The first thing a lot of people think about when England comes to mind are castles and medieval fortresses. I’m no different- when I think of Great Britain, I think castles. But, there aren’t that many that have survived intact over the centuries..
Among those that remain there are still some spectacularly beautiful castles, and though the list is completely arbitrary based on my taste, here are my favourites.
No. 10. Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is located in the Berkshire town of Windsor, Berkshire, in the Thames Valley to the west of London. The castle is the largest inhabited castle in the world and the oldest in continuous occupation, as one of the principal official residences of the British monarch. Queen Elizabeth II spends many weekends of the year at the castle. Windsor Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror.
No. 9. Hampton Court
Twelve miles south west of London on the Thames River, Hampton Court was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. King Henry VIII took possession of the castle, using it when he married Anne Boleyn and later Jane Seymour.
Hampton Court, Herefordshire is a castle on the meadows of the river Lugg, backed by a steep wooded escarpment and surrounded by woodland and grounds of 1,000 acres. The castle, dating back to the reign of King Henry in the early 16th century, has been completely restored.
The Gardens at Hampton Court are spectacular and although a recent development, are now receiving national recognition.
No. 8. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle dating to 900 A.D. is an ancient stronghold on the Castle Rock, a volcanic crag in Edinburgh, Scotland. Edinburgh Castle dominates the city of Edinburgh and is unequalled in the whole of the British Isles. Over one thousand years of history sit on top of the famous Edinburgh rock, and when you see Edinburgh Castle you will understand why over a million visitors a year visit it.
When you come to Scotland and visit Edinburgh Castle you will see why the early inhabitants of the area we now call Edinburgh, made their first settlements here. People have always sought a safe refuge, and the volcanic rock that forms the base of Edinburgh Castle, has always afforded the ultimate safe and defensive position in Edinburgh.
No. 7. St. Michael’s Mount
Once accessible only at low tide and once a monastery, St. Michael’s Mount is a tidal island, rising 400 yards above the shore of Mount’s Bay, in Penwith, west Cornwall.
No. 6. Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle is the grandest of Scotland’s castles and one of the most popular visitor attractions in the country. Two hundred and fifty feet above the plain on an extinct volcano, Stirling became the strategic military key to the kingdom during the 13th and 14th century Wars of Independence and was the favourite royal residences of many of the Stuart Monarchs.
Many important incidents in Scotland’s past took place at Stirling Castle, including the violent murder of the eighth Earl of Douglas by James II in 1452. Stirling Castle also played an important role in the life of Mary Queen of Scots. She spent her childhood in the castle and her coronation took place here in the Chapel Royal in 1543.
No. 5. Caernarfon Castle
Caernarfon Castle was constructed at Caernarfon in North Wales by King Edward I, following his successful conquest of Wales in 1277 and the defeat of the Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. Edward I built many castles in North Wales to help subdue the Welsh following his conquest. The other important fortresses of this “iron ring” were Beaumaris, Conwy and Harlech, but Caernarfon is probably his supreme achievement.
No. 4. Leeds Castle
Four miles south east of Maidstone, Kent, England, Leeds Castle dates back to 1119, though a manor house stood on the same site from the 9th century. It was Henry VIII’s one-night stay launching point before visiting the King of France.
No. 3. Tintagel Castle
The magic of north Cornwall can be found in the village of Tintagel. For hundreds of years the area has been famous for the Arthurian legend, including the historic castle on the cliffs. And for more than 800 years, people have spoken of Tintagel being the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur. He was protected from evil by Merlin the magician who lived below the castle in a cave. In the bay below the castle is a dark dank cave said to be the haunting place of the ghost of Merlin.
Many such mysteries remain about Tintagel. Today the two are inextricably entwined and the village remains one of the most awe inspiring and romantic spots in the UK, inspiring dreams of Camelot, King Arthur, and Merlin.
No. 2. Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle overlooking the River Avon, lies in the town Warwick, county of Warwickshire, in central England. Legend has it that the first fortification of significance on the grounds of Warwick Castle was erected by Ethelfleda, daughter of King Alfred the Great, in the year 914.
No. 1. Tower of London
Home of a famous prison and home of the crown jewels, the Tower of London is in central London on the river Thames— in the Borough of Tower Hamlets — just outside the City of London. The White Tower, a square building with turrets on each corner, is actually in the middle of a complex of several buildings which have served as fortresses, armories, treasuries, zoos/menageries, mints, palaces, places of execution, public records offices, observatories, shelters, and prisons (particularly for upper class prisoners).