more about medieval dungeons and view pictures of carlisle castle's dungeons which we took on one very memorable visit.

We also have more about castle keeps.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Carlisle Castle & Naworth Castle

Carlisle Castle
900 years of history in one building - that's a piece of architecture with a past!

Regarded by many as one of the most important fortresses in Britain, second only to the Tower Of London. Like the Tower of London it is reputed to be haunted.

The portcullis as you enter the castle takes your breath away!

Crenalated in 1335, this is a small privately owned medieval castle of great character. Tucked away in the Border region close to Hadrian's Wall and not from from both the Scottish and Northumberland borders, this is a 'chocolate box' country castle. Close to the historic Lanercost Priory which received visits from King Edward I, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce - no less!.

Not to be missed if you are travellling through Cumbria (though not open to the public other than for special events).

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Medieval Castles in 2009

During the course of this year we have visited and photographed a number of medieval castles in the Border region that lies between England and Scotland. It is an area that has seen many battles for power over the centuries and is therefore littered with fortresses many of which date back to medieval times and some such as Carlisle Castle having origins even further back - to Roman times.

Carlisle Castle (Cumbria England)
With over 900 years of history. Architecturally fascinating and reputed to be haunted!

Naworth Castle (Cumbria England)
A small, privately owned medieval castle dating back to the early 14th century.

Dacre Castle (Cumbria England)
An even smaller castle, again privately owned which was up for rental at the time we visited.

Dunstanburgh Castle (Northumberland, England)
Castle ruins in one of the most outstanding locations you could ever dream of! Located high on a promintery overlooking the sea. Breathtaking views once you reach it and look down on the surrounding countryside. Legends abound about this castle and it is reputed to be haunted.

Threave Castle (Scotland)
Ruins of a 13th century castle built in a unique location - on an island in the middle of the river Dee.

Hermitage Castle (Scotland)
Another unique location for a medieval castle - this was far from romantic though. A much more desolate location. Castle reputed to be haunted.

Photographs of each of the above will be published in subsequent blog posts.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Haunted Castle For TV's "Most Haunted"

It's October again with Halloween just around the corner. So we're going to discuss all things 'spooky' this month on our Medieval Castle Blog. From legends to true, live witness accounts we've got some great medieval castle ghost stories to share with you!

First we will look at Carlisle Castle - a fabulous piece of medieval castle architecture in Britain in the county of Cumbria. With no less than 900 years of history to its name, Carlisle Castle has seen some truly turbulent times and has associations with many famous people. These include King David I (King of the Scots) who died there, William Wallace who once tried to attack the castle, Mary Queen of Scots who was imprisoned there for a time at the behest of Queen Elizabeth I, Bonnie Prince Charlie who also attacked the castle, and, in the 20th century, Rudolf Hess who during WW2 made an overnight stop at the castle on his way South having been taken prisoner in Scotland where he landed his plane. One can well imagine the intensity of some of those historic visits! It's not surprising then that Carlisle Castle is rumoured to be haunted. So much so that the TV series "Most Haunted" visited the castle this summer to film one of their shows (due to be aired some time this month). The shows producers are giving little away but have admitted during their stay, the team experienced mysterious footsteps in the gatehouse, strange phenomena in the Keep and something very unusual around one of the cherry trees in the castle's grounds. If you think it might not be genuine, think again ... staff at the castle have reported seeing mysterious figures on many occasions, especially on the top floor of the Keep.

Having visited Carlisle Castle myself I can honestly say that it has an intense atmosphere about it. The dungeons are particularly eery. See our photographs of the castle dungeons and you will know what I mean!

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Stunning Brougham Castle Keep

One of the most stunning parts of a medieval castle is the castle keep. Essentially a fortress within a fortress, the keep was built to be the last line of defence within a castle. Many medieval castles were able to withstand aggressive attack sometimes suffering an outer wall breach, only to resist and finally repel the attackers from within the confines of their castle keep.

Being a stronghold within a stronghold, the keep was often used for important food storage and also to retain prisoners. Within the keep of Carlisle Castle for example, the very bottom part of the keep was used to house prisoners from the Jacobite rebellion; you can still visit the keep and see the medieval dungeons today. (Quick nod to Dave at garage doors cumbria for reminding us about Carlisle Castle which is just round the corner from him!)


One particularly outstanding example of a castle keep is that at Brougham Castle in Cumbria, England close to the border with Scotland. Although a ruin, the bulk of the keep is still intact and makes for a wonderful sight on a summer's day. It is a great example of medieval castle architecture and well worth including on your itinerary should you ever be in the Border region.

Photographing castle keeps is something we make a point of every time we visit a medieval castle and we have compiled a stunning array of photos to date, particularly of castles in England and Scotland. Hopefully we'll find the time to upload a gallery on medieval-castle.com soon. Alas, not enough hours in the day .... but we'll get there! In the meantime, I will keep (pardon the pun!) writing about them within our castle blog so please revisit soon for more on great castle keeps, including those within haunted castles!

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Stone Carvings & Medieval Graffiti

If you visit a medieval castle, medieval church or medieval priory, you will often come across stone carvings both inside and outside the buildings.

The carvings can vary in size and style and, indeed, the purpose for which they were made. Some medieval stone carvings are of strange-looking faces such as can be seen inside Caerlaverock Castle in South West Scotland. We took this photograph (left) on the ground floor of the castle in what had once been a room with a fireplace. The carvings were quite small and in vertical blocks so obviously served as some kind of ornamentation.

Others carvings you might find elsewere are of creatures or flowers though some are the marks left behind by men who were captive there - either imprisoned or who lived and worked there.

Such is the case with a most unusual set of medieval carvings in a stone wall within the keep of Carlisle Castle, one of the finest medieval fortresses in all England. We were lucky enough to see these first hand and here is one of our photographs (right). Now protected behind a glass door, it is not known exactly who made the carvings though some believe they were made by prisoners. What is known is that they were made in the late 1400's. Some of the carvings are detailed and ornate having been done with great care and skill whilst others are extremely basic with little skill having been employed. Essentially the whole wall is a wonderful piece of medieval graffiti.

The Lanercost Cross is an entirely different piece of medieval stone carving. Located within Lanercost Priory (its stump remains in the grounds outside), is the shaft of a stone cross with an inscription in Latin dating back to 1214. To learn more just visit our Lanercost Priory page where you can also enjoy an exclusive piece of video featuring music by Stephen Caudel.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Carlisle Castle - A Medieval & Military Fortress

I recently went with my family to visit Carlisle Castle. What a surprise it was. Almost 900 years of history packed into one place - and what a history! Carlisle Castle has played a role in some of the most colourful and significant periods in British history.

These include:
  • being at the frontline of Anglo-Scottish border warfare for many years including 1315 when it repelled a particularly fierce attack by the Scots

  • acting as a prison for Mary Queen of Scots in 1568

  • being besieged for eight months by Parliament's Scots allies during the English Civil War with its Royalist garrison only surrendering after eating rats and dogs (1645)

  • being the last English fortress ever to suffer a siege - in 1746 during the Jacobite Rising. Bonnie Prince Charlie's garrison of men were unable to hold off the Duke of Cumberland's army only to become prisoners there themselves. Many of them died in the castle.

Taking a tour of the castle was both interesting and enjoyable. The architectural features were very notable as one would imagine of a truly medieval castle and there were some particularly fascinating things such as the stone carvings in the great Keep believed to have been made by prisoners in 1480. I am saving that topic for a more detailed blog with photos later on.

The exhibitions are really well presented with many artefacts on display. Walking around the castle walls offers fantastic views over the city of Carlisle and the wonderful black cannons were really impressive! (See photo) The military history of the castle is reflected in the wonderful Border Regiment & King's Own Royal Border Regimental Museum which is housed within the castle walls and to which you get free entry when you purchase a ticket to tour the castle.

There is so much to Carlisle Castle that a single blog post just can't do it justice!

You have to go there to believe it and if you can't get there then revisit this Blog and medieval-castle.com where we will be developing further content on what must surely be one of the best medieval fortresses in England, possibly second only to the Tower of London.

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