The 7 best English Heritage castles to visit

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English Heritage's 7 best castles

All over England are captivating castles in the care of English Heritage, ranging from a huge 12th-century stone fortress with secret wartime tunnels to ruined remains that have inspired painters. We select seven of the best

1. Beeston Castle and Woodland Park

The ruined remains of Beeston Castle are among the most dramatic in the country, and provided inspiration for Romantic painters such as JMW Turner. The castle is spectacularly located on a rocky crag 100 metres above the Cheshire Plain and, on a clear day, it's possible to see as far as the Pennines. The earliest earthwork defences here can be traced to the late Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

The castle itself was constructed in the 1220s by Ranulf, 6th Earl of Chester. Following a siege in 1644–45, it was surrendered by the Royalists and the castle was partly demolished. After exploring the ruins, take a stroll around the enchanting, 40-acre woodland park.

Beeston Castle

2. Carisbrooke Castle

Situated near Newport at the centre of the Isle of Wight, Carisbrooke Castle has a storied history. It was used as an Elizabethan artillery fortress, a prison for Charles I during the Civil War in 1647–48, and a summer residence for Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter. The prominent hilltop first became the site of fortification in around 1000, and was converted into a castle by the Normans soon after the Norman conquest.

Walk around the battlements and you can take in views across the island in every direction. While here, you can also see the castle's resident donkeys and visit its museum and Edwardian garden.

Carisbrooke

3. Dover Castle

England's first line of defence for 900 years, Dover Castle is the country's most iconic fortress. Henry II began building the great stone castle – the largest in England – above the white cliffs in the 1180s. A siege in 1216–17 lasted 10 months, during which the castle resisted bombardment by siege engines.

A network of tunnels was dug in from the cliff face in the 18th century for use as barracks. These subsequently housed the command centre that oversaw the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk during the Second World War, and are brought to life for visitors with special effects, projections and film footage.

Dover Castle

4. Framlingham Castle

This 12th-century castle was once the centre of a vast network of power. It was built after the Norman Conquest by Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, and was home to the Dukes of Norfolk for more than 400 years. It was initially constructed from wood, with stone buildings added after 1150.

In 1635, the castle was sold to philanthropist Sir Robert Hitcham, who funded the installation of a poor house. It was eventually put under the guardianship of the Ministry of Works in 1913. Today, you can enjoy a walk along the 10.5 metre-high walls and visit an exhibition space on the newly created mezzanine level.

Framlingham Castle

5. Kenilworth Castle

One of Britain's finest ruined castles, Kenilworth houses the remains of buildings dating from the 12th to 16th centuries, including a mighty Norman keep and a great Tudor gatehouse, surrounded by a beautifully recreated Elizabethan garden. The first castle here was built 50 years after the Norman Conquest and was extended by King John, who transformed the mere into the country's largest man-made lake.

Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, took over the castle in the 1560s and, in 1575, lavishly entertained Elizabeth I here for 19 days with pageants and feasting. The tower that he built to woo the queen still provides spectacular views over the wooded park and lake.

Kenilworth

6. Pendennis Castle

This coastal fortress, one of a chain built by Henry VIII to counter threats from France and Spain, has defended Cornwall against invasion since Tudor times. It has been part of numerous conflicts and was one of the last royalist strongholds to fall during the English Civil War in the 1640s.

Visitors can view the Tudor gun deck in the keep and the restored underground Victorian defences, as well as enjoying 360-degree views of Falmouth and the bay.

Pendennis Castle

7. Warkworth Castle and Hermitage

Perched on the hilltop above the River Coquet, Warkworth is thought to have originally been built as a motte-and-bailey castle by Henry, son of David I, after he became the Earl of Northumberland in 1139. Many of the features that can be seen today date from between 1199 and 1214, including the gatehouse, Carrickfergus Tower and east curtain wall, while the cross-shaped keep dates mainly from the late 1300s.

After exploring the fortress, take a walk along the river followed by a boat trip to visit a secluded chapel known as the hermitage, which is carved out of the cliff rock.

Warkworth Castle

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