Some of us are lucky enough to have a holiday castle that will tow behind a car! I took my mobile castle to Yorkshire and Derbyshire during the summer but wherever you decide to take your castle, you won’t be too far from at least one real castle in the UK.
Castles began as defended settlements built during the Iron Age. At the most basic, men dug a ditch around the high ground on which the tribe lived, throwing up the spoil to create a ridge at the top. The whole was usually surmounted by a wooden palisade style fence, creating a secure environment inside, safe from wild animals and other tribes. Being on high ground they could be seen and oversee the surrounding land.
The most famous and best preserved is Maiden Castle in Dorset. This structure has a complicated system of ditches and ridges which make finding the way in more complicated and therefore improving the security of the location. There are several earthworks marked on the map in this area and they can be hunted out from Crossways Caravan Club Site.
The next prolific builders of defences were the Romans. The Iron Age settlers were overrun by the tremendous might of the Roman army at the height of its power. England is liberally littered with the remains of Roman fortifications from Hardknott Fort in Cumbria which was only occupied for 70 years to the site at Vindolanda just to the south of Hadrian’s Wall which was rebuilt several times and continued to be occupied in some form or another for nearly half a millennium.
The closest Caravan Club Site to Hardknott is Troutbeck Head and Vindolanda is just possible as a very long day out from here. The intrepid Roman hunter can even follow the route of Hadrian’s wall from coast to coast, provided you can make a very early start and take a picnic lunch to save time eating.
Motte and Bailey castles were built during the Norman period. After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror wished to reward his knights for their faithfulness in battle with gifts of land within his new domain. This had the added advantage of scattering his own interest far and wide across the land. The knights needed to establish authority over their new estates and bring the indigenous population under Norman control.
To achieve this, they built castles. The keep or stronghold was built for the Knight to live in with his retinue. An area around the keep was walled off to provide accommodation for all the subsidiary activities, stabling for horses etc.
One of the biggest examples is Richmond Castle in Yorkshire and the most famous, the White Tower within the Tower of London. Dover Castle is built within the ditches of an Iron Age Fort and Pevensey is built within the old Roman Fortifications.
The Normans sought high ground to construct their Castles to dominate the environment and to be seen to be in charge. Clifford’s Tower in York stands on a manmade mound but Peveril Castle in Derbyshire clings to the top of a natural cliff dominating the village of Castleton. The Caravan Club Site at Castleton is within walking distance and very close to the main show caverns in Derbyshire.
The Normans reached Ireland where some stunning sites remain including Carrickfergus Castle, built in 1177 and still used until 1928. For sheer size it is advisable to allow a whole day to visit Enniskillen Castle.
From the time of Edward I Castles became places in which to live and not primarily fortifications. They took on the rectangular form with towers at the corners which many of us have in our mind’s eye as a ‘real’ castle.
The corner towers strengthened the defences and provided look out posts. The castles in Wales are superb, with many located around the coastline; most convenient for the twenty-first century sightseer who can mix a little sand castle building with some hands-on castle exploration. The Caravan Club Site at Min y Don is ideally situated between Harlech Castle and the sea.
From Min y Don you can get to Caernarfon Castle. This deviates from the usual rectangle and has hexagonal Towers overlooking the Menai Straits. It is the location of the Investiture of the Princes of Wales in 1969.
Through the Middle Ages many castles were so altered that they became more like fortified manor houses. Leeds Castle and Hever Castle in Kent are both good examples with Bodiam close by as a ruined example. Stay at Tanner Farm Park near Goudhurst to explore.
Eventually fortifications were almost forgotten. Some families abandoned their castles and left them to ruin. They went to live in more sheltered locations away from the inconveniences of being perched on a hillside in full view of every wind that blows and at the mercy of the rain and snow.
This can be seen at Bolton Castle in Yorkshire, not far from the Caravan Club Site at Hawes. The castle is great fun. From one side it appears to be complete but the other side shows its ruinous state quite clearly. The newer manor house further down the valley is only just visible in a tree lined park.
At Middleham Castle, along the A684, relocation happened much earlier with the twelfth century keep overshadowed by an earlier motte and bailey visible in an adjoining field.
In 1603, the crowns of Scotland and England became united under King James. The Picts evaded the Roman army and continued to live in tribes, consolidated into clans. Each clan had its own stronghold, many of which still survive into the twentieth century as homes.
Some can be visited. Craigievar, Crathes and Drum Castles, are all within easy reach of the Caravan Club Site at Banchory. Banchory is close to the Queen’s holiday retreat at Balmoral, part of which is open to the public when the Queen is not in residence.
After the Restoration in 1660 powerful families rebuilt their homes. They moved away from fortifications entirely and created instead our Stately Homes. For those who wish to experience a little of this grandeur try the Caravan Club Sites within the grounds at Chatsworth, Longleat, Blenheim or Sandringham.
Royalty still maintained their castles. Windsor Castle is well known to hold a place of affection in the Queen’s heart and yet its Norman origins are plain for all to see. The seat of the Dukes of Norfolk at Arundel in Sussex is another example. Stay on the Caravan Club Site at Littlehampton close to Arundel and perhaps take a long day to see Windsor as well.
Castle Drogo in Devon lays claim to be the last castle to be built in the UK. Its finishing touches were made in the early twentieth century. The Caravan Club Site at Newton Abbot is close by and within easy reach of Berry Pomeroy Castle.
Berry Pomeroy is perhaps one of our more haunted castles from the Grey Man who mysteriously appears in tourist photographs to the White Lady who lures visitors to the castle dungeon where she ended her life, imprisoned by her sister who loved the same man.
Published in Discover Touring, Autumn/Winter 2012.