With its full moat, spiral staircases, battlements and original wooden portcullis, a visit to Bodiam Castle makes it all too easy to imagine you’re back in the 14th century. Enough of the interior ruins survive to give an impression of castle life, and you may even encounter some colourful characters from the past who will tell you tales about Bodiam’s history.
The imposing Castle Drogo is often shrouded by atmospheric moorland fog but also, at the moment, by scaffolding. This 20th-century Lutyens masterpiece was the last castle to be built in Britain, and we're now nearing the end of a six-year conservation project to make the building watertight. The inside of the castle has been completely redisplayed with theatrical installations and a chance to get up close to the building work by climbing up the project viewing tower. Once you’re done exploring inside, why not explore the gardens or follow the winding paths down into the sheltered Teign Valley?
Chirk was built in the early 1300s as a stark symbol of Edward I’s power - intended to subdue the unruly lords of the Welsh Marches. During its 700 year history the many inhabitants of Chirk have all left their mark – from the medieval tower and dungeon, to the 17th-century Long Gallery, grand 18th-century state apartments, and 1920s Bow Room. If you want to explore further then why not take a stroll through the gardens, or head out into the 480-acre parkland?
It’s hard to miss the dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle, perched high on the hill above the sleepy Dorset village to which it has given its name. There’s a long and dramatic history surrounding the castle – from its beginnings as a Norman stronghold to being besieged during the Civil War. It’s continued to inspire people ever since - the ruins, which are thought to have been Enid Blyton’s inspiration for Kirrin Castle in the ‘Famous Five’ novels. Follow the trail out of the village and see if you can imagine 18th-century smugglers hauling contraband across Corfe Common on their way from the Purbeck coast to London.
These days more ruin than castle, Dunstanburgh still dominates one of the most beautiful stretches of the Northumberland coastline. Let your imagination take you back to the Wars of the Roses, when the Castle was the focus of fierce fighting between the Yorkists and Lancastrians. Or if you fancy something a little more peaceful, take a stroll along the shore to the tiny fishing village of Craster to sample the famous local kippers.
The high wooded hill top at Dunster has been home to a castle for more than 1000 years. The current building was re-modelled into a comfortable family home for the Luttrell family in the mid-19th century, but the medieval gatehouse and ruined tower give reminders of Dunster’s turbulent past as a frontier fortress against Celtic and Viking raiders. There are also plenty of ghost stories to discover and secret passages to explore - if you feel brave enough.
Penrhyn might look like a classic Norman castle, but it’s actually a mere 200 years old. It was built for George Hay Dawkins Pennant and his family, who over the years filled the castle with with fascinating items. There's a one-ton slate bed made for Queen Victoria, elaborate carvings, plasterwork and mock-Norman furniture, plus an outstanding collection of paintings. Today you can explore the elaborately decorated rooms, or head outside to wander through the gardens and take in spectacular views of Snowdonia and the North Wales coast.
Looking like the set for a romantic fantasy, this imposing house is at the gateway to the Lake District. It's still home to the Strickland family, so you'll find centuries-old portraits and fine furniture sitting alongside modern family photographs. The 1,600-acre estate includes limestone pasture, orchards and ancient, semi-natural woodland, plus a beautiful garden rich with seasonal blooms.
Rising proudly from the flat Lincolnshire fens, Tattershall Castle, with its huge Gothic fireplaces and church-like windows, was designed to impress. Built in the 15th century by Lord Ralph Cromwell, Treasurer of England, it was designed to show off his wealth, position and power. Climb the 150 steps from the basement to the battlements and enjoy the magnificent views, then explore the grounds, moats, and the largest parish church in the country.
Wray is a mock-Gothic castle sitting on the shores of Lake Windermere, with turrets and towers galore. It was donated to us without any contents, but the empty rooms still provide hints of its grand past and varied history, with plenty of activities for little explorers to get stuck in to. The Peter Rabbit Adventure rooms are the perfect play space for smaller children – themed for Beatrix Potter, who spent her summer holidays at the castle when she was 16. Why not board one of the regular lake cruises from Ambleside to arrive at Wray Castle in style?
Look beyond the walls of our castles and forts to discover intriguing stories of love, betrayal and warfare. You'll find plenty of inspiration for your next castle visit, as well as learn about modern-day conservation efforts.
Follow willow tunnels or make your very own woodland den in our natural play areas. You can also splash along muddy trails, hang onto rope swings and hunt for treehouses and bug hotels. Here's our pick of the best natural play areas at our places.