Yorkshire's commanding castles

Historic stone-built strongholds

Yorkshire is a region of fine stone castles, rich in their history as homes in times of peace and strongholds in times of civil war.

Yorkshire has castles built and influenced by kings and queens and by the lords and ladies of vast manorial estates. Many have suffered from ruin and dismantling as the result of war, but in recent times they have been better looked-after, attracting thousands of visitors to look at the significant role they have had in shaping Yorkshire's past history.

Bolton Castle

Castle Bolton, near Redmire, North Yorkshire
One of Britain's best-preserved medieval castles was built as one of the finest homes in the land and is still in the ownership of a descendant of the castle's original owner. With a commanding view over Wensleydale, the castle is situated near Redmire, about 5 miles west of Leyburn and 6 miles east of Askrigg. Although partially slighted by Oliver Cromwell during a Civil War siege it has been preserved in excellent condition. The castle is opened to visitors daily between the start of April and end of October except on dates when weddings are being held. Visitors can access much of the castle and its gardens and daily displays include birds of prey, archery and wild boar feeding. Full details can be found on the owner's website.

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More information at the  Bolton Castle website.

Bowes Castle

Bowes, County Durham (formerly North Riding of Yorkshire)
Bowes Castle was built in the late 12th century on the site of the Roman Fort of Lavatris at one end of the Stainmore Pass. Between the 1st and 4th century this was part of a Roman route from York to Carlisle and continued to have strategic importance. From 1171, King Henry II was responsible for fortifications against an invasion from the Scots, which came between 1173-4 when the castle was beseiged. After the Scottish retreat, building work on the castle continued until 1187. In 1322 the castle was again beseiged in an uprising against the castle's then governor and in the 17th century, after the English Civil War, parts of the castle were dismantled for stone which was reused in local buildings. Today there are only ruins of the original three-storey keep. The site is managed by English Heritage and is freely open during daylight hours.

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More information at these  English Heritage - Bowes Castle web pages.

Conisbrough Castle

Conisbrough, South Yorkshire
The castle is situated in the small town of Conisbrough, about five miles south-west of Doncaster. Its tall circular cylindrical keep has had its walls and roofs restored to create a feeling of how the castle would have been in the late 12th century when it was built. In 1201, the castle had a royal visit, when King John stayed there. The castle became famous through fiction as the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott's 'Ivanhoe'. The historic site is managed by English Heritage.

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Find out more at the  English Heritage - Conisbrough Castle web pages.

Helmsley Castle

Castlegate, Helmsley
Helmsley Castle is at the western side of Helmsley overlooking the River Rye. The ruins provide an insight into the development and remodelling of the castle between the 12th and 14th centuries and the Tudor mansion house created on the site in the 16th century. An unusual feature of the early castle was the creation of two great towers rather than the more common single keep. Although through most of its life it was the centre of a family estate, the castle was briefly in royal hands when in 1478 it was bought by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who owned the castle until his death as King Richard III in 1485, after which it reverted to family ownership. In the English Civil War the castle had been held for the Royalists, but surrendered to Parliament in November 1644, after which it was slighted. The castle, managed by English Heritage, is open daily except from November to mid-February when there are weekend opening times. Helmsley is also the location of an English Heritage archaeology store for the north of England which can be visited on pre-bookable monthly tours.
Find out more at the  English Heritage - Helmsley Castle website.

Knaresborough Castle and Courthouse Museum

Castle Yard, Knaresborough
In the town of Knaresbough, about 3 miles from Harrogate, Knaresborough Castle is a ruined Royal Castle on a rocky outcrop overlooking the River Nidd. The castle has a rich history. Originally dating from around 1100, Kings Henry I, John, Edward I and Edward II all oversaw building and improvement works to their northern fortress, while Queen Philippa, wife of Edward III, made it a summer residence in the 14th century. The castle was taken by Parliamentarians after a siege in the Civil War in 1644 and four years later orders from Parliament to destroy Royalist castles saw it dismantled. The museum reveals Knaresborough's role in the Civil War and other stories in the town's history and includes an original Tudor courtroom. The castle ruins remain part of the Duchy of Lancaster, but, together with the museum, is maintained by Harrogate Borough Council.

Find out more at the  Knaresborough Castle and Courthouse Museum web pages.
Find on map:  Knaresborough Castle

Middleham Castle

Castle Hill, Middleham, North Yorkshire
Middleham has substantial remains of a castle built in stages between the 12th and 15th centuries, including a late 12th century keep which is one of the largest hall keeps in the country. Ditch and timber defences were not replaced with the low stone curtain wall until the early 14th century. It is notable as the place where, in the 1460s, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who later became King Richard III, spent several years of his youth under the guardianship of his cousin Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. During the War of the Roses, King Edward IV was imprisoned at Middleham Castle for a short time in 1469. The castle is managed by English Heritage.

More information at these  English Heritage - Middleham Castle web pages.  Find Middleham Castle on map

Pickering Castle

Castlegate, Pickering
Pickering Castle was originally built as a Norman motte and bailey timber castle at a time when the Manor of Pickering was held by the king, William the Conqueror, as recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. It was mostly rebuilt in stone between 1180 and 1236, although the stonework of the outer bailey was not completed until about 1326 in the reign of Edward II. The castle then guarded the nearby forest, was also used as a court and prison and was the place where Edward II's royal stud was managed. The castle's remains are well-preserved in comparison to some other castles as it did not suffer during the War of the Roses or the English Civil War. The castle is managed by English Heritage.
More information at the  English Heritage - Pickering Castle website.

Pontefract Castle

Castle Garth, Pontefract, West Yorkshire
Once the most impressive castle in Yorkshire, Pontefract Castle has been a ruin for around 380 years. It is believed to be the place where King Richard II died in 1400, the king having been imprisoned there in 1399. The castle was referred to (as Pomfret) in William Shakespeare's play Richard III as the place where Richard II was 'hack'd to death', although many historians put starvation as the likely cause. Mystery still surrounds the death as there were also stories of Richard's escape to Stirling in Scotland. The castle was visited in August 1541 by King Henry VIII with his queen of the past year, Catherine Howard, and also Thomas Culpeper. Culpeper was at the end of that year beheaded in London for his alleged adultery with the queen, who was herself executed a few weeks later. Pontefract Castle was a royalist stronghold in the English Civil War and was beseiged several times by Parliamentarian forces before its remains were destroyed in 1649. Low and excavated walls and the cellars of the castle are all that remain today. The castle remains have in recent times been clad in huge amounts of scaffolding during a £3.5m lottery-funded refurbishment project. A new visitor centre has now been created from the old barn at the castle.

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Richmond Castle

Tower Street, Richmond, North Yorkshire
One of the finest and most complete Norman castles in Britain, around which the town of Richmond developed. Its vast square keep, 100ft (30 metres) high, is a dominant feature of the town with magnificent views. The castle was built for the Count of Brittany, Alan Rufus, high above the River Swale in 1071, just 5 years after the Battle of Hastings and Norman conquest. There are substantial remains of 11th century walls and its domestic hall. This was added around the 1150s by Conan, Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond, the great-nephew of Alan Rufus. After Conan's death in 1171 the castle came under the control of King Henry II. Many years on, a Victorian addition to the castle was an armoury which was later used in World War I to imprison conscientious objectors who became known as the Richmond 16. A Victorian barrack block built at castle in 1855 was demolished in 1931. The castle is managed by English Heritage.

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More information at these  English Heritage - Richmond Castle web pages.

Sandal Castle

Manygates Lane, Sandal Magna, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire
About two miles south of the city centre, the ruins of the medieval motte and bailey castle are freely open to the public and overlook the River Calder and the city. Some walkways at the castle, including steps to the keep, have recently been undergoing renovation and repairs following a £700,000 investment by Wakefield Council. The castle stood just above the site of the War of the Roses Battle of Wakefield in December 1460. Its damage, however, was ordered by Parliamentarians after the surrender of a Royalist garrison there in October 1645 during the English Civil Wars.
More information at the  Wakefield Council - Sandal Castle web pages.
Find on map:  Sandal Castle

Scarborough Castle

Castle Road
In its clifftop location on the headland between North and South Bays, the ruined castle is the centrepiece of Scarborough. The castle includes ruins from a 4th century Roman signal station and medieval chapel, but its most dominant feature is the half-ruined keep. The tower was built by Henry II between 1159 and 1169 and was used as a grand residence. Half its 12-foot thick walls were damaged during an English Civil War siege in 1645. The castle also has a rebuilt barbican gate tower and bridge from 1243 and remains of a royal lodging dating from the early 13th century. King John and Henry III invested heavily in the castle. In more recent history Scarborough Castle was one of the targets of the World War I bombardment of the town of Scarborough by German battlecruisers on December 16, 1914. Scarborough Castle is now managed by English Heritage.

More information at the  English Heritage - Scarborough Castle website.

Skipsea Castle

off Beeford Road, Skipsea, East Riding of Yorkshire
Very little but earthworks remain of Skipsea Castle and its adjacent fortified borough Skipsea Brough, but it was one of the earliest Norman fortifications in Yorkshire, built around 1086 for the Lord of Holderness, a title granted by William the Conquerer with land stretching along the coast from the Humber to Bridlington. The site is in the attractive village of Skipsea, about 5 miles north-north-west of Hornsea. The motte and bailey castle was destroyed in the early 13th century, but its large earth mound is still clearly visible. There is free entry to the castle site, which is managed by English Heritage.

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Skipton Castle

The Bailey, Skipton, North Yorkshire
Skipton Castle is one of England's best restored medieval castles, standing between the town of Skipton and the top of a rocky cliff over the Eller Beck. The castle was first built as a Norman fort at the end of the 11th century, but was replaced in stone and in the early 14th century turned into a formidable stronghold after being granted to the Clifford family by King Edward II. Inside, the castle reveals how it was modified over the centuries, including a charming early Tudor courtyard with a yew tree growing at its centre. The castle was the scene of a Royalist last stand in the north during the English Civil War when it withstood a three-year siege until 1645. After the castle yielded, it was ruined by the Parliamentarians in the winter of 1648-9, but between 1657 and 1658 Lady Anne Clifford saw it carefully restored. The castle is open daily.

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Find out more at  Skipton Castle website.

Spofforth Castle

off Castle Street, Spofforth
Spofforth Castle is the ruins of a fortified manor house about 6 miles by the A661 road to the south-west of Harrogate. William the Conqueror granted Spofforth to William de Percy, a favourite who was granted many estates in Yorkshire. A manor was built and extended through the 13th century by later generations of the Percy family. It is reputed that the Magna Carta was drawn up there in 1215. Although the Percy family made Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland, their base from early in the 14th century, Spofforth remained within the family and underwent some remodelling in the early to mid 15th century. In the War of the Roses, the Percy family supported The House of Lancaster and the castle was wrecked by Yorkists who had gained victory in the 1461 Battle of Towton in which Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland was killed. There was some 16th century restoration, but it was reduced to ruins around the time of the Civil War. The site is free to enter and managed by English Heritage.

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Further details at the  English Heritage - Spofforth Castle website.

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