Stirling Castle, Scotland

Palace at Stirling Castle
Historic Scotland
Some people prefer Stirling Castle over Edinburgh Castle, and having seen both I can appreciate why.
The first record of Stirling Castle dates from the 12th century, but most of the buildings withing the walls date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Palace was used as an army barracks until 1965. Now traces of army occupation have been removed and the original Renaissance interiors are being recreated where possible.

Surrounding the Inner Close are a series of notable buildings. The Palace, dating from the 1530s and the work of James V, is the first Renaissance palace in the British Isles. It contained separate suites of rooms for the king and the queen. The interiors were recently recreated, including the notable ceiling with carved and brightly painted heads.
The Great Hall was built by James IV from 1497 onwards. It had a hammerbeam roof and decorated crenellated parapet (now recreated in a recent restoration)
The Chapel Royal was built for James VI, in around 1594, replacing an earlier chapel.
The King’s Old Building, on the western side of the Inner Close, was built around 1497 for James IV. Sections of the building may be older. Parts of it have been altered or rebuilt since. Today the range contains exhibition rooms and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regimental museum.
There are are also various vaults and outworks to look at. Below the castle and car park is Argyll’s Lodging, a town house of historic interest. Access is free with a castle ticket.
There are fine views from the castle ramparts. Look out for the remains of formal gardens on the flat land far below.
There is so much to see at the Castle that you should plan for at least a half-day visit. This is easily expanded to a whole day if you want to walk around the old town as well. The Palace and the Great Hall interior are the highlights.
If you arrive by car, parking on the Castle esplanade is convenient but at £4, not cheap.

Great Hall, Stirling
Great Hall
King's Old Building, Stirling
King’s Old Building
King's Presence Chamber ceiling
Presence Chamber
Hall in Palace
Hall in Palace
Tapestry in bedchamber, Palace
Tapestry in bedchamber
Bed in bedchamber, Palace
Bed in bedchamber, Palace
Gilded Ceiling, Palace
Ceiling, Palace
Cupboard, Palace
Cupboard, Palace
Garden remains below Palace
Garden remains below

Southsea Castle, Portsmouth

Southsea Castle exterior Portsmouth City Council
The original castle was built in 1544 for Henry VIII, amidst fears of an invasion. It had a square keep and external angular bastions. Subsequently the keep was raised in height, and a much larger set of 19th-century fortifications was built around it, with mountings for 68-pounder guns.
A lighthouse was added to the western gun platform in 1838.
The castle saw active service in WWI and WWII and was still in military use until the 1950’s.

Today, visitors can explore the keep, ramparts and a tunnel that runs under the dry moat. There are several cannon, large and small, on display. Worth a visit.
Admission is free.
A car park (cheargeable) is nearby.
There is a cafe inside the castle.

Castle Entrance
68lb. cannon & mounting
68lb. cannon
Keep from ramparts
Cannons on rampart

Orford Castle

Orford Castle from approach The castle was built in the 12th century by King Henry II. Its keep is of unusual design, being circular internally, with three flanking towers which contain the stairs and a number of chambers.
Originally it had a substantial outer wall with defensive towers, similar to Framlingham Castle, but this has entirely disappeared. The main hall is at first floor level, with another circular hall above.
Unlike the outer walls, the keep is well-preserved. Stairs give access to a basement, various small chambers, and the roof. The roof towers contain a former bakery and guardroom.
The flat roof is modern. The original roof was conical and hidden behind the upper walls.
Fine views of Orford Ness, the countryside, and the town can be had from the roof.
The castle makes an interesting visit. Visit time ~ 1.5 hours.

Main stairwell
Chamber, Orford
Orford Ness from castle roof
Orford Ness

Framlingham Castle

Castle wall, exterior The castle was built by the Bigod family in the 12th century, and was home to earls and dukes of Norfolk for over 400 years.
The outer walls and towers are well preserved, but the halls and domestic buildings within the walls have not survived. Inside the walls is a poorhouse built in the 17th century. A number of decorated Tudor brick chimneys stand atop the walls. Most of these are purely ornamental.
It is possible to walk around the walkway on top of the walls (anti-clockwise only), access being via the shop in the present Great Hall. This gives good views of the surrounding country.
The castle is impressive and well worth a visit. Visit time ~ 1.5 hours
There is a public pay car park in front of the castle. The fee can be claimed back at the Castle ticket office.

Poorhouse inside castle walls

Castell Coch, Wales

Castle exteriorCADW
Castell Coch was built for the immensely rich 3rd Marquess of Bute, who employed William Burges as his architect and designer. They conceived the idea of rebuilding the ruined medieval Castell Coch and fitting it out with a stylish Victorian interior. Work went on from 1875-91. Burges used the stumps of the original towers and curtain wall, but above that level used his own imagination. In particular, the striking conical tower roofs cannot be references to any original British roofs.
Two of the towers are fitted out as a lavish country home and banquet venue, while the third tower, with a plainer interior, was probably used to accommodate servants. There is no guest accommodation, and it seems that the completed castle was rarely used.
The first sight of the castle, with its unequal round towers and pointy roofs, is pure Disney :-). The internal courtyard, with its covered walkways, may not strike visitors as being particularly medieval, though such features were known in the medieval period.
Indoors, the banqueting hall with its painted walls and ornate barrel boarded ceiling is an impressive room. Next door is the vaulted and multi-sided Drawing Room, probably the finest room in the castle. Above the fireplace is the ‘Three Fates’ a brightly coloured piece of statuary. The lower parts of the walls are paneled. Above that the walls are painted with a design of various animal fables. Above that are galeried recesses, and above them the vault with birds and stars.
Another impressive room is Lady Bute’s Bedroom, a large rounded room surmounted by a mirrored dome. In the lower part the decoration is Moorish, while in the dome the five rows of painted panels of plants and animals suggest the Aesthetic movement.
Also of note are Lord Bute’s Bedroom and the children’s room.

I would suggest visiting Castell Coch followed by the more extravagant Cardiff Castle. It is possible to look around Castell Coch in an hour and a half, so it is easily possible to visit both in one day.
If arriving by car from the south or east, the route involves going up the busy A470 dual-carriageway, coming off at a roundabout and then going south again on a parallel road before passing through the village of Tongwynlais. If using a sat-nav, do not turn right into Catherine drive from Castle Rd – the castle entrance is nearby on the left.

Drawing Room dome
Drawing Room
Lady Bute's Bedroom
Lady Bute’s Bedroom

Cardiff Castle

Castle entrance
Cardiff Castle as one sees it today is mostly of Victorian construction, but it was founded as a Roman fortified camp. A Norman castle keep on a mound (motte) was built within the walls. A medieval mansion followed. The keep was severely damaged in the English Civil war. The mansion went through various changes and extensions, most notably at the hands of the immensely rich 3rd Marquess of Bute and his architect and designer, William Burges.
Bute also had the perimeter walls you see today re-created on their Roman foundations.
Some of Burges’ work can be seen on the exterior of the mansion, but the full effect is seen inside, where many room interiors can only be described as jaw-dropping, as Burges’ extravagant homage to the medieval period is given full reign.
Only about seven rooms are open to general visitors, and if you pay the £2.50 supplement for a guided tour, you are shown several more, but not the entire interior. In fairness, the typical room contains a vast amount of decorative detail for the eye to take in; a riot of colorful moldings, carvings, wall-painting and furniture.
Asides from the mansion, don’t miss climbing up the keep (if you are fit), and exploring Lord Bute’s tunnel built into his wall and extending around three sides of the site. The tunnel was used as a shelter during WWII and contains WWII relics, plus sound effects. In the cafe, look at a section of original Roman wall.
Despite the size of the site, it’s possible to have a look round it all in about two hours.
If you are travelling by car, you may prefer to use the city’s park and ride. When you get off the bus, ask someone to point you in the direction of the castle.

Castle Mansion
Castle Keep on mound
Small Dining Room ceiling
Small Dining Room

Edinburgh Castle

View from walls
Scottish Heritage
The most famous building in Edinburgh. If you are expecting massive medieval walls and a keep or towers on the lines of English or Welsh castles, you may find Edinburgh Castle a bit of a disappointment. The crags, with a wall across the neck behind the shooting-gallery of the Castle esplanade, were enough to see off medieval attackers. Cannon fire in various sieges demolished most of the original medieval buildings, and what stands today are mostly barracks and halls of later date. A few bits were rebuilt by the Victorians to make the castle look more like a Victorian baroque castle.
However there is much to see, enough to keep a visitor busy for several hours.
The St Margaret’s chapel is the oldest building. There are regimental museums, and around a square you will find a Royal Palace built for James VI, the Scottish Crown Jewels, a magnificent Great Hall, and the massive Scottish National War Memorial. There are prisons of war, and a medieval prison. A modern gun is fired at 1pm, and you can look at Mons Meg, a medieval large-bore cannon.

A regular adult ticket costs £16 (2014), but if you have a qualifying English Heritage card you get in free, haha.
The Edinburgh Council really don’t want you coming to their city centre by car, so unless you are willing to pay over £13 for a day’s parking, come by bus, train, or the new tram.

Great Hall interior
Great Hall
Cromwell period soldier
Cromwell period soldier
Royal Palace, tower
Defender's view, cannon
Defender’s view
Mons Meg cannon
Mons Meg

Portchester Castle, Hampshire

Castle Keep
English Heritage.
Portchester Castle is the most impressive and best-preserved of the Roman ‘Saxon Shore’ forts in Europe, and was built in the late 3rd century. It is the only Roman stronghold in northern Europe whose walls still mostly stand to their full six metre height, complete with most of the original 20 towers.
It later housed a Saxon settlement, and after the Norman invasion a Norman castle was built in one corner. The castle was used in the middle ages, and was used as a prison during the Napoleonic Wars.
The size of the circuit of Roman walls is impressive, and the medieval keep is worth seeing and has an interesting exhibition in the basement. Rooms in the keep can be reached by modern stairs. Note that in fair weather the more agile visitor can ascend a narrow spiral stone staircase to the roof, from which there should be great views of the harbour, etc. (I didn’t try it in the rain).
The castle is right on the waterfront, so don’t omit to walk out of the seaward gate and have a look.
Visiting: If you pass the obvious car park to the left, there is a smaller one on the right a few yards from the castle entrance. Admission to the Roman fort is free, but there is a charge for visiting the medieval keep. An audio guide is available. The keep has modern stairs to all floors except the roof (see above).

Roman walls
Roman interior

Dolbadarn Castle, Gwynedd, Wales

Dolbadarn Castle Llanberis
Dolbadarn Castle
Dolbadarn Castle was built by the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great during the early 13th century. Originally there were three towers, a hall and an East building within the walls on the hilltop, but only the round tower survives to any height. It was taken by the English in 1283. They removed timbers from it to build Caernarfon castle, but parts of the castle continued to be used as a manor house into the 14th century.
The keep is still an impressive structure, and the internal spiral staircase can still be accessed to climb from first to second floor levels, though the timber floors no longer exist. There are fine views from the castle mound.
Once you know where the castle is (it is visible from the narrow-gauge railway, near the LLanberis stop), it is easily reached on foot from LLanberis. There is no admission charge.

Criccieth Castle, Gwynedd

Criccieth Castle gatehouse
Criccieth Castle is a native Welsh castle whose remains dominate the coastal town of Criccieth. The castle was apparently commenced at the beginning of the 13th century. Later, it was occupied for a time by the English, who are thought to have remodelled it. It was destroyed by the Welsh during Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion in the 14th century.
The remains are dominated by the gatehouse, which looks like an English design but was almost certainly built by the Welsh. There are superb views from the castle mound as far as Harlech, Snowdonia, etc. Bring your binoculars.
The castle is worth a visit if you are in the area. Given its ruined state, looking at the castle will not detain you very long.

View from Criccieth Castle
View from castle
Criccieth Castle gatehouse