Carlisle Castle is no pile of rubble or field scattered with bits of stone. You can’t miss the impressive keep, which towers over the city or the castle walls that remain intact almost a thousand years after the fortress was first build to defend the border of England in c. 1092. As well as a key tourist attraction, the castle is also an important landmark. The fortress signifies the strength of England and has always been a key stronghold in the North West of England.
For over 900 years Carlisle Castle has watched over the Great Border City. The castle is an English Heritage site open to the public all year round (exc. 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan) and provides a great outing for locals and visitors alike. Set aside a good half a day to explore the many rooms and passages of the castle. Expect to climb lots of spiral stairs, go underground to discover the dungeons and admire the views of the city through the battlements.
Recently, the English Heritage has furnished some of the rooms with replicas to give the castle an intense atmosphere and help visitors imagine the people who lived there many years ago. Claret drapes frame huge replicated oak doorways and stone passages, the kitchen has a cauldron and table and more props complete the stone rooms to encourage your imagination. These dressings also make the castle a fun experience for children. Try role playing with them to teach them the history of the castle or sit down to read them one of the large print books provided.
The 12th Century keep houses a model version of the ancient city of Carlisle. Large information boards and displays lead visitors through the exciting, bloody history of the castle and the many battles it has played a part in defending the Anglo-Scotland border. Although the roof of the keep is no longer open to the public due to health and safety issues, the battlements of the castle are in near-perfect condition. On a clear day the view over the city is spectacular, as well as showing just how well soldiers at the castle could once defend the Great Border City of Carlisle. Just in case you spot the enemy, there are cannons at hand too!
Although the castle seems in good repair, it bears the scars of centuries of warfare. Not only has the castle defended the border from attacks from the North, it has also played a part in the English Civil War and later, the siege of the Jacobites, in 1746. The castle defends, garrisons and imprisons. Mary Queen of Scots was held captive here after her escape from Scotland; a re-enactment of her execution at the castle many years ago is one of my earliest memories of visiting as a child.
Don’t worry though! There are no more enemies to fight off and the castle is retired. While you enjoy exploring, remember there is a gift shop, free toilets and a small museum documenting the history of Cumbria’s infantry. Overall, Carlisle Castle is a great day out. There is a rich history surrounding Carlisle and the castle is an interesting and fun way to discover more about the great city’s past.