It was in this land that the great monarchs of Plantagenet, Tudor and Stuart rose and fell, where the armies of the crown waged wars both civil and foreign, from the coastal lands of Kentish England, to the wild frontiers of the north. Consequently there are few countries on the planet more endowed with historical fortifications than England, and fewer that have claim to the most dramatic of the lot.
Since their early beginnings in the tenuous period of civil strife following the Norman takeover of 1066, this selection of fortifications has continued to grow and flourish. They have accumulated bulwarks and keeps, towers, turrets, and palatial complexes to boot, making them some of the best castles to visit in England, and, indeed, the whole world.
In the verdant lands of northern Hampshire, the 5,000 acre estate of Highclere Castle is perhaps most famed for its prominent role in Masterpiece Theatre’s hit period drama Downton Abbey. But visitors here are treated to much more than just a filming location, because Highclere is also widely regarded as one of the most pristine examples of the English Jacobethan style, with an exterior façade complete with all the opulent additions of Renaissance Revivalism and a sprawling interior of regal halls and lounges.
From the 1000-year-old Ethelfleda's Mound fortification stone at the heart of Warwick’s old grounds, to the iconic Caesar’s Tower on the outer wall, the fortifications here represent some of England’s most quintessential castle architecture. As a whole, Warwick is regarded as one of the finest examples of 14th century fortification, with a range of towers, portcullises and bulwarks typical of the period. Visitors here today will enjoy regular re-enactment events and encompassing tours that take guests deep into the gruesome dungeons of the castle’s bowels.
Now regarded as the premier UNESCO site in the north of England, Durham Castle is one of the country’s enduring examples of Norman fortification. Take a walk around the inner grounds, where the dominating rise of the central keep can be seen casting its shadow over the nearby cathedral. Wander between the Norman and Tunstall Chapels, where services still take place, or head into the old Undercroft, where students in the city’s university now sip beers between lectures.
Hailed as the Key to England for its supremely powerful position perched out on the tip of the County of Kent, Dover Castle is a real beauty to behold. Sweeping views across the English Channel provide the backdrop for one of the country’s largest central keeps, while winding walls weave their way in sections around the coastal hills. On-site there’s also an old Roman lighthouse and a complex of World War II tunnels, where the British admiralty prepared for the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940.
When first-time visitors behold Windsor Castle from the pathway of the Long Walk, they are often stunned to silence by its grandiosity, size and sheer imposing presence. This is the most regal castle in the country, famed for its connection to monarch after monarch over the centuries. Inside, the great royal palace of Windsor is a rich tapestry of baroque styles and classical furnishings, built original by Henry VIII, it’s since been augmented and added to by countless kings and queens, from George III to Victoria herself; definitely worth the visit!