Along the wild northern coast of Cornwall, Tintagel Castle is where history meets legend – combining the ruins of a Dark Age castle with the mythical stories of King Arthur. All of which comes with a dramatic setting on one of the UK’s most spectacular stretches of coastline. Legend has it that this was where Arthur was conceived. His father Uther Pendragon was besotted with the Duke of Cornwall’s wife Ingraine. So when he heard the duke had been killed, Pendragon got Merlin to use his magic and disguise him as the duke.
As the frontier between England and centuries of Scottish and Viking invaders, Northumberland has seen some fierce battles over the years. So it’s no wonder that you can’t move far in the county without coming across a castle. Northumberland has over 70 castles still standing, so it’s a must-visit for any castle or history lover. But where to start? Here are five of my favourite Northumbrian castles to help you find your perfect castle, whether you prefer them ruined and remote, or lavish and perfectly preserved.
Perched on top of a rock, Harlech Castle towers over the North Wales countryside. One of the country’s most impressive medieval castles, it was built by Edward I in the 13th century during his invasion of Wales. It was heavily fortified with two rings of walls and towers and constructed at the top of an almost vertical cliff with the sea below, so there was no chance of anyone sneaking up on you. But that didn’t stop Owain Glyndwr capturing it for the Welsh in 1404 – and the English capturing it back five years later.
In the heart of Cardiff, the city’s castle brings together 2000 years of history in one place. Over the years it’s been a Roman fort, Norman Castle, Victorian Gothic mansion and a Second World War refuge. The first building here was a Roman fort, long-destroyed by the time the Normans arrived in 1181. They built a new castle, with an imposing keep on top of a motte – or hill – which you can still climb for fantastic views over the city. The castle was passed down through generations of noble families until it reached the Bute family in 1766 who transformed it again.
On Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, the islanders live their lives based on the rhythm of the tides. Linked to the Northumbrian mainland by a narrow causeway, twice each day the island is completely cut off by the tide. You can only travel between Lindisfarne and mainland during twice-daily six-hour periods, which change every day. So Lindisfarne’s businesses have to set different opening hours each week based on the tide tables.
In the small Cotswold town of Winchcombe is Sudeley Castle. One of the few castles that’s still a private home, its owners Lord and Lady Ashcombe open it up to visitors for part of each year. Over the years since it was built in the 15th century it’s had numerous owners and played host to at least six English Kings and Queens. The castle’s most famous resident was one of them – Katherine Parr, aka Henry VIII’s sixth wife. She managed to escape the fate of the previous five wives and outlive him, moving to Sudeley after his death. But she died only 18 months later, aged 36, following complications from childbirth and was buried in the castle’s chapel.
Stumbling off the Caledonian Sleeper into a sunny Edinburgh morning, my first stop was the castle. Set at the end of the Royal Mile, it towers over the city from the top of volcanic Castle Rock, giving spectacular views across Edinburgh and beyond. The castle dates back to the eleventh century and over the years has been used as a fortress, prison, treasury and refuge. It’s now Scotland’s most popular visitor attraction as well as home to two Scottish army regiments and the site of the famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Set high up on a hill with far-reaching views along the Californian coast, Hearst Castle is the former home of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. An eccentric mixture of architectural styles, he changed the design so many times he died before it was completed. The castle has 56 bedrooms, indoor and outdoor pools, an airfield, a cinema and a private zoo – you can still spot a few zebras in the grounds today.