Top Tudor Castles (and ice cream): Part 1

England is blessed with a large number of castles (both ruined and adapted for later use) many of which are of interest to fans of the Tudor period. It is also often possible to combine two of my favourite pasttimes – visiting historic sites and eating ice cream. In this series of posts, I am going to give you run down of my favourite castles with a connection to the Tudor period (and the opportunities for eating ice cream in the local area!). This first post mostly covers northern England/Midlands, further south to follow in part 2.

Norham Castle (Northumberland)

Why should I visit? One of the most important castles in the English/Scottish border area. Between the 12th and 16th centuries, the castle was beseiged at least 13 times. In the Tudor period, it was captured by King James IV of Scotland when he invaded England in 1513. Afterward the English victory at the battle of Flodden, the castle adapted for artillery but, in the 1590s, Elizabeth I refused to spend any more money on its upkeep and it soon feel into disrepair.

What should I look out for? See if you can spot the gun positions and reinforcement around the bottom of the outer wall, added after the battle of Flodden to allow the castle to return fire with more force.

What else is there in the area? From Norham, it is less than 6 miles to Etal castle where the Scottish guns were taken after the battle of Flodden. You can also travel to the battlefield near Branxton (check out the tiny Flodden museum in the phone box in the village), pop over the border into Scotland, or travel east to the strategically important town of Berwick upon Tweed and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

Practicalities Norham Castle is a free entry English Heritage site. There is a small car park just down the road from the castle. There are no refreshment or WC facilities on site.

Ice cream? Sadly not. Bring a picnic and eat it in the grounds of the castle. There is a small tearoom in Etal which does cakes etc.

Warkworth Castle (Northumberland)

Why should I visit? Today we associate the Percy family (dukes of Northumberland) with Alnwick castle but, between the 14th and 17th centuries, Warkworth castle was the favourite residence of the Percies. Henry Percy, 4th earl of Northumberland, began builing a collegiate church within the castle walls but it was abandoned after he was murdered in 1489. The family were implicated in several rebellions in the 16th and early-17th century, and the castle became increasingly ruinous.

What should I look out for? Try and spot the ruins of the collegiate church begun by the 4th earl of Northumberland but abandoned after his murder in 1489. The Great Tower is an ingeniously compact star shaped building, look out for the light well and water collection system that runs vertically down the centre.

What else is there in the area? The castle stands in a picturesque bend of the River Coquet with a lovely riverside path to the village and the 12th-century church of St Lawrence. On certain days, you can walk the other way and get a boat across the river to the Warkworth Hermitage (check English Heritage website for times). Warkworth is not far from Alnwick and can be combined with a trip to Alnwick Castle and the wonderful second hand bookshop, Barter Books.

Practicalities Warkworth Castle is an English Heritage property with entry fee; make sure to check opening times for the hermitage. There is a car park by the castle, WCs in the car park and a small gift shop at the entrance. From the castle it is a c. 10 minute walk to the village, or there is a car park by the river.

Ice cream? Cabosse chocolate shop on the main road through Warkworth sells ice cream. If you head over to Alnwick, Barter Books also has its own ice cream parlour – Paradise.

Raby Castle (County Durham)

Why should I visit? Unlike the other castles on the list, this 14th-century fortress is still inhabited. The interiors are largely of the 19th century, but it is still possible to get a sense of the medieval castle. It is the castle where Cecily Neville (mother of Edward IV and Richard III) was born and, in the Tudor period, it was the home of the earls of Westmorland. The Nevilles forfeited the castle as a result of their involvement in the 1568 Northern Rising.

What should I look out for? Not a Tudor feature but the entrance hall was raised to allow carriages to drive into the house and discharge visitors in the dry – a very convenient feature in the cold and wet north!

What else is there in the area? Raby Castle is a couple of minutes drive from the village Staindrop. St Mary’s church contains the alabaster tomb of Ralph Neville, 1st earl of Westmorland and the rare wooden tomb of Henry Neville, 5th earl of Westmorland. If you can drive further afield, Middleham Castle, childhood home of Richard III is c. 50min south of Raby.

Practicalities The castle is privately owned and has a large car park, extensive park and gardens, cafe and shop. It is quite a long walk from the car park and ticket office to the castle. By arrangement cars can be driven up to the castle and a wheelchair provided.

Ice cream? The cafe serves a small selection of ice creams.

Peel Castle (Isle of Man)

Why should I visit? St Patrick’s Isle was fortified in the 11th century by the Viking King Magnus Barelegs, and the oldest parts of the ruins date to this time. In 1405, Sir John Stanley was granted the Isle of Man and the Stanleys were Kings/Lords of Man for c. 330 years. In the Tudor period, Edward Stanley, 3rd earl of Derby added a gun battery to help defend England against the Scots. In the late-16th century, the 5th earl, Fernadino, strenghtened the garrision in response to the threat of a Spanish attack on England via Ireland.

What should I look out for? The castle grounds also include the ruins of the 13th-century St German’s cathedral, seat of the Bishops of Sodor and Man until it fell into ruin in the 17th-century. Beneath the cathedral, you can visit the crypt which also served as an eccelsiastical prison.

What else is there in the area? It is a short walk from the castle into the town of Peel with its large, sandy beach and sheltered bay. You can also visit the House of Manannan and learn about the island’s Celtic and Viking history. A short drive around the island to Castletown and you can visit Castle Rushen. Also built in the 12th-century the castle was variously a fortress, royal residence, and prison. The Stanleys controlled the Isle of Man jointly from Peel Castle and Castle Rushen.

Practicalities The nearest car park to Peel Castle is at Fenella Beach, or there is parking along the sea front next to Peel beach. Parking fills up quickly at busy times. Members of English Heritage, National Trust, CADW and Historic Scotland can use their membership cards for free entry, or there is a holiday pass which gives entry to all Manx Heritage sites.

Ice cream? Yes! Davison’s Ice Cream Parlour on the sea front has a wide range of flavours. Take your ice cream down to Peel Beach and enjoy the stunning view of the castle.

Ludlow Castle (Herefordshire)

Why should I visit? Originally one of several castles built to secure the Welsh border area following the Norman conquest, Ludlow Castle would later become the seat of the Council in the Marches of Wales. Prince Arthur Tudor and his wife, Catherine of Aragon lived here for the few short months between their marriage and his death. Princess Mary Tudor also resided at Ludlow in 1525 and 1526 when she was appointed to oversee the Council of the Marches. The castle was restored in Elizabeth I’s reign by Sir Henry Sidney.

What should I look out for? Climb the stairs of the Solar Block, it is here that Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon resided (and where the consumation of their marriage was said to have taken place). In the inner bailey, look out for the nave of the castle chapel, one of the only surviving round naves in the country.

What else is there in the area? It is a short drive from Ludlow to Stokesay Castle, a fortified medieval manor house. Slightly further afield, you can drive to the Georgian riverside town of Bewdley – Prince Arthur’s body lay overnight at Tickenhill Manor on the edge of the town on the way from Ludlow to Worcester.

Practicalities The castle is privately owned and has a small cafe – you have to exit through the gift shop to go back into the cafe. Car parking is available in Ludlow.

Ice cream? No but the castle tea room serves lovely cakes. In Bewdley, Mrs Chill’s Ice Cream parlour on Load Street near the bridge has a good range of flavours.

Kenilworth Castle (Warwickshire)

Why should I visit? A stunning castle with a 12th-century tower, Great Hall built for John of Gaunt in the 14th century, and Leicester’s block built in the 16th-century specifically for Elizabeth I. Elizabeth stayed at the castle on four occasions. In 1575, she visited for the last time and stayed for 19 days during which time she was treated to a firework display and a specially designed garden. The culmination should have been a masque at which Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, would propose marriage but it was rained off and the Queen left.

What should I look out for? Stairs have been fitted to the inside of Leicester’s block to allow visitors a closer view of the chambers built for Elizabeth, and the garden built for the queen has been restored.

What else is there in the area? You can walk around the outside of the castle in the former mere, the views of the castle are worth even a short stroll. It is not far from Kenilworth to Warwick where you can visit Warwick castle or go to St Mary’s church and see the tombs of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick; Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester; and Ambrose Dudley, earl of Warwick.

Practicalities This is an English Heritage site with entry fee. There is a car park over the road from the castle, it is quite a long walk from the entrance to the site across the former mere to the castle itself.

Ice cream? There is a small tea room in the stables which sells some ice creams and ice lollies.

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