Man the forts! Top Cornish castles
Ready for a right royal day out? We've rounded up the best Cornish castles. Tiara (or sword) at the ready, let's go!
With a lot of coastline and countryside that has needed defending, it is no surprise that Cornwall has rather a lot of castles and hill defences – not all of them are open at the moment though, so here’s our guide to the best of the bunch – if you book quickly it will keep them occupied for the rest of the school holidays.
St Michael’s Mount, off Marazion, nr Penzance
Emerging out of the water in Mount’s Bay off the coast of Marazion is a tidal island with a castle perched on the top. As the tide falls, the causeway literally appears before your eyes; a magical fairytale in action, beguiling both adults and children to begin the intrepid journey across the bricks to the rugged outcrop across the bay (the boats aren’t running at the mo, so it’s walking only – check the tide times).
The current castle was built in the 12th century built by the same monks who were also responsible for Mont St Michel, off the coast of Normandy, France. The next few centuries saw sieges, battles, captures and in 1588 the beacon was lit at the top of the Church tower, the first of the chain of beacons lit across England’s south coast alerting London that the Spanish Armada had been sighted.
In 1659 the Mount was sold to Colonel John St Aubyn and the island has remained in the family since, with most of the Mount being bequeathed to the National Trust in 1954 allowing the St Aubyn family a lease to live in the castle and run the visitor business on the island.
Tintagel Castle, Tintagel
Cornwall’s most famous castle is Tintagel – and there’s only some ruins left on the clifftop high on Cornwall’s rugged north coast. Inextricably linked with the legend of King Arthur, legends abound. For centuries this dramatic castle and coastline has fired the imaginations of writers, artists and even the brother of a king. The ruins you see today are the remains of a Norman castle, but in the 1930s, excavations suggested there may be links as far back as the 5th and 6th century after Mediterranean pottery was unearthed. Also, the new bridge is open, which is worth a gander (not on a breezy day though).
St Mawes Castle, St Mawes
Right down on the southern tip of the Roseland Peninsular, St Mawes Castle is one of a pair of castles guarding the important anchorage of Carrick Roads (alongside Pendennis Castle below) and one of a chain of forts built between 1539 and 1545 to counter an invasion threat from Catholic France and Spain.
St Mawes is said to be one of the best-preserved of Henry VIII’s coastal artillery fortresses, created for national defence under Henry VIII, between 1539-47 – and perhaps the most elaborately decorated.
Pendennis Castle, Falmouth
One of only a few artillery forts to be circular for 360 degrees defence – Pendennis is on the other bank of the Carrick Roads, an important dock in the River Fal estuary, and (alongside St Mawes above) defended the enormous natural harbour from enemies invading England. Today you can explore its history through displays and exhibitions and they also host events for children during most school holidays to bring the history to life.
Restormel Castle, Lostwithiel
Restormel is said to be one of the most remarkable castles in Britain – and certainly sits among some beautiful countryside near Lostwithiel, with far reaching views across the valley to the river Fowey. The present circular structure, built in the late 13th century, was a luxurious retreat for its medieval owners and was twice visited by Edward, the Black Prince. Now looked after by the English Heritage, the castle is open Weds – Sun.
Launceston Castle, Launceston
Open Fridays to Sundays only at the moment, Launceston Castle is an imposing sight in the town itself, the ancient capital of Cornwall. Building of the castle started soon after the Norman Conquest – it is an unusual keep consisting of a 13th-century round tower built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, inside an earlier circular shell-keep. The castles main function used to be a prison before Bodmin Jail was constructed.
Castle-an-Dinas, St Columb Major
Castle-an-Dinas is one of the largest and most impressive hillforts in Cornwall, sited in an imposing position on the summit of Castle Downs with extensive and panoramic views across central Cornwall to both north and south coasts. Findings from excavations carried out in the 1960s suggest that the main period of use was during the Iron Age. Run by Cornwall Heritage Trust – membership of which by the way gets you free access to all the other English Heritage sites in Cornwall, which includes many of these.
Wanting more castles further afield? Check these out.