Visit Durham Castle and head back in time to the world of the Prince Bishops. Situated in the heart of Durham, the castle is part of a World Heritage Site that includes the cathedral and university buildings. It seems equal parts Harry Potter, Brideshead Revisited and Inspector Morse.
The castle is now a working museum and also houses students at University College, the oldest college of Durham University. As such, it’s bustling and vibrant despite being built almost 1,000 years ago. Very much in touch with its academic usage, it has a regular schedule of lectures, while the museum has permanent and temporary exhibitions.
The earliest surviving parts of the castle date from around 1072, when William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a new fort. Visits are conducted daily by tour guides who will explain the rich history of the building, which looms over the city above the River Wear and medieval marketplace.
The castle’s age means it displays architectural style ranging over nine centuries – from porticos to half-timbered constructions and Norman archways. The 13th Century Great Hall displays 17th century arms and armour, while the Tunstall gallery has Jacobean tapestries and furniture. The most ancient parts of the castle are accessed via The Black Stairs; the Norman galleries and chapel date to 1078 and still boast original features. It’s time travel in one building and it really does seem bigger on the inside.
Just across Palace Green – there’s an excellent tearoom on the way should you require fortification – is the awe-inspiring Durham Cathedral. Housing the shrine of St Cuthbert and the tomb of the Venerable Bede, it’s also packed with historical artefacts relating to the English Civil War and the border struggles with the Scots. No stuffy old building this, the cathedral boasts modern works of art, regular temporary exhibitions and an effigy of itself made from LEGO. Climb to the top of the tower on a pleasant day and enjoy some of the most stunning views of the North East for miles and miles.
Not a lot of people know that Newcastle has a castle... even if the city’s name might have led them to suspect it had. Opened to the public in 2015 following a multi-million-pound redevelopment, it comprises two buildings – the Castle Keep and Black Gate.
The new Newcastle Castle is no urban ruin though. The Black Gate and Castle Keep have been re-engineered as museums, using digital displays to tell the often grisly story of the medieval stronghold, with in-depth displays covering the backgrounds of both buildings’ inhabitants over the ages and offering an insight into Newcastle's ancient heritage.
There’s been a fort on the site of Newcastle Castle through Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Norman times, although what remains today was built in the 12th century and restored during the Civil War.
The Norman-built Castle Keep was used as a prison and it’s notorious for its appalling conditions – you can still see the marks left by previous inhabitants gouged into the walls. The neighbouring Black Gate was used for public executions during the 18th century and research suggests the unfortunates were hanged, drawn and quartered. It’s perhaps unsurprising then, that locals claim this daunting edifice is haunted...
Famous inhabitants – then and now, if you believe in ghosts – include the Poppy Girl, a flower girl and previous resident of the castle who was jailed for getting into debt and was beaten and died in the castle prison. There are regular ghost tours around the castle as a result, describing the grim past of the dungeons, chambers and passageways. Walking tours that explore the castle as part of historic Newcastle are also popular for a broader exploration of the city’s history.
The castle has become a popular venue for a range of events too. March also has an album launch, film nights and a talk about Newcastle’s most famous (and horrifying) gargoyle – the so-called Vampire Rabbit. If that all sounds a little lurid, you can simply climb the Keep’s 99 stairs for stunning views over the Newcastle quayside and Gateshead. Tickets cost £6.50 for adults and £3.90 for children.
Few sites in the UK can claim to have been as pivotal in English history as Scarborough Castle – Romans, Vikings, Normans, Tudors and Germans have fought over it for millennia. Steeped in 3,000 years of conquest, conflict and religion, it has hosted some of England’s most important battles, provided insights into the country’s archaeological heritage and come under bombardment during WWI.
All that and it’s a really cool place to take a selfie, with views stretching north and south along the coast and specially constructed viewing platforms on the battlements offering unrivalled panoramic vistas – a testament to the castle’s strategic importance in the defence of the realm.
Once a 4th century Roman signal station, the castle had its heyday in the 12th century when it was developed by Henry II and King John. Five hundred years later it was twice besieged by Parliamentarians in the Civil War, and has defended king and country from the Jacobites, Napoleon and the German Kaiser. It’s a story told through interactive touchscreen displays in the Master Gunner's House – easily identified by a pair of cannon standing guard outside. Alternatively you can pick up an audio guide to escort you around the ruins.
Scarborough Castle’s collection of artefacts spans several thousand years – from pre-history to the present day. You can view many in the castle’s museum, along with items from Scarborough Museums Trust, including replica Bronze Age swords, pottery and Civil War coinage – a window into the extensive past of this majestic site.
As well as the walls, there’s another form of fortification at the castle: a tearoom in the Master Gunner's House serving homemade cakes and sandwiches, plus a brew. There are wines – and that staple of medieval England, mead – to sample too, or take home as a memento of your visit. Alternatively, take a picnic blanket and find a spot amid the 16-acre site and dine with views over the North Sea.