Five country castles

  • 28 May 2014

Whether you want to see Walter Raleigh's family artefacts, the sacred banner of a Scottish clan or a wild boar at feeding time, we pick out five of the most fascinating country castles in the UK.

1. Bolton Castle, Wensleydale

Reduced price entry with National Art Pass

Deceptively located in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, Bolton was built by Sir Richard le Scrope at the end of the 14th century and is one of the UK’s best-preserved medieval castles. About one third of the rooms are fully intact, showing what life would have been like for the different members of the castle community – from the archers, cooks and monks to Lord and Lady Scrope and Mary, Queen of Scots who stayed there for six months. Visitors can watch daily displays of falconry and archery, as well as the wild boar feeding. Two walled gardens in front of the castle have been laid out along medieval lines, and there's a maze and a vineyard with beautiful views over Wensleydale.

2. Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye

Reduced price entry with National Art Pass

Sitting on a rocky outcrop, this Hebridean stronghold has been the home of the Clan MacLeod for nearly eight centuries. The massive exterior of the fortress combines six separate buildings of different dates, which were given unified appearance in the mid 19th century by a ‘romantic restoration’. The art collection includes works by Ramsay, Raeburn and Zoffany, while family treasures are also on display. The most famous is the Fairy Flag, a sacred banner that supposedly gave the MacLeod clan the power to defeat enemies when unfurled in battle. Another of the castle's greatest possessions is the medieval Dunvegan Cup, gifted by the O'Neils of Ulster as a token of thanks to one of the clan's most celebrated chiefs, Sir Rory Mor. Mor had supported the O'Neils against the marauding forces of Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1596. Visitors can also enjoy a stroll around the 18th-century landscaped gardens, or pick up a MacLeod Single Malt Scotch whisky at the souvenir shop.

3. Pendennis Castle, Falmouth

Free entry with National Art Pass

Built by Henry VIII between 1540 and 1545 to defend Britain from France and Spain, Pendennis Castle is one of England's finest coastal fortresses. Expanded with enlarged ramparts under Elizabeth I, it was a key Royalist stronghold during the Civil War and continued to be used an active military outpost in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, it features a recreated Tudor gun room and a guardhouse restored to its First World War appearance. The castle is also home to a collection of cartoons by George Butterworth, a Second World War satirist whose work lampooned Hitler and Mussolini. The castle tearoom, set inside the Royal Artillery Barracks, offers traditional Cornish pasties as well as other locally sourced produce.

4. Penrhyn Castle, Bangor

Free entry with National Art Pass

This dramatic neo-Norman fantasy castle was built for the wealthy Pennant family in the 19th century and includes original Victorian kitchens, exotic walled gardens and a model railway. Home to one of the finest art collections in Wales, paintings by Rembrandt and Canaletto feature, as does a superb collection of 19th- and 20th-century dolls, a one-tonne slate bed made for Queen Victoria and handmade William Morris wallpapers. Particularly adventurous visitors can make use of the outdoor gym.

5. Sherborne Castle, Sherborne

Reduced price entry with National Art Pass

Built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594 and stately home to the Digby family since 1617, Sherborne Castle houses a variety of decorative styles from over 400 years of English history. Capability Brown created the 50-acre lake in 1753, giving Sherborne the very latest in landscape gardening, with magnificent specimen trees, borders and sweeping lawns. The castle's interiors are home to splendid collections of art, furniture and porcelain, as well as Raleigh's original kitchen, family artefacts and archaeological 'finds' on view in the cellars. The earliest picture in the castle is the famous Procession of Queen Elizabeth I, attributed to Robert Peake the Elder, and familiar from many books about the Tudors.

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Tags: What to seeMuseums and galleriesGreat days out