Saturday, February 13, 2010

Visiting Medieval Britain

Britain has some of the best medieval castles in the world. Some are surprisingly still intact and lived in whilst others just have ruins left - a shadow of their former, glorious selves. If you live in or come to visit Britain and have an interest in medieval history, then it's your lucky day because there are hundreds of medieval sites open to the public.

Medieval castles in Wales include Coch Castle, Denbigh Castle and Caernarfon Castle.

Medieval castles in Scotland include Castle of Mey, Hermitage Castle, Caerlaverock Castle.

Medieval castles in England include Alnwick Castle, Naworth Castle,

Many British medieval castles are on or near to the coast. Take, for example, Dunstanburgh Castle and Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. Both are on the coast yet one is in ruins whilst the other intact and still lived in. Both of them command some of the most spectacular locations you could ever imagine for a medieval castle. Tourist accommodation in this area is plentiful and if you want a vacation rental (self catering) cottage that's extra special, there are some luxury Northumbrian cottages on hand to make your stay even more enjoyable.

Moving further north you are soon in Scotland, a country famous for its history including medieval history with the likes of William Wallace. Now there's a medieval folk hero worth talking and writing about - but that's for another time and another post!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Haunted Castles - Featherstone Castle

As the third feature in this short series of posts on haunted castles of Britain, I have chosen a little known castle in the county of Northumberland - Featherstone Castle.

Northumberland plays host to many medieval castles including some of the most famous and breathtaking castles in Britain - Alnwick Castle and Bamburgh Castle . However, at the very edge of the county close to the border with Cumbria is where you will find Featherstone Castle.

This is one of those ghost stories that makes you sit back and pause to think for a while. Essentially, it's a tragic love story but one that had devastating consequences not just for the unhappy couple but for many others around them. It's for this reason that I chose to feature Featherstone Castle in this series.

Dating back to the 1400's when its construction began under Thomas de Featherstonehaugh, the castle remained in his family for centuries. It was in the 17th century that an event occurred giving rise to the castle's claim to being haunted. The story involves young love, a pre-arranged marriage, desire for revenge and murder. To read the full story go to our Featherstone Castle page.

Northumberland has another medieval castle with a tragic love story as the basis for its haunting - read about Warkworth Castle.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Haunted Castles - Chillingham Castle

The second of our features on haunted castles in the lead up to Halloween and all things ghostly is about Chillingham Castle in Northumberland. Even the castle's name has 'chilling' in it - how spooky is that?!

A 12th century monastery and Norman stronghold, Chillingham Castle only became a fortified castle some 200 hundred years later. It has a rich history tied to key events on both sides of the England/Scotland border. King Edward I of England stayed there when he was on his way to do battle with William Wallace in Scotland. Side-tracking for just a moment, anyone interested in Scottish history and particularly the life of William Wallace should pay a visit to the marvellous Wallace Monument in Stirling, Scotland. Having been there myself I can vouch for it being a worthwhile experience - you even get to see what is claimed to be Wallace's broadsword that he used in battle.

Back to Chillingham Castle ... stories abound about it being haunted. Two of the most notable ghosts claimed to have been seen at the castle are that of the 'Blue Boy' and that of Lady Mary Berkeley. Both are said to date back to events from the time of King Charles II of England. To read the full detail of both 'ghost stories' read our haunted Chillingham Castle page.

There are a number of haunted rooms in Chillingham Castle including the Great Hall, Minstrels Gallery and Chapel. Indeed, a good friend who once stayed overnight at Chillingham Castle said they were convinced the castle is haunted and that parts of the castle definitely had an eery feeling that they could not explain. Coming from the friend in question who is not given to flights of fancy and having read other accounts, I am more than a little inclined to believe that Chillingham Castle is possibly one of the most haunted places in all of Britain!

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bamburgh Castle, Seahouses & Self Catering - Northumberland

There are many medieval castles built near or on the coast of Great Britain, many of them purposely built as coastal fortresses to defend against possible invasion. Therefore when you visit a British coastal town or port, seeing a medieval castle there or nearby is a common occurrence. Take for example Scarborough Castle which we visited and photographed on a misty, rainy (but very atmospheric day). Slap bang in the middle of Scarborough, high up on the hill straddling the two bays stands the castle and you simply cannot miss it once you enter the town.

One of the most striking views of a medieval castle from a British coastal town has to be that of Bamburgh Castle when viewed standing in the centre of Seahouses, a delightful little place on the Northumberland coast. When we last visited Seahouses we were fortunate enough to enjoy lovely, sunny weather. We were ravenously hungry when we arrived so headed straight for the main fish and chip restaurant (I think it's called the Neptune on Seafield Road and regarded by many as the finest fish and chip restaurant in Northumberland).

Only when we came out of the restaurant, suitably refreshed, did we take in the magnificent view looking northwards down the coast - high up on its rocky crag about 3 miles away stood Bamburgh Castle. You can imagine just how imposing it must have looked back in medieval times to anyone approaching from towns and villages in the area - let alone how it would have frightened anyone if they had dared to attempt an attack from the sea!

We came away that day promising ourselves to revisit Seahouses and perhaps even stay a few days in a Seahouses self catering cottage or a Bamburgh holiday cottage, which I understand from a friend can be high quality and very good value for money as a holiday option. (See his Seahouses blog: for more ideas). There is so much to see on the Northumberland Coast that, whether you are interested in medieval history or not, it's a fantastic place for a holiday. If you stay in a self catering cottage in Bamburgh or Seahouses you can come and go as you please, make your own timetable, enjoy fantastic visits to a wide range of castles including:
  • Alnwick Castle - remember the famous lawn there where Harry Potter was filmed taking his first broomstick flight. Visit the link and see the actual lawn I photographed. Well worth a visit!

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ghostly Dunstanburgh - Haunted Medieval Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle is not an easy castle to reach. Its location on the Northumberland coast of England is fairly remote, beautiful though somehow eerie and desolate.

It was whilst driving back from a visit to Bamburgh Castle that we had the opportunity to see this magnificent medieval ruin for ourselves. As soon as it came into view in the distance, it seemed to loom with a striking, almost ghostly silhouette against the skyline. The 'ghostly' part of that description is very apt: Dunstanburgh Castle is reputed to be haunted - and by more than one ghost!

Once the largest castle in Northumberland, Dunstanburgh Castle was built in the 14th century by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, nephew to the then King Edward II. Having led a rebellion against his king, Thomas was executed for treason in 1322. His execution, however, was not quick and he died an agonising death because of the executioner's inexperience. It's because of this that his ghost is said to haunt the castle that he built - Dunstanburgh.

Another ghost reported to haunt the castle's grounds is that of Sir Guy, a knight who sheltered nearby during a storm. His legend tells of a wizard and Sir Guy's attempt to rescue a young woman from the castle to no avail only to become a ghost without a shadow, searching throughout the centuries for the lady he sought to rescue.

There's more on haunted Dunstanburgh Castle in our haunted English castles section for anyone interested in reading further.

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Monday, March 31, 2008

A Medieval Sunset & Tragic Love Story

A beautiful sunset is always a pleasure to be savoured - but a medieval one? On a recent day trip to Northumberland, having visited the medieval castles of Alnwick, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh earlier in the day, we had started heading inland for the journey back to Cumbria. We knew that Warworth was not too far away and because of its importance as a medieval castle (built in the 12th century), we decided to call in. It had been a sunny, cloudless though cold day and so it was that, without too much of a detour, we managed to get to Warkworth Castle in time to watch a glorious sunset.

When we arrived there was no-one there - only us. Overhead the sky was still blue and the setting sun cast a glorious golden light onto the castle. We couldn't gain entrance as it was well past opening time but without anyone to disturb us we were able to walk around the perimeter and down to the river in the direction of the hermitage.

I'll never forget the quiet of the early evening and how the only discernible movement around the castle was that of several black crows high up on top of the ruined walls; they were enjoying swooping down on the air currents and then back up again, clearly enjoying the last remnants of daylight before settling down to roost for the night.

Watching the crows I was reminded of the legend of Warkworth Castle's ghost, Sir Bertram de Bothal (of Bothal castle), a medieval knight whose story is one of the most tragic you will ever hear. Set in the 14th century when the powerful Percy family had taken up residence at Warkworth, Bertram fell in love with Lady Isobel Widdrington (sometimes referred to as Lady Isobella). By a weird quirk of fate, Bertram accidentally killed both his brother and Isobel and retreated to Warkworth for sanctuary. There he retreated to a nearby place carved out of rock, known as the hermitage and there he is reputed to have died of a broken heart, having carved into the rock the words:

'my tears have been my meat by day and by night'

The scar left by this tragedy is the ghost that is said to haunt the castle and its grounds - the ghost of Sir Bertram himself. A more detailed account of the legend of Warkworth can be found on our web page: Haunted Warkworth Castle.

There's also an interesting extract about Sir Bertram on Google Book Search

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Stunning Bamburgh Castle

I don’t think there’s a more stunning location in Britain for a castle than that enjoyed by Bamburgh Castle. If you have been there you know what I mean. If you haven’t, then you should! Indeed many people believe that Bamburgh Castle is the finest in all England.

It sits high up on a rock cliff overlooking the North Sea with views towards Holy Island and the Farne Islands and the drive approaching it is very special for the castle simply dominates the horizon. I’ve been to Bamburgh Castle several times and on every occasion I never cease to be amazed at how magnificent it looks. You cannot fail to be in awe of the people who actually built it; the sheer effort and planning involved in its construction must have been mammoth.

Having parked our car at the foot of the castle (left is a photo we took of Bamburgh Castle from the car park below), we walked up the fairly steep drive to approach it. As it was a beautiful, sunny day we decided not to go straight up to the castle but to venture a few hundred yards beyond, down through the sand dunes and onto the beach. I can close my eyes even now as I write this and feel that sea breeze on my face and recapture the panoramic, open views. What a setting for a medieval castle! It’s the kind of place you just can’t imagine existing – until you go there. We had 2 cameras with us that day and I can honestly say the shutters didn’t stop clicking for quite some time.

For those interested in haunted castles, Bamburgh has its own, striking ghost story. Read about ‘The Pink Lady’ on our page about haunted Bamburgh Castle.

For those interested in medieval architecture, the oldest, surviving part of the castle is its Keep, believed to have been constructed in the mid 12th century. Today the Keep houses an armoury as well as firearms and crossbows. If you’re interested in what is open to the public at Bamburgh Castle, just follow the link to the official website.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

A Gem Of A Medieval Castle – Alnwick Castle

Alnwick is a small and very characterful town in Northumberland not far from the coast of North East England. It is perhaps most famous for its medieval castle but well worth a visit in its own right.

Of particular interest to fans of maritime history (as is the case with my family) is the White Swan Hotel, a 300 year old coaching inn. It has one of the most interesting and attractive dining rooms I’ve ever seen, being furnished with original fixtures and fittings from the RMS Olympic, sister to the RMS Titanic. When you walk into the room it’s like walking into the past; the carved, oak panelling, mirrors and stained glass windows leap out at you as if from James Cameron’s award-winning movie (for which I understand a research team was actually sent to the hotel to make detailed studies because the Olympic’s fittings were identical to those on the Titanic). I’m digressing here from the point of this article (sorry!) but if you ever go to Alnwick, don’t forget the White Swan Hotel!

My family and I visited Alnwick recently; we had been to the town before but on that occasion there wasn’t sufficient time to visit the castle, so this time we were determined not to miss it.

It was a week day and therefore should have been quiet in terms of visitors but no, it was really busy! Since being featured in the Harry Potter film series, Alnwick Castle has attracted thousands of visitors from all over the world. As we walked into the inner part of the castle, my son and I, having read all the Harry Potter books and seen all the movies, immediately recognised the Hogwart’s lawn from where Harry launched himself on his first broomstick flight (see photo).

Having got over that bit of excitement we then went on an excellent, guided tour and heard about the thrilling history of the castle, its key architectural features and points of defence. The earliest parts of the castle were built by Yves de Vescy the Baron of Alnwick in 1096, just 30 years after the Battle of Hastings. If it helps put the age of this magnificent castle into perspective, we’re talking about a generation before the birth of Ghengis Khan!

My family and I have visited a lot of castles over the years and we all agreed that Alnwick Castle has a very strong, ‘individual’ air about it; its architecture and layout and the carved stone figures set randomly on top of the high walls all give it a unique character and one can easily see why moviemakers favour the place.

To read about the movies filmed at Alnwick Castle go to:

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