Follow the brown signs
For a man’s house is his castle – et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium (Edward Coke 1552-1634)
A little bit of history
William the Conqueror first began enthusiastically building castles all over the British Isles at the beginning of 11th century and their appeal stayed strong with the ruling classes ensuring their widespread construction for another five centuries. Castles were originally designed as fortified residences to protect dwellers from attack and as a base from which one could launch an assault if one so desired, but even when they weren’t being used for military purposes, castles still represented great wealth and power and had the capacity to strike the fear of God into nearby peasants, which proved the perfect device for bullying them into subservience. Most castles were built on land granted by the king to his loyal subjects, knights and barons and in return they kept locals from rebelling, forced them to work and collected rent and taxes. At their peak, and before their appeal faded as the residence of the noble classes, there were literally thousands of castles across the whole of Britain. The decline of the castle began in the early 1600s when rich land owners began to commission stately homes as their abodes; a castle might be grand and imposing but it wasn’t the most comfortable or practical of dwellings. The fate of English castles was sealed during the civil war wrought by Oliver Cromwell in the mid 1600s when most castles were ransacked, destroyed and used against the order they represented, the ruling classes and nobility of Britain. Advances in artillery and weaponry also contributed to their demise as they simply couldn’t stand up to the power of cannon fire. Many were abandoned, torn down, built on or slowly reduced to rubble when stonework was stolen from the once magnificent castles and used as construction materials for new houses and buildings. It was only relatively recently (in the last 150 years) that castles began being bought by organisations, private buyers and local councils to prevent their complete ruin and to restore and preserve these mighty and important reminders of Britain’s conflict fraught past. Castles vary dramatically despite the fact there were thousands built over six centuries so no two castles are ever the same. You can roam freely over atmospheric windswept ruins, like Muness Castle in Shetland and Cromwell’s Castle on the Isles of Scilly (plastic swords and battle cries optional, but wholeheartedly encouraged) and explore privately or organisation owned castles, like the spectacularly moated Skipton Castle in Yorkshire and the romantic Bodiam Castle in Kent, soaking up all the history and life of hundreds of years ago in these lovingly restored and maintained properties.
Organisations, official bodies and great links to places where you can find out more
www.britishcastle.co.uk – A guide to castles of the British Isles including descriptions, histories, photos and maps.
www.castlexplorer.co.uk – Over 180 castles are listed here with a short history about each written by people who love visiting castles, and not just the famous easy to find ones but the almost forgotten ruins as well.
www.castles-of-britain.com – Castles unlimited, all about the preservation, promotion and study of castles, the aim: to educate and stimulate people to explore castles for themselves (I like that thinking)