Castles of the UK: Wrap Up

With my post on Abergavenny Castle last week, I’ve finished talking about all fifteen castles I visited in the UK!

I learnt a lot about castles whilst travelling, and loved experiencing every single one of them. Of course, considering there’s an estimated 600-700 castles in the UK that still stand, fifteen doesn’t even mar the surface of what there is to visit, but I was still incredibly impressed by just how different each castle was… but also how similar!

Over my month in the UK I visited castles that retained the glory of old (Stirling, Cardiff), and castles that didn’t (Clifford’s Tower, Abergavenny). Castles that still serve as a military fortress to this day (Edinburgh), and castles that serve a function far removed from their original purpose (Balhousie, Nottingham). Castles that were family homes (Wray, Elcho, Aberdour), and some that still are (Drummond, Alnwick). Castles steeped in local history (Bamburgh) and castles that placed essential roles in the history of a nation (Warwick, Tower of London). I loved each and every one.

On thing is for sure, visiting the castles of the UK is a journey through the chapters of history and architecture; through the brightest and darkest times of British history. It is a journey, I’m sure you’ve come to realise, I encourage everyone to undertake!



Castles of the UK: Tower of London


After leaving Warwick Castle behind, we travelled down to London for a couple of days. To be honest, I don’t think we scheduled enough time for this massive city, and so we had to be very picky with what we went to see… and the Tower of London was always going to make the list! However, we had tickets to see The Lion King that night, and when we arrived at the castle later in the day than initially planned, we knew that our time there would be short. We decided to make the most of it by following a Yeoman Warder (aka Beefeater) on one of the free tours.

The Yeoman Warders have actually been at the Tower of London since the 14th century, and since then, have lived with their families inside the walls of the castle. In fact, Mint Street, to your left when you first enter the castle, is the main residential area today. Each Yeoman Warder does their own research and develops their own personal style before taking tours. Our particular Beefeater, I’m sorry to say I can’t remember his name, had a very dry, sarcastic style, and after getting a general feel for the crowd, focused on the bloody stories of imprisonment and execution… which was perfectly fine by me!

After meeting just inside the main entrance in the outer bailey of the castle, our guide led us through the Byward Tower and onto the section known as Water Lane. To our right was the River Thames and the notorious Traitor’s Gate, and to our left were two infamous towers; the Bloody Tower and the Wakefield Tower. Here, our guide told us how prisoners condemned to death would enter the castle through the gate before being held inside the castle. When their final day came, they would be taken to Tower Hill and beheaded in front of a crowd of people. Their bodies would then be paraded through the city on an open cart as a warning to others, and their heads impaled on a pike onto London Bridge… very gruesome, and, thankfully, a practice from long, long ago. Both Anne of Boleyn and Thomas Moore entered the castle through Traitor’s Gate before their executions.


However, the Bloody Tower and the Wakefield Tower is not without its own horrid history. The Bloody Tower is linked to the Princes in the Tower; the two young sons of King Edward IV who were supposedly imprisoned, and later murdered in the tower. Supposedly, the boys’ uncle committed this crime, which allowed him to take the throne. Today we remember him as King Richard III. Meanwhile, the Wakefield Tower was where King Henry IV was murdered during the War of the Roses. He was attacked in the chapel, supposedly in the midst of prayer!


After hearing these awful, but fascinating stories, our guide led us through a gate under the Bloody Tower- I believed he said it was the original portcullis- and into the inner bailey of the castle. Here we finally saw the White Tower; the original fortification on the site, and one of the famous symbols of London city. However, it was to the Tower Green where our guide led us. He first labelled the buildings around us, before talking about the very spot we were next to; the place of private execution for ten people. No doubt you’ll recognise some of the famous names; Queen Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII; Queen Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of the same man; Lady Jane Grey, the ‘Nine-Day Queen’ who was nominated to the throne by Henry’s son, King Edward VI, but later overthrown by Queen Mary I. Others who shared the green as a place of execution include Jane Boleyn, sister-in-law to Anne Boleyn but actually executed along side Catherine as her lady-in-waiting; Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury supposedly involved in a Catholic invasion; Robert Devereux, convicted of treason following a failed coup de’tat attempt; William, Lord of Hastings, a contender for the throne in the eyes of the same Richard who supposedly murdered his nephews; and Farquhar Shaw, Samual Macpherson and Malcolm Macpherson for their role in the Black Watch‘s mutiny. Whilst we stood at the Green, our guide finished the tour with the tragic story of Lady Grey, who was only sixteen years old at her time of execution. Despite her young age, she showed a great amount of courage on her day of execution, and it was clear that the Yeoman Warder telling her story saw it as the most regrettable act to ever happen on the Castle grounds.


With the end of the tour, we asked for advice on what to do in the castle with our limited time left. We were recommended a quick tour through the White Tower, before going to see the Crown Jewels, if the line had died down. We agreed and made our way across to this famous landmark. Here I’d like to pause a minute to admire the history of this 900 year old keep, which has always played a bigger role in history than that of a prison and execution ground.

Of course, as with many other castles we visited in the UK, the history of the White Tower starts with William the Conqueror. Starting in the 1070s, and completed in 1100, the fortress was originally built to intimidate the unruly London mob, and to proclaim the power of the new King. At this time, this would have been the first building of its kind in London, and would have dominated the skyline for miles, something, I think, that can be still appreciated today by staring up at the building. The castle, however, was never a favourite royal residence, but rather a stronghold and fortress.


The castle was first significantly expanded in the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272) with the Wakefield and Lanthorn Tower built. Their original purpose was as the royal apartments when the young boy stayed there in times of civil unrest. Henry also ordered a massive curtain wall on three sides, which was reinforced by nine new towers and a moat. This wall today encircles the inner-bailey, as King Edward I, his son, built a second wall around the first. By this time, the Tower of London was already in regular use as a prison for political prisoners, and its secure nature made it the perfect place for storing official papers and valuables, and for a major branch of the Royal Mint to be established. During the War of the Roses, the Tower probably enjoyed its closest ties to royalties; King Henry VI held tournaments within its walls, and the Tower saw coronation celebrations for King Edward IV and victory parties for King Henry VII.

King Henry VII also added royal residential buildings, while King Henry VIII erected a large range of timer-framed lodgings for the comfort and enjoyment for Queen Anne Boleyn in the 1530s (ironically, she stayed in these lodgings whilst waiting for her execution). From this point on, however, the castle both ceased to be an established royal residence and remained relatively unchanged. The number of political and religious prisoners increased with Henry’s break from Rome until the time of King Charles II.

From the mid-1600s onward, the castle featured a permanent garrison, installed by Oliver Cromwell, and was also the headquarters for the Office of Ordnance. The castle continued to function like this, relatively unchanged, until the 1800s, when the Royal Mint left in 1810, the Menagerie in the 1830s (which formed the nucleus of what later became the London Zoo), the Office of Ordnance in 1841, and the Record Office in 1858. During the two World Wars, the Tower was again used for a prison and execution ground, particularly for foreign spies, and was also damaged considerably during the Blitz.


Today, however, the White Tower houses the Royal Armouries, a nod to its long history as a military storehouse. I loved the ‘Line of Kings’ armour display, show casing some of the finest armour ever made for English Kings. This is a display that was put together during the 1800s, and, something I found rather hilarious, actually originally contained many historical inaccuracies to present the most interesting display. Luckily, the line as been reformatted today, so it’s both impressive and accurate! There are also displays about the institutions that were housed in the castle over the years, the treasures of the Royal Armouries in the former Great Hall, and a large collection of guns, mortars, trophies, pikes, swords, and muskets. Separate to the armoury, but also in the White Tower, is St. John’s Chapel, which has survived complete from the Norman times it was originally built in!

With such a collection, it’s really no surprise that by the time we life the White Tower, we had to get a move on to the beautiful Lyceum Theatre. This meant no Crown Jewels and Coronation Regalia (although I did get to see the Crown Jewels of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle). This was, regrettably, just one item in a longer list of things we didn’t get to see… the ‘Medieval Palace’ (interiors of St. Thomas’ Tower, the Wakefield Tower, and the Lanthorn Tower), the Chapel Royal of St. Peter and Vincula in the inner bailey, the Beauchamp Tower containing prisoner’s graffiti (and named after a famous family we’ve already met), the lower section of the Wakefield Tower detailing the history of torture in the castle, the story of the Princes in the Bloody Tower, the wall walks, or even meeting the famous ravens of the castle!

To be honest, I am disappointed in our limited time spent at the Tower of London. If I had the option to go back to the entirety of the UK and see only one site again, this castle would be my first choice. So much more than a prison, I was completely blown away by the years of history. To think I stood in the same place where the wives of King Henry VIII stood all those years ago! Of all the castles, this is the one that left the biggest impression on me, and I can’t wait to get back and spend a full day there!



Castles of the UK: Warwick Castle


Sorry for the silence over the past couple of days… it’s that time of year when you still want to relax, but also need to gear up for the new year!

The day after visiting Nottingham Castle, we travelled further south for the famous Warwick Castle. We had to squeeze this castle into an afternoon because we also visited the nearby Cadbury World in the morning, because chocolate. In the long run I’m glad we put these two together, because we certainly needed to do a lot of walking for all the chocolate we sampled!

Upon fist arriving at Warwick Castle it was very clear that this castle was going to be much different to the others we had visited (except perhaps Alnwick Castle), as it is very, very commercialised. This isn’t much of a surprise as the castle was sold to The Tussauds Groups in 1978, and later incorporated into Merlin Entertainments in 2007. However, the commercialisation isn’t necessary a bad thing, as the companies have been directly responsible for the painstaking restoration of the castle to its current glory.


However, don’t think for even a second that Warwick Castle was never a “real” castle. It has a long and very impressive history. Ethelfleda, the daughter of Alfred the Great, was amongst the first to recognise the geographical importance of the site, ordering a fortification to be built in 914. William the Conqueror also recognised the point, ordering a motte and bailey castle to be built in 1068. Incredibly, two features of the landscape are the remains of this castle; the mound on which the keep would have been built, and a sunken ditch outside of the castle. Warwick Castle enjoyed the height of its fortunes under the de Beauchamp family, who owned it for 181 years. Since then, the castle has fluctuated between ruins, stately homes, and even the base for party weekends! Today the state rooms are staged to show off different time periods, and the scene is set well with the addition of life-like mannequins. I also was very impressed by the collection of weapons in the Great Hall!

What I discovered in my visit to Warwick Castle is that when you are talking about the castle, you are talking about a building that has played host to some of the most influential men in history. The two that stuck out in my mind were Richard de Beauchamp,  who oversaw the trial of Joan of Arc; and Richard Neville, also known as “Warwick the Kingmaker”, who deposed two kings; King Henry VI and King Edward IV. Scary, important people!

Impressive history aside, there are plenty of other things to do and see at Warwick Castle, and there were two that struck me in particular. The first was the jousting demonstration. The castle was actually granted a jousting licence in 1194, and it’s the same licence that allows them to joust today! To get to the display, we exited the Central Court, walked behind The Mound and down to the Avon River. There we crossed the bridge to get to the River Island. The island actually has a long history as the spot for entertainment; in the 1890s it housed a menagerie inhabited by Japanese deer, Chinese geese, an emu (Australia represent!), raccoons, ant bears, and even a baby elephant! However, on this day in August, it was a crowd of people and a few horses that used the space. The jousting display had a plot line, but to be honest, I was there for the precise horsemanship and showy sword fighting… which is exactly what I got! The knights were very impressive both on and off the horses (and easy on the eyes, which always helps!), and the squires were fantastic at keeping the crowd entertained. Definitely worth the visit if you’re at the castle, although I recommend getting down there early as they block the bridge when the island is full!

After the jousting, my Dad and I decided to take on the wall work. Don’t let the 500+ steps put you off… it really isn’t as hard as you’d think! We first climbed Guy’s Tower, 39 m (128 ft) tall, and completed in 1395. From there, it’s across the wall, through the Gate House, and up Caesar’s Tower, 44 m (144 ft) tall and completed in 1350. Both towers offer their own unique historical events and beautiful views of the castle buildings and surrounding town. Both towers are also unusually shaped for English towers; Guy’s Tower is polygonal whilst Caesar’s Tower is quatrefoil.

Unfortunately, after completing the wall walk, it was near closing time and we had to make our way out. I’m both happy and unhappy about only giving Warwick Castle a half-day. Whilst I didn’t get to see everything, I did prioritise the things I wanted most. I don’t think it would have been easy to tear myself away from the birds of prey display, grounds exploration, gardens, archery, trebuchet display, castle dungeons, and fighting demonstrations if I had the whole day there! But luckily the castle caters to people like me… with some fancy looking accommodation, so you can spend as long as you want there!

To me, Warwick Castle seems like the place that would have something for everyone; important history, fun activities, and wonderful demonstrations. Be sure to put it on your attraction list if you’re heading off to the UK for a holiday! But if crowds aren’t your thing, get there as early as you can, because there will be crowds and lines everywhere!



Castles of the UK: Clifford’s Tower



After leaving Alnwick and Northumberland behind, we made our base in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, which allowed us to explore the surrounding area over the next few days. We spent a day exploring Goathland and Whitby, but also had an entire day set aside for the beautiful city of York. Within the city, we were lucky to stop at Clifford’s Tower, the most recognisable remains of York Castle.

The first thing you notice about Clifford’s Tower is that it is built up on a mound, technically called a motte. The motte is actually the oldest feature of the site, dating to the 1068 when William the Conqueror built a series of defences in response to the North’s rebellion against him. He actually built two mottes in York, the second was built slightly later and is known today as Baile Hill. Both sites would have originally housed castles, with keeps built upon the actual mottes. The original castles would have been made of wood, however, during the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272), a stone castle was built, including Clifford’s Tower we see today. It seems that the inner motte was the preferred choice, as Baile Hill fell into disuse after the completion of York Castle.

As part of York Castle, the wooden keep upon the motte was replaced with the distinctive four-lobed tower that remains today. The tower once had a central square tower that rose taller than the standing walls, but was cleared away in the early 18th century. The design of the tower is actually very unusual, and perhaps originated in France. However, the internal organisation of the keep would have been pretty standard; a ground floor containing service rooms, the first floor containing private rooms, and the second floor and roof for defence weapons. The first floors were actually fitted out for the King and Queen, and included what would have been a richly decorated chapel; you can still see the arched decorations of the chapel today. However, the tower was never used for royal occupation. The whole motte would have been surrounded by a moat, and connected to the rest of the castle by a stone bridge, occupying the grounds immediately by the tower.

The remainder of York Castle’s history reflects one of growth and stagnation. It seems that the castle fell often into neglect, but occasions of repair and renovation suggests that it wasn’t to be completely forgotten by the royal families on the throne. Perhaps the castle’s finest moments was between the 14th and 15th centuries, in which Clifford’s Tower was used as a treasury, exchequer, mint, goal, and seat of royal power. It was also during this period that the tower received its name after the Clifford family (previously it had been referred to as the Great Tower). However it’s not too clear just who the tower is named after; either Roger de Clifford, who was executed and hung from the tower in 1322, or his later descendants who actually acted as castle constables!

Clifford’s Tower was besieged during the English Civil War (1642-1651), but had evidently served its purpose as a garrison by 1684, when an “accidental” explosion destroyed the interior, leaving the empty shell we see today. Even after this point, the shell was used as a dovecote and even as part of a prison. In fact, Clifford’s Tower continued to be used as  a prison until 1929. The remainder of the castle buildings were lost in the 18th and 19th centuries with the building of new prisons and courts, which remain today as museums. However, you can still find little indicators of the once-great castle in York, such as York’s Great Gate to the east of the tower, and towers behind the castle museum.


Despite the relatively minor importance of the castle, there is one very black page in the history of Clifford Tower itself. In 1190 anti-Semitism flared up in York, with the homes of prominent Jews destroyed and families killed. The Jews of York fled to Clifford’s Tower to take refuge, aided by the castle’s constable. They remained in the tower for several days. The danger to them was very real; Jews found outside of the castle walls during those few days were either forcibly baptised or killed. The constable had to leave the castle for a few days on business, but when he returned, the Jews feared that he had betrayed him, and wouldn’t allow him into the Tower. The constable went to see the town sheriff, who summoned troops to the castle. Unfortunately, a large, angry mob joined the group, probably reassuring the Jews stuck inside of their suspicions of the constable. After a long siege, a number of individuals inside the tower realised that there was no possible way to make it out alive, and agreed that suicide would be a better option. The head of families killed their wives and children, and the tower was set alight internally. The few who didn’t take part in the suicide and survived the fire were killed by the mob the next day.  It is supposed that between 20-40 families, at least 150 people, lost their lives. The tower was later repaired in 1244, and the families slaughtered are remembered with a plaque outside the tower’s walls. img_4814-copy

Tragic and regrettable history aside, it seems that 1244 wasn’t the only point in the Tower’s history in which it had to be seriously repaired. As York Castle would have once been surrounded by the rivers Ouse and Foss, forming natural barriers, flooding has been a persistent problem. In 1315, flooding caused the collapse of a large section of wall and softened the motte. More repairs were undertaken in the 1323 and 1325. The Tower experienced major subsidence between 1358-136, cracking from top to bottom in two places and the near-collapse of the east lobe. This required more renovations between 1360-1365. Major repairs were undertaken in the 18th and 19th century to prevent any further damage to the castle. Today, although structurally sound, the effects of the damage is obvious; a nasty scar down the east lobe where the major crack was repaired; the internal wall work is 60 cm (2 ft) lower than its original height; the outside wall is at least 1 m (3 ft) lower than the original; and the east lobe of the castle is noticeably sloped. In fact, the spiral staircase in the eastern lobe slopes to the side, making it a scary walk down!

Although still an empty shell today, I think Clifford’s Tower is well worth the visit if you happen to be in York. The Tower’s unique design is very striking, and its dramatic setting atop the motte instantly draws your attention to it. The top of the Tower is still accessible and offers breathtaking panorama views of the city. Admittedly, these are not as fantastic as those from the central tower at York Minster (highly recommended!), but the stairs here are much more easily managed (and not as scary!). Furthermore, you know you’re standing in a place deemed worthy by William the Conqueror himself, over nine hundred years before your time. That’s not something you experience everyday!



Castles of the UK: Alnwick Castle


Leaving Bamburgh and its own castle behind, we travelled only a short distance the next day to get to Alnwick Castle. After getting out tickets, we walked in through the courtyard, which is the restaurant centre of the castle. We were actually pretty hungry, so we did stop for something to eat.

The necessities over and done with, we entered through the gates into the outer-bailey of the castle, where you get your first glimpse of the main tower house, which is certainly impressive. The first parts of the castle were built in 1096, but it’s first mention in writing is in 1136. The castle was actually ordered to be destroyed by King John in 1212, as the Lord of Alnwick at the time was accused of plotting against him, but fortunately for us, the orders were not carried out. From 1309, the castle and the barony of Alnwick were purchased by the Percy family, and has been owned by them since. In fact, the current Duke of Northumberland, Ralph Percy, still live in the castle, making it the second largest inhabited castle in England after Windsor Castle. When Alnwick Castle first came into this family’s hands, it was relatively modest, but rebuilding and expansion increased the castle size. The Abbot’s Tower, the Middle Gateway, and the Constable’s Tower still survive. More renovations in the 14th century, 18th century, and 19th century lead to the castle we see today.


We, of course, wanted to get into the main building of the castle, and do to so, you need to continue through to the inner bailey of the castle. Out of the 15 castles we visited in the UK, the state rooms of Alnwick Castle were the most impressive and grandest I saw. There was so much attention to detail in just every part of the room. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take photos inside (unsurprising since I’ve already mentioned the castle is still a private residence), which was really disappointing. All I can do is direct you to our good friend Google, and hopefully you’ll get an idea of how amazing it was.

Don’t be too surprised if you feel like you’ve seen parts of the castle before, because Alnwick Castle has been used in a lot of period movies and television series. I’ve of course made mention of the castle’s involvement in the Harry Potter movie series in a previous post, but it has also been used for filming Downtown Abbey, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Black Adder, and Robin Hood (2010). That’s impressive!


Your ticket into Alnwick Castle also gives you access to The Alnwick Garden, a short walk from the castle’s back entrance. The Garden was once maintained under the Dukes of Northumberland, but fell into disrepair. However, in 1997, under the guiding hand of Jane Percy, the wife of the current Duke, the garden was redeveloped. I didn’t know what to expect when entering, but I was instantly blown away. The first thing you notice is the garden’s massive water feature, “Grand Cascade”. As you’d expect from its name, it features several connected water fountains built downhill, and is certainly impressive. From here, the Garden seems to stretch in every direction, divided into specific sections and focuses; a giant Tree House, a Woodland Walk, a Pond, a Cherry Orchard, an Ornamental Garden, a Rose Garden, a Bamboo Labyrinth, and even a Poison Garden! I wanted to check out the Poison Garden, but it seems that you need to obtain tickets separately for the guided tour, so we were forced to skip it. However, I really loved the closed walkways surrounding the Grand Cascade, and all of the swings in the Cherry Orchard. It was the perfect place to just kick back and relax while enjoying the natural world!

We only managed a quick tour of the garden, but I would have loved to have spent an entire day there. We were due to meet friends that night, so we had to cut our entire visit short and get a move on. However, back at the castle, we did manage a brief climb up Constable Tower and a walk on the ramparts, as well as a quick bout of archery before leaving. I’m proud to say I beat my Mum 62-56, and even managed two bulls-eyes! To be fair, I have done archery a couple of times before, and this was my Mum’s first attempt, but that’s not the point!


I really wish I had longer at Alnwick Castle, because I would have liked to visit the Fusiliers Museum, Castle Museum, and the Percy Tenantry Museum, as well as spend a full day in The Alnwick Garden. However, time is something a traveller never has enough of, and it gives me a reason to return one day. Certainly a castle I’d like to go back to!



Special Post: Finding HP in the UK (Part 1/2)

Apologies everyone, as I had previously promised a post on both Monday and Tuesday that never came. I’ve been a little caught up; it was my Mum’s 60th birthday a couple of weekends ago, I went camping with my cousins the weekend just past, and have since developed a flu. However, I’m certainly on the mend!

Anyhow, a couple of days late, but ready for your viewing pleasure nevertheless, is my first post about finding Harry Potter (HP) filming locations in the UK! When I visited the UK in August, I didn’t actively seek these places out, but I was certainly pleased that I managed to find them!

Alnwick Castle

You’ll be hearing more about this castle later today as it’s the next to feature in my Castles of the UK series. However, today we’re going to focus exclusively on its use in the filming of HP.


The castle was only used for the first two films, but is easily recognisable from the first movie when Harry gets his first flying lesson (click for a refresher). Walking through to the inner circle of the castle will get you right into the thick of where the filming took place, and it’s very tempting to look up into the sky for a first year struggling to keep their broom in control.

Actually, you don’t need to look to sky to see that, since the castle holds free broomstick training lessons right on the spot where Harry and his friends had their first lesson! The lessons are run throughout the day and broomsticks are provided. I was pretty tempted to join in, but ended up in the line for archery instead.

Goathland Train Station

Goathland is a little village in Yorkshire, right in the Yorkshire Moors. My reason for visiting was actually because it was used for the filming of something else… the very old police show Heartbeat. However, it’s train station also features as Hogsmeade Station in the HP films; the station where the Hogwarts Express stops! The station was built in 1865 and has remained virtually unchanged since.

There’s a small gift shop at the station that sells a couple of things that might interest a HP fan, such as the station sign for Hogsmeade. But what’s really cool is that the station is still used by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, which is a heritage railway. This means it still uses steam-powered engines, just like the Hogwarts Express! While there, we were lucky enough to watch a steam train pull up. We decided to seize the opportunity while we could, and ended up jumping on one through to Whitby.


When I closed my eyes, I could just about imagine I was on my way for another school year at Hogwarts!

Lacock Abbey and Village

Lacock (pronounced “lay-cock”) is a small village in Wiltshire that is owned entirely by the National Trust. This is because all of the village dates from the 18th century or earlier… walking down the main street certainly makes you feel like you’re in a different time period!


One of the more significant buildings in the village is Lacock Abbey. This building was run as a nunnery between 1229 and 1539. However, with King Henry VIII‘s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Abbey and lands were sold, and eventually converted into a private house. Luckily, the cloisters remained untouched, and it was here that filming took place for the HP movies. Unfortunately, Lacock Abbey only really features in the earlier movies; the majority of its scenes are in the first. The cloisters were used for Professor Snape’s potion classes, Professor Quirrell’s defence against the dark arts classes, and Harry’s encounter with the Mirror of Erised.

However, other parts of the cloisters and the courtyard were also featured in the films. This is fantastic, because the whole monastic section of the Abbey is absolutely beautiful!

Other parts of the village were also used for the HP films. During the first film, one of the houses was used for the brief shots of Potter’s Cottage, when Harry first learns the history of his family. Note that this isn’t the same as the set that was used in the later films, when Harry and Hermione visit Godric’s Hollow. Other parts of the village were used for the exterior shots in the sixth film when Harry and Dumbledore go to meet Professor Slughorn, and convince him to teach at Hogwarts.


Although not much, I hope you got a sense of how easy it is to feel transported into the magical world of HP while in the UK. Just visiting these three locations evoked a feeling of nostalgia in me, and I certainly took the opportunity to pretend I was a Hogwarts student myself! As magical as these places were, they were nothing compared to one other place I visited… but that’s a story for the next post 😉



Castles of the UK: Bamburgh Castle


It seems I originally scheduled this post much earlier than usual.  To anyone who saw the rough draft, my apologies! Moving right along, the day after visiting Edinburgh Castle and its wonderful military tattoo, we left Scotland behind and drove to Bamburgh in Northumberland to visit its castle. This area is known for its local puffin population, but sadly we missed out on seeing any whilst we were there.

The first thing that struck me about the castle was just how spectacular its setting, and therefore its views, were. Situated right on the coast, as I explored the castle the views included shots of the pretty little Bamburgh village, the rugged sand dunes, the flat, wide beach, and finally out to the water, and across to Lindisfarne Castle on the Holy Island. I really could have spent the whole day walking along the castle walls and the Battery Terrace!

However, Bamburgh Castle has more than its pretty views going on. The site itself has been important for many, many years. In fact, the first written reference to it is in 547 A.D., although archaeological digs still underway at the site tell us that people and structures were there much earlier. The castle once played a very significant role in royal and ecclesiastical matters; the inner-ward of the castle was built in the 12th century and once housed a chapel that held a precious relic of Saint King Oswald. The ruins you see there today are of the 12th century apse of the chapel.

Interestingly, Bamburgh Castle was the first in England to fall to cannon fire. During the War of the Roses, King Henry VI sought shelter in the castle. However, the siege in 1464 by Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick, led to the collapse of the castle’s walls. It never again regained its previous status, but obviously remained a key strategic point; the great guns on the Battery Terrace were once prepared under the treat of Napoleon invading Britain in the 1800s. This invasion, of course, never happened.


The castle deteriorated but was heavily restored by various owners during the 18th and the 19th century.  In fact, it’s the story of two of these men that I found most interesting during my exploration of the castle.

The castle eventually worked its way into the hands of Dorothy Foster in 1701, and after her death, her grieving husband set up a trust fund in her memory to restore the castle and support the village of Bamburgh. Fifty-six years later, Dr. John Sharp, a trustee of the fund, oversees the restoration work in the castle. This man achieved many remarkable things that benefited the lives of many. His control over Bamburgh Castle saw parts of the castle transformed; a free school for poor children; a pharmacy, out patients surgery, and hospital; and the opportunity for the poor to grind their crops in the castle windmill. Dr. Sharp also organised meat, milk, and coal to be distributed to the poor. If that wasn’t enough, he also created a coastguard system based in the castle for the treacherous waters below. Thought to be the first of its kind in the world, this system included firing guns during foggy weather, a watch system, beach patrols, and chains to haul ships to safety. Dr. Sharp also provides accommodation for shipwrecked sailors and pays for a respectable burial for the bodies washed ashore. Despite his control over the fund, much of this was funded by his own money. Certainly a man to aspire to!


Despite Dr. Sharp’s good work, the castle did find itself in financial difficulty, but a purchase in 1894 by Lord William Armstrong proved to be its saving. Lord Armstrong had built up substantial wealth through various industries, including ship, plane, train, and automobile building, and gun making, most notably the Armstrong Gun. He donated heavily to libraries and museums and funded the building of many hospitals. He also founded the University of Newcastle! Lord Armstrong heavily renovated the castle with the intention to make it a home for retired gentlemen. However, the castle never saw this purpose as the Lord passed away before it was completed. His nephew who inherited the castle decided to keep it as a family home, and you can visit its magnificent state rooms today. In honour of his uncle, Armstrong House was created as a retirement home in Bamburgh village, and still exists today.


Well, that was my visit to Bamburgh Castle, with its breath-taking views and its story of two very remarkable men. If you happen to pass by the area, I strongly recommend stopping by to take in the atmosphere. I only wish I had longer there to get out onto the beach!