Britain is rightly known for its great stately houses, castles, and churches – and its ruins are also worthy of celebration. Wandering through ancient ruins can inspire tales of adventure, historical insight, and wonder for the way we used to live. But there is one drawback with exploring a half-destroyed fortress: you only get half the story.
So here are six ruined castles OnStride has digitally reconstructed to show the true splendour enjoyed and defended by yesteryear’s barons, queens, and kings.
1. Dunluce Castle (County Antrim, Northern Ireland)
Dunluce has one of the most dramatic histories of any UK castle. Built around 1500, it was abandoned as early as 1639. The castle’s kitchen – and kitchen staff – had collapsed over the cliff edge and into the sea as the 2nd Earl of Antrim’s family sat waiting for their dinner.
Two years later, the small town that developed around the castle was razed by the Scots, and abandoned. It has now become a valuable archaeological site and the historic footprint of this short-lived settlement is a haunting destination for visitors to the northern tip of Northern Ireland.
● The castle is surrounded by extremely steep drops on either side
● Basalt stone
● The earliest features of the castle, the two large drum towers, about nine metres in diameter, can still be seen on the eastern side
2. Dunstanburgh Castle (Northumberland, England)
King Edward II’s most powerful baron, Earl Thomas of Lancaster, built this enormous castle as a show of might when relations soured between the two men. However, the earl was captured and executed before he could enjoy his epic crib.
The castle fell into disrepair after sustaining damage as a battle hotspot during the Wars of the Roses. Today, a walk along the Northumberland Coast in view of Dunstanburgh’s ruins offers a melancholy but awe-inspiring day out.
● Sandstone, basalt, limestone
● The buildings are located around the outside of the fortification’s outer bailey, enclosed by a stone curtain wall, which enclose 9.96 acres (4.03 ha), making it the largest castle in Northumberland
● The rectangular Lilburn Tower looks out across Embleton beach – it was intended as a high-status residence, 18m high, 9.1m square with 1.8m thick walls, with a guardroom for soldiers on the ground floor
3. Bothwell Castle (South Lanarkshire, Scotland)
This thirteenth-century castle saw a lot of action through Scotland’s Wars of Independence. It repeatedly swapped hands between the Scots and the English in the wake of fierce battles.
Architecturally, Bothwell is notable for its “cylindrical donjon” (a fortified refuge for the castle’s inhabitants), which was ruined in a series of sieges. Visit on Halloween and you may encounter the ghost of Bonnie Jean, a noblewoman who drowned crossing the River Clyde to elope with her lover.
4. Goodrich Castle (Herefordshire, England)
Goodrich was begun in 1102, and strengthened later that century by the fantastically named Godric Mappestone (from whom the castle probably took its name). It wasn’t until the Civil Wars of 1642-6 that the stronghold would sustain serious damage. Cromwell’s army pelted it with 200-pound balls from Roaring Meg, a cannon built specifically for the purpose.
After the war, the ruined castle was partially dismantled and then abandoned. Thankfully, they’ve since installed a tearoom so visitors can recharge after enjoying the historical exhibits and spectacular views from the parapets.
● At the heart of the castle is an early Norman square keep of light grey sandstone, with pilaster buttresses. Around that is a square structure guarded by three towers with large spurs
● The castle’s fourth corner forms its gatehouse. Here the classic Edwardian gatehouse design has been transformed into an asymmetrical structure, with one tower much larger than the other. The gatehouse included portcullises, murder-holes and a drawbridge; beyond that is a barbican linked by a stone causeway
● The bailey was designed to include a number of spacious domestic buildings. These include a great hall, a solarium, kitchen, buttery and pantry, with a luxuriously large number of wardrobes and fireplaces
5. Caerlaverock Castle (Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland)
The UK’s only triangular castle has a triple history: built in the 1280s, it was partially dismantled in the 14th century on the word of Sir Robert Bruce, to prevent it falling into English hands. Once rebuilt, it was again taken apart after being besieged by the Earl of Sussex in 1570. Again rebuilt, a thirteen-week siege during the Bishops War resulted in one last dismantlement; and that is how the castle is to be found today.
But the ruins are awesome. Caerlaverock’s moat, twin-towered gatehouse and lofty battlements are supplemented by an exhibition honouring the castle’s turbulent history.
● Red Locharbriggs sandstone facade
● Three lengths of defensive curtain wall are linked at their angles by high corner towers. On the north side is a twin-towered gatehouse, where the Maxwells had their private rooms
● High curtain walls link these towers, enclosing a courtyard; subsidiary buildings have been erected against these walls by a wide moat, beyond which have been earthworks and outer ditches
6. Kidwelly Castle (Dyfed, Wales)
Kidwelly was initially built as a wooden structure as the Normans entered southwest Wales, around 1106. Major stone fortification was added in the final decade of the 1300s, just in time to withstand a five-month siege at the outbreak of the Owain Glyn Dwr rebellion.
The following years of peace diverted the focus to residential building and the grandeur of Kidwelly’s military fortress was allowed to fade. This means that although it’s considered a ruin, Kidwelly is actually one of the best preserved and most awe-inspiring castles in Wales today. Catch a view of it in the morning mist to truly feel you’ve been transported through time.
Now you know how these castles must have looked, how about visiting the real thing? To see the original story, visit: onstride.co.uk/