The county of Cumbria in northern England has a rich and interesting history, with many castles dotted throughout the region. The following article will detail some of the most interesting and well-known castles in Cumbria.
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Castles in Cumbria
Borrowdale Castle sits imposingly on a hilltop above this beautiful valley, which is framed by a spectacular fell to the south. The castle dates from Norman origins and is sited on either side of the River Derwent on land belonging to the Earl Marshal whose coat of arms (from 1808) still overhangs part of its gateway. The castle was an important command post on the northern boundary of the English kingdom of Strathclyde, guarding a pass between the Cumberland fells and the high ground of Westmorland. The castle has been much altered and extended over time, and remains very ruinous with only a few original structures remaining.
Brough Castle is one of many historical sites in this small town on the River Eden. It was originally a Norman defensive structure built in the 11th century. It was the center of government for all northern England with its own prison and court rooms. By 1408 it became one of England’s largest castles, covering 35 acres with 98 towers making it easily defensible against Scotland. The castle has had a turbulent history, being burned and destroyed on several occasions. The last person to live there was William Warden after which it fell into disrepair and was used as a quarry by locals.
The most famous local landmark in the small village of Caldbeck, Castle Howe is technically not a castle at all, it is more of a prehistoric monument. It is widely considered to be the best preserved Iron Age Hill Fort in Cumbria, having been inhabited from the 3rd century BC until Romano-British times when it became abandoned. The name Howe refers to the Norman Hill Fort which was built upon the ancient Iron Age settlement and later occupied by King Stephen in 1135. The fort reaches a maximum height of 56 meters above sea level, with a diameter of 165 meters. The nearby Bastle House was once the home of Eden Colville, who became the sheriff of Cumberland in 1746 and was to become known as “the father of local government” for his work establishing local authorities.
Caldbeck is also home to Ireby Castle which lies at the top end of Caldbeck village, overlooking the River Caldew. The castle was built by Roger de Clifford in 1320 to become one of the most important castles in northern England. It’s most notable feature is its impressive keep which is 50 feet high and has walls six feet thick at its base. The castle’s interior has been extensively modernised over the years, but the original vaulted cellars are still intact. The castle was besieged in 1495, however it was not until 1922 that plans were proposed to turn Caldbeck Castle into a home for disabled soldiers. The Duke of Devonshire purchased the castle and donated it to the YMCA who carried out extensive renovations which took 15 years to complete. The rooms were converted into 12 bedrooms, and the battlements made way for a new roof. Caldbeck Castle is now run as a Christian Conference Center called ‘Tagore Centre’ by YMCA England.
Built in the 12th century, Cockermouth Castle is the oldest stone castle in Cumbria. It was built by Fergus of Galloway and became one of many castles belonging to him. Fergus was an influential figure among Scotland’s kings and it was from this castle that he issued charters to towns and communities in Cumberland, Northumberland, and Westmorland. The castle fell into disrepair after the devastating Battle of Cockermouth (1642) during the English Civil War, when it was occupied by Royalist soldiers. The site is now owned by English Heritage and is open to visitors.
Cockermouth Castle was once home to the French nobleman, Sir Daniel de L’Isle who was said to have been an advisor to King Henry VI and was granted the castle with permission to build a town called ‘Danecastre’. He also founded a chantry at St Mary’s church in 1422 which is still in use today. The castle is also believed to have been used as a jail for those sentenced for witchcraft.
Cockermouth Castle is also known as the place where William Wordsworth wrote his famous poem, “Daffodils” in 1804 and the statue of his sister Dorothy is also located in the town.
Hesket Newmarket Castle
Hesket Newmarket Castle is a picturesque castle located in the small village of Hesket which is just north of Cockermouth. The castle was built in the 13th century by Robert de Vieuxpont, the Bishop of Carlisle and held for King John who then gave it to Robert de Vieuxpont. By 1240 it was owned by William de Forz, Earl of Aumale, brother to King Henry III and so it remained until 1322 when it came into possession of the Radcliffe family who held on to it until 1687 (with brief breaks) when they sold it to Sir Thomas Fairfax. Today the castle is owned by the National Trust and is open to visitors, offering spectacular views over Troutbeck Valley.
Eccles Castle stands high above the village of Eccles, which lies about north of Cockermouth. Little remains of the original medieval castle which was destroyed in 1402 and so what you see today is a 17th-century tower house which was built on top of the remains of its predecessor. The old castle was completely destroyed by fire in 1664 and so a new one was built out of stone (rather than wood) and crenellations were added to form battlements. It was occupied by the Duke of York until 1670, when it was sold to a Mr. Hutton, followed by Dr James Simpson in 1691.
The castle is now a private residence and is not open to the public.
Hyndburn Tower, also known as Varley Tower or Ehenside Tower, is a fortified tower house located just east of junction 40 of the M6 motorway in south-east Cumbria close to Skipton. The land upon which the tower stands was originally owned by William Dacre who passed it on to his son-in-law Thomas Stanley after an inheritance dispute with his daughter Elizabeth Dacre who had married Thomas. In 1404 Thomas was appointed Sheriff of Westmorland and he died in 1408 without any known children and so the castle passed down to his son-in-law, Sir Andrew Varley (or Ehenside).
The tower is now owned by the National Trust and can be visited. It has two floors, an undercroft and a tower house above that. The tower was used as a hunting base for Henry IV when he came on visits to the town of Skipton.
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