Castles were built hundreds of years ago to protect from attack (hence many have moats with drawbridges). Like most of our countryside, the National Trust seems to own most of the big castles these days, so are expensive to visit (and will clean you out, if you enjoy a cup of tea on top at the cafe).
St Michael’s Mount (Joanne Short) is often depicted in paintings. Situated on a tidal island off the Cornish coast, it’s actually a tiny castle, which has been used for religious pilgrimages. Inside, there is a clock that tells you the time of the tide and the sofa where Queen Victoria took tea with the housekeeper.
England has over 1500 castles. The biggest is Windsor Castle (built by William I, this has been the monarch’s home for over 900 years). The biggest in the world is Prague Castle, in the Czech Republic. And Bran Castle (home of Dracula!) really does exist in Transylvania. One of the best-known castles in modern years is Northumberland’s Alnwick Castle, due to being the setting for episodes of Downton Abbey and Harry Potter films.
castles on Northumberland’s coast
Northumberland is renowned for its castles, often overlooking wide sandy beaches in gloomy weather, making them fascinating and surreal. Bamburgh Castle, Lucy Pittaway has a cylindrical building (actually a windmill without sails) and is also home to England’s first lifeboat station and a few ghosts (including the tragic pink lady, who returns every 7 years to walk from the castle to the beach).
Dunstanburgh Castle is a beautiful walk from the village of Craster near the rugged coast that crosses working farmland. So follow the countryside code and safe dog walking tips. Built as a fortress during a fued between Earl Thomas of Lancaster and King Edward II (the former was executed), today this listed building is a site of special scientific interest, due to rare birds and amphibians living nearby. The surrounding land is kept waterlogged, to conserve local creatures, with the castle inside offering home for nesting birds. One local species is the six-spot burnet moth, which unusually flies around during the day. Quite common on the northern coast, it has metallic dark green wings with six red spots (sometimes they are yellow or black). Birds and lizards know not to go near – if they do, this moth spurts out a liquid with cyanide!