Oliver's Cornwall
Castles
From Prehistory to Henry VIII
Cornwall has substantantially less (and less substantial) castles than England, Scotland and Wales.  Norman and medieval castles are now no more than ruins but Henry VIII's coastal artillery forts still stand complete - and were even manned in the the two world wars.  Of those described here Castle-an-Dinas is an iron age hill fort, Tintagel may have its origins in the Arthurian period, Launceston and Restormel date from Norman times, Pendennis and St. Mawes are Henry VIII coastal forts, Pengersick is still lived in.  Other iron age hill forts and cliff castles will be found on my Antiquities page.

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ON THIS PAGE
Carn Brea
Castle-an-Dinas
Launceston
Pendennis
Pengersick
Restormel
St. Mawes
Tintagel

CORNWALL REVIEWS INDEX and SITE CONTENTS

Introductory Guide
What's New?
Oliver's Cornwall Walking Pages
Homes
Gardens
Museums & Galleries
Countryside
Holy Sites & Churches
Antiquities
Castles
Towns & Villages
Miscellanea
Home Page
Contact Me
© Copyright Oliver Howes 2016
Page updated 03 October 2016


Carn Brea Castle
Strictly speaking, this entry, like that for Castle-an-Dinas, does not really belong on this page.  However, both feature 'castle' in their names, so here they are.  Carn Brea Castle is really a medieval hunting lodge, built atop Carn Brea in the 15th century (or possibly adapted from an earlier chapel) by the Bassett family of nearby Tehidy as a hunting lodge.  Its appearance, of a miniature medieval fortress, earned it its name. 
 Carn Brea Castle, St. Agnes Beacon in the far background
 The wing balanced on a rocky outcrop
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Castle-an-Dinas near St. Columb Major

The largest easily accessible iron age hill fort in Cornwall,  not to be confused with one of the same name in West Penwith, Castle-an-Dinas lies on a 700 foot hilltop to the south-east of St. Columb Major.  There are two rings of banks and ditches, the outer perimeter a full half mile, the area around 10 acres.  4000 years ago all that stood here were two bronze age barrows; these are still just discernable.  Over 2000 years ago, when the fort was constructed, it would have been a hive of activity.  In 1646 it saw Hopton's royalist forces camping overnight.  Sixty years ago it was the site of a major wulfram (tungsten) mine and an aerial ropeway ran from the ramparts to the works buildings that still stand by the car park.  Now it is just populated by sheep and goats, who probably pay no attention at all to the wonderful views in all directions - a toposcope stands by a barrow to help you orient yourself. 
A lot of stories surround this isolated spot.  Reputedly it was the site of King Arthur's hunting lodge and the place where Cador, King of Cornwall and husband of Arthur's mother Igerne, died.  Ghostly armies have apparently been seen in the skies above the fort.  Both murders and executions have taken place here.  Standing on the ramparts, and enjoying the long views, it is hard to imagine any of these events. 
Sheep and goats graze on the inner ramparts
On un-numbered road, 2 miles E of junction of A39 and A3059
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Launceston Castle

One of the earliest Norman castles, the original timber building was constructed for William the Conqueror’s brother Robert of Mortain.  In the 13th century it was rebuilt in stone by Richard Earl of Cornwall, brother of Henry III.  Unlike many castles, Launceston began to lose its importance early and ended as a prison – George Fox, the Cornish founder of the Quakers was imprisoned there in 1656.  Once the castle was of impressive size;  now the only major structure standing is the round central keep, high on its motte.  When you enter by the South Gate, you get some feeling for the original size of the castle and its once massive defences.  From the keep parapet, the view of the town tells how it was once totally dominated by its castle, as was the approach to Cornwall.  English Heritage has good explanatory displays. Car parking nearby.  You can walk freely in the park but pay for entry to the castle.
Launceston Town
Launceston Castle, the ruined Keep
 
The South Gatehouse
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Pendennis Castle

While Jane was in Truro with her old school 'ladies who lunch' circle in mid-December 2004, I drove to Swanpool beach and walked into Falmouth to visit Pendennis Castle for the first time.  Weather was dire, hence the poor sunless photo.  With its counterpart across Carrick Roads at St. Mawes, the original castle was built by Henry VIII to guard Falmouth harbour.  Vast encircling ramparts and bastions were built by Sir Walter Raleigh in Elizabethan times and updating (and use) continued right up to the 2nd World War, with eventual public opening in 1956.  The castle has survived assault from the sea but, during the Civil Wars, was taken by siege.  There are things to see of all periods:  the original Tudor castle, the Elizabethan ramparts and bastions, Napoleonic War fortifications, late 19th century batteries that housed 'disappearing guns', big guns and rapid firing guns, and a World War II Observation Post.  An exhibition explains Tudor coastal defences and there is a wonderfully entertaining collection of 2nd World War cartoons.  The excellent guide book covers Pendennis and St. Mawes castles and the battery on St. Anthony Head.   There is ample car parking and the tearoom now opens all year. 
Henry VIII's castle & a 19th century rapid-firing gun
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Pengersick Castle

It isn't really a castle, rather the remnant of a Tudor fortified manor house.  The Pengersick family, who took the name from the lands they acquired here, have long gone, as has much of the house and the lands.  The present owners do open Pengersick Castle to the public two days a week in July and by appointment.  The most likely visitors are ghost hunters - there are ghost open nights too - as Pengersick has a reputation as one of the most haunted houses in Britain.  The more than 20 ghosts that haunt Pengersick are said to include a 14th century monk;  a 13 year old girl who danced to her death off the battlements;  a small boy who tugs at ladies dresses;  a woman who walks through a wall; a woman who was stabbed to death in the castle;  another beaten to death in the haunted bedroom;  a man murdered in 1546;  a ghostly cat and dog;  and several of the previous owners.
If you do think of visiting and want a good bed and breakfast, if it's still operating, do try Pengersick Farm (next door) where Celia Wilson and her husband invited me to look around their garden.  I guess they are blessed by being in the warmer, sheltered south but I could not believe what colour and variety they had created in just three years. 
Pengersick Castle
Follow Praa Sands sign from A394;  Castle on right, small sign.
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Restormel Castle

If you didn't already know the location of Restormel, you would be unlikely to spot it unless playing golf on the course across the valley.  It is not just its invisibility that is unusual, either.  First impressions are of a fortress, perched as it is on a knoll high above the Fowey River;  indeed its name means 'the spur on the bare hill'.  Second impressions tell another story.  The castle is one of Cornwall's oldest, built originally by the Normans to defend a crossing of the River Fowey.  But what you see today is part of a castle begun in the late 13th century by Edmund Earl of Cornwall, nephew of King Henry III, and completed in the 1330s for the Black Prince, the first Duke of Cornwall.  Less castle than palace, it served as a base to oversee the profitable stannary (tin industry) town of Lostwithiel in the valley to the south.  Now there remains just the shell keep on its moated mound;  here were the royal apartments.  Long gone is the outer bailey where the permanent staff of the castle lived.  It seems the bailey was abandoned by around 1500, the keep left to fall into disrepair after the English Civil Wars.   The keep is substantial but roofless.  A rampart walk has been made safe and should be walked.  Story boards appear here and there and the guide book is most informative.  Ample car parking, small shop but no food though plenty of choice in Lostwithiel.
Restormel's Gatehouse and Shell Keep
Signed from A390 on the east side of Lostwithiel, up a country lane
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St. Mawes Castle

After Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome in the 1530s and established his own Church of England, he found himself threatened by the Catholic powers in Europe.  Henry's reaction was to strengthen his coastal defences.  Predictably he strengthened the Tower of London and Dover Castle with great artillery bastions and built new forts protecting harbours at Deal and Walmer in Kent, Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight and Southsea by Portsmouth.  All these were to protect London but he was also concerned about his first line of defence, the western harbours.  In Cornwall his main concerns were Fowey, which had been providing fighting ships since the time of King Edward I, and Falmouth, Europe's largest deep-water harbour.  At Fowey Henry linked two forts with a protective chain across the estuary.  At Falmouth, where the estuary is more than a mile wide and chains would have been impossible, he built forts on Pendennis Head and on high ground at St. Mawes;  their combined artillery fire-power provided full protection.  At first glance St. Mawes Castle appears tiny, just a round tower and encircling wall.  It is only when you get close that you spot the size and the clover leaf of artillery bastions.  It speaks volumes for the expertise of Henry's engineers that St. Mawes and Pendennis were still capable of being garrisoned in both world wars.  If visiting St. Mawes and Pendennis, why not use the Falmouth-St. Mawes ferry.
St. Mawes Castle
The castle is on the western of two roads into St. Mawes
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Tintagel Castle

Legend names Tintagel Castle as home of Igerne, Duchess of Cornwall and mother of King Arthur.  Certainly the site was occupied in the 5th and 6th centuries.  The 1998 discovery of a 6th century slate engraved with the word ‘Artognov’ might be thought to give some credence to Arthurian claims;  and early graves by Tintagel Church are thought to be of the 6th century.  Once the whole site would have been on an intact headland but the action of wind and waves over the centuries has almost detached part of the site.  Major remains, on the ‘Island’ and mainland, are of a  late Norman castle built by Richard Earl of Cornwall.  Above are the 6th century remains, uncovered by nature following fire and storms in the 1980s.  The ‘Island’ rises to 250 feet;  one climbs to that height three times, so bring strong shoes and stamina - but it is worth it for the history, for the atmosphere and for the views.  During the summer there is transport from the nearest car park, otherwise it is a long walk down - and a steep one back.  We prefer to approach from St. Materiana's church, walking along Glebe Cliff and enjoying the impressive views along the coast.  We used to think the village Cornwall's worst tourist trap;  our views have changed more than a little and we are more pro-Tintagel now.  For our updated view go to Tintagel on my Towns and Villages page. 
Ample parking in the village - but a long walk.  Tintagel Castle revisited 
The 14th century Great Hall of Tintagel Castle
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Tintagel Castle Revisited
I was last up on Tintagel Island in - I think - 2006.  The years have made a lot of difference to my ability to cope with steps.  In 2006 I thought nothing of climbing and descending 3 or 4 hundred steps.  Then I was 68.  Now, ten years later, at 78 I found this expedition very hard work and several days later my thigh muscles are still suffering!  However, I had read abour the Gallos sculpture being installed on the top of the Island and, a few days later, at the beginning of May 2016, I made an expedition to see it.  I parked, as I do for this part of the coast, by St. Materiana's church and approached the castle by the upper entrance.  It was quite hard going, navigating the Island, not just on account of all the steps but also because of the large number of visitors there.  The Gallos sculpture, an eight foot high bronze by Welshman Rubin Eynon, is said to represent power.  Eynon is known for his public works, such as gates at Caerphilly Castle and the Bishops Palace at St. Davids.  I greatly liked the statue, halfway between abstract and representational;  it photographs well, best looking south to Gull Rock.  After struggling back down again, I enjoyed a good coffee at the café, overlooking Tintagel Haven, then took the Land Rover up to the village, so as to take the easy walk back to the church by the Old Vicarage, its dovecot and Fontevreaux Chapel.
The Gallos sculpture on Tintagel Island
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CORNWALL REVIEWS INDEX and SITE CONTENTS

Introductory Guide
What's New?
Oliver's Cornwall Walking Pages
Homes
Gardens
Museums & Galleries
Countryside
Holy Sites & Churches
Antiquities
Castles
Towns & Villages
Miscellanea
Home Page
Contact Me
© Copyright Oliver Howes 2016
Page updated 03 October 2016

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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