THE BIG ONE
The site of Dover Castle has seen it all. Iron Age fortifications, Roman lighthouses, a Norman keep, Henry II’s giant stone walls, Napoleonic earthworks, secret World War 2 tunnels… the history of the country’s invasions and wars are writ large across this high hill overlooking the English Channel.
It makes for an impressive and hectic day out; looked after by English Heritage, there’s no shortage of history to revel in or views to take in from the top of the impressive, powerful keep.
The fairytale one
When you were a child, and you drew a castle, you could have been drawing Bodiam. With its perfect towers and dreamlike moat, this is an idyllic place to visit. Constructed in the 14th century by a knight of Edward III, it was supposedly going to defend the region from French invasion.
Now it’s a spectacularly beautiful day out from London; take a picnic and sit by the river Rother, or enjoy coffee and cake in the castle’s tea rooms.
The royal one
It doesn’t get much bigger than this. Windsor is not only the oldest occupied castle in the world, but also the largest; it’s been in continuous use by the royal family ever since the 1100s and covers around 13 acres of land. It’s a magnificent spectacle.
The Queen still spends her weekends at Windsor, but you can visit some of the luxurious state apartments, see the amazing art collected at the castle, and watch the Changing of the Guard. And if you’ve got time, Windsor town itself is a pretty place to go for a wander.
The ruined one
Tucked into the windswept marshes by the coast in Kent stands the glorious remains of a Roman castle, built after the invasion in AD43. High stone walls mark the most important port in Roman Britain, and the start of famous Watling Street.
It’s now almost completely ruined, but the incredible earthworks and scattered remains of the amphitheatre give the grassy mounds a fierce sense of history.
The updated one
Now, this is a lovely sight. Standing on two islands in the river Len, Leeds Castle in its present form has perched gracefully in its beautiful grounds since the early 19th century; however, there has been a castle on the site since the 1100s.
It’s now a glamorous destination in its own right; modernised in the 1920s, you can stay, dine, play golf and generally frolic around the grounds. It might be expensive to visit, but it’s worth it to enjoy such a gorgeous taste of a bygone age.
The pretty one
Once the home of the Boleyn family – yes, that Boleyn girl grew up here – Hever Castle is now a dreamy country castle with stunning gardens, maze and a wonderful lake.
First built in the 1400s and remodelled over the centuries, it’s now a gorgeous whirl through the life of Henry VIII’s wife Anne Boleyn – and then Ann of Cleves, who took possession of it after she divorced Henry. The castle fell into disrepair in the 19th century but was remodelled by William Waldorf Astor in the 20th century.
The one with a gorgeous garden
The most romantic castle in the south-east of England, Scotney nestles deep within its jewel-box of a garden. Built in Elizabethan times, the ‘old’ castle sits on a lake with its charming tower and surrounded by a tumble of plants and flowers. On the hill above, is the ‘new’ castle, built in the 18th century. All of the grounds are perfect for a wander on a sunny day.
The one built by Henry VIII
Set astride a deep shingle beach, Deal Castle is a clockwork miracle of a fort, with its interlocking towers and underground tunnels. Built by the marriage-keen king in the 1500s as an artillery fort to protect the coast from invasion by the French, it’s now splendidly looked after by English Heritage. You can tour its 60+ artillery positions and try to imagine how Tudor craftsmen built its 15ft-thick stone walls.
Nearby, pretty Walmer Castle is also worth a visit if you have time.