So far, my favorite castle visit has to be Cardiff Castle in Wales. But give me a bit of sunshine and some more time to look around, and Carisbrooke makes my top ten.
Why should you know about Carisbrooke Castle? When anyone mentions it, just nod your head (or shake it sadly) and say “Ah, yes, the martyr king, poor Charles I.” They’ll all think you’re brilliant, and you won’t have to go to the trouble of reading the trial proceedings that decided his death (like I did). For good measure, you can add in a fist shake and a growling “Cromwell!!” like a good royalist cavalier.
Of course, like any castle worth its garrison, royalty and nobility have been hanging out here for ages. Queen Victoria’s daughter Beatrice lived here with her husband — so she could be close to her mother who was established just a bit down the island at Osborne House. (Queen Victoria refused permission for her youngest daughter to marry unless she promised to stay in England. It’s freaky to be the Queen.) When we visited during the Jubilee celebrations, there was a savenger hunt through the castle ground to find all the kings and queens of England with connections to the castle — represented with these cute cartoon posters.
(Do I need to mention my feelings about heights again? The walk about the castle walls was an effort for me, but paid off.) Here is a view from the top of the Norman motte-and-bailey castle, built here in about 1100, after the Norman invasion. Carisbrooke has remained a castle with a primary focus on the defense of the Isle of Wight, access to the Solent, and southern England.
Walking the walls. Don’t make the mistake I did, of telling your children in a very serious voice, that the green over there to the left is the parade field for the soldiers to practice. It was the bowling green built for the entertainment of Charles I when he was incarcerated here. It’s good to be the King in jail. Until they chop off your head, of course.
Another view from the top of the Norman tower, toward the remains of the medieval and tudor hall. Did you know the richest women in thirteenth-century England was Countess Isabella de Fortibus, who lived here at Carisbrooke? Now you do. It’s good to be the Countess.
View past the formidable gatehouse, which has a cozy interior reminiscent of the Victorian version of MTV Cribs.
View from the wall over Beatrice’s garden. On the day of our visit, the tents held living-history actors playing the lute (!!) and discussing Tudor weaponry and war. I had a slightly nerve-wracking discussion with an apparent partisan of Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III. I really really didn’t want to ask him about the princes in the tower, but it was like one of those inappropriate questions you just can’t help wanting to ask. We moved along.
This is Jack, showing us how the medieval well house was used to keep the castle defensible. (In 1136 the well in the keep failed, and the castle was forced to surrender to a seige. So embarassing.) Carisbrooke is famous for its donkeys, who walk the wheel to pull water from the new well dug in the twelfth century. The current well house and treadwheel were built in the sixteenth century — although water is now supplied by pipe and the donkeys work for only a few minutes a day giving short demonstrations. While we watched, Jack hopped off the wheel and wandered into the crowd of children looking for pats and snacks.
The bedroom of Charles I during his imprisonment at the Castle. In a move of questionable taste, Princess Beatrice turned his chamber of imprisonment into her dinning room. For visitors now, it is furnished in a style close to its appearance during Charles’ enforced visit.
A little known sadness of history. Charles I’s daughter Elizabeth was forcibly brought to Carisbrooke, became ill on the boat ride over, and died at Carisbrooke. Read more about her sad story.
The Chapel of St. Nicholas within the castle complex dates to 1904, but a chapel dedicated to this saint has been here since Norman times. Today the Chapel is a parish church and the church commemorates the war dead of the Isle of Wight, as well as the ‘martyr king’ Charles I.
The exterior fortifications are extensive and well-preserved, but as the rain began to pour down we didn’t have the spirit to explore them. But what a great day out! Entry to Carisbrooke Castle is free to English Heritage members, has plentiful parking, and if you are on the Isle of Wight it is an easy drive from anywhere. Do you see some wall walking in your future?