Fascinating castles to see in the South East and East Anglia

England is well known for its fine medieval castles... powerful, imposing structures that were often initially built to serve as a defence against enemy attacks.

This article explains more about significant castles in South East England and East Anglia, in case you’re planning a trip to these regions. Some castles featured below now lie in romantic ruins and others have been fully renovated to their former glory. Each of them has a fascinating history ready for you to discover.

Castle Rising: 5 min drive from our Sandringham Campsite

castle rising

Castle Rising Castle

Castle Rising Castle, in Kings Lynn, is one of the finest surviving examples of a 12th century castle in England. It was built by William d’Aubigny (also known as William d’Albini), the 1st Earl of Arundel, around 1140 AD.

The castle was first operated as a mint for King Stephen during the Anarchy (1135-1154) before famously becoming a royal residence in the 14th century to Queen Isabella of France, who was accused of murdering Edward II.

Castle Rising became highly valued as a hunting lodge during the 15th century. It started to fall into ruin after that and was derelict by the middle of the 16th century. The castle now belongs to the Howard family, whose ancestors have owned it since 1544.

Why is it worth a visit?

Castle Rising is a castle of national importance. It’s an impressive stone keep with extensive earthworks, covering between 12 and 13 acres of land. You can climb the steps by the gatehouse to see the sheer scale of the site.

Enjoy exploring the remains of the castle, including the areas that formed Queen Isabella’s apartments. The grounds outside are perfect for picnicking on a nice day.

Baconsthorpe Castle: 20 min drive from our West Runton Campsite

Baconsthorpe3

Baconsthorpe Castle - Image supplied by English Heritage.

Baconsthorpe Castle was once a fortified manor house, built in the latter part of the 15th century by Sir John and Sir Henry Heydon, members of an important Norfolk family. As the family’s wealth grew, so did the extent of the castle – its appearance was something of a status symbol – a testament to the family’s position and wealth.

In its beginning, a three story inner gatehouse was built with an outer gatehouse added later around 1560. The castle had a moat with drawbridge.

By the middle of the 17th century, the successive Heydons had large debts and were forced to demolish parts of the castle. The outer gatehouse was turned into a private dwelling and was inhabited until 1920, until one of the turrets gave way.

Why is it worth a visit?

This is one of the castles in East Anglia that’s free of charge to explore. Baconsthorpe Castle is situated in peaceful, well-kept grounds.

You can explore the ruins of the castle and imagine what life used to be like for the Heydons and their ancestors. It still has a moat and there is lots of wildlife to see. Dogs are welcome, on a lead.

Pevensey Castle: 7 min drive from our Normans Bay Campsite

Pevensey

Pevensey Castle was built inside the ancient Roman Fort of Anderitum, which was built around 290AD. In 1066, William the Conqueror’s army famously landed there at the start of the Norman Conquest.

William the Conqueror gave the castle to his half brother Robert, Count of Mortain. It’s thought that Robert probably built the castle’s first permanent defences such as the two baileys within the Roman perimeter wall. The castle was later developed by Richard I; he may have built the stone keep and powerful gatehouse in the 1190s.

The castle was abandoned in the mid 1500s but by 1588, it was back in use during the invasion from the Spanish Armada. At that point, the castle was fortified and gun ports added. Pevensey Castle was also used in World War II, when a command post and observation platform were added.

Why is it worth a visit?

There are many things to see and do for both adults and children alike at the impressive ruins of Pevensey Castle. Visitors can explore the dark dungeons and perhaps catch a glimpse of the “Pale Lady of Pevensey”, the castle’s alleged ghost!

Arundel Castle: 9 min drive from our Slindon Campsite

Arundel

Arundel Castle is a magnificent motte and bailey castle situated in Arundel, West Sussex. It has been the seat to the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for more than 850 years.

The castle was built by Roger de Montgomery (the 1st Earl of Arundel) at the end of the 11th century. Upon his death, Arundel Castle reverted back to the crown, but was then passed on to William d’Albini II when he was confirmed as Earl of Arundel in 1155. William d’Albini II built the shell keep on the motte.

Arundel Castle came under siege twice during the Civil War and sustained a great deal of damage in the attacks. At this point the castle belonged to the Howard family. Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk, invested in a significant amount of restoration work towards the end of the 18th century.

The castle was restored completely in 1900, when it was owned by Henry, 15th Duke of Norfolk. The Howard family still own the castle today.

Why is it worth a visit?

Arundel Castle is full of fascinating history, beautiful furnishings and interesting artefacts. Visitors can spend several hours exploring the many rooms that are open to the public as well as taking a stroll in the stunning gardens.

Look out for the legendary Victoria Rooms, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed during a 3-day visit in 1846.

Leeds Castle: 25 min drive from our Oldbury Hill Campsite

Leeds

Leeds Castle in Kent was built over 900 years ago. It was first a Norman stronghold and was later used as a royal residence for several English queens, including the first wife of Edward I, Queen Eleanor of Castile. Before her coronation, Elizabeth I was imprisoned there by her father, King Henry VIII. 

Leeds Castle was converted into a Jacobean country house, before it was inherited by Fiennes Wykeham Martin in 1821. He found the castle to be in great disrepair and spent two years making improvements and restorations. He replaced the Jacobean House with a new castle in more of a medieval style.

Leeds Castle was acquired by the Hon. Olive Lady Baillie (then Mrs Wilson-Filmer) in 1926. She saw the castle’s potential and was able to make lavish improvements to the castle’s structure and interiors.

Why is it worth a visit?

Billed as the “loveliest castle in the world”, there are things for the whole family to see and do at Leeds Castle.

Discover 900 years of castle history through the Gatehouse Exhibition; a display of artefacts, historical records, illustrations and film. Outside in the gardens, work your way through the maze, witness the exciting falconry displays and enjoy punting on the moat!

Carisbrooke Castle: 22 min drive from our Adgestone Campsite

Carisbrooke

Carisbrooke Castle is an ancient motte and bailey castle that was first used as a Saxon fortress around 1000 years ago. Situated on the Isle of Wight, the fortress was converted into a castle for the Norman invaders not long after the Norman Conquest.

It was remodelled during the Middle Ages with the castle’s keep added in the 13th century. Later, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a modern artillery fort was created to strengthen the castle’s defences in case of invasion from the Spanish Armada.

Carisbrooke Castle was known for being a prison for prominent royalists, the most notable being King Charles I, who was imprisoned there before his execution during the Civil War. 

Charles I made two unsuccessful attempts to escape. His first doomed attempt led to him being found stuck between the window bars in his bedchamber. Not deterred by his first attempt, he later staged a similar getaway plan, only to be betrayed by two of his guards.

Why is it worth a visit?

Discover the castle’s long and interesting history through its museum and fascinating exhibition. Families will enjoy the many activities available for children, such as meeting the resident castle donkeys or dressing up as Norman soldiers.
Spectacular birds-eye views are on offer via the Norman Keep and Wall Walk, high up on the castle mound, whilst nature lovers will surely appreciate the charming Princess Beatrice Garden.

Windsor Castle: 23 min drive from our Chertsey Campsite

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle in Berkshire was built by William the Conqueror more than 900 years ago. 39 monarchs have lived there, starting with King Henry I who reigned from 1100-35. It’s now the weekend home of Queen Elizabeth II and is actually the world’s largest inhabited castle!

Several monarchs have made transformations to Windsor Castle over the years, including George IV, who made a significant amount of improvements, costing almost £300K.

Ten sovereigns, including Henry VIII, Jane Seymour and Charles I, are buried within St George’s Chapel, which is situated in the lower ward of the castle. The chapel is one of England’s finest examples of Gothic architecture.

Why is it worth a visit?

A royal residence for centuries, Windsor Castle is reported to be one of the top visitor attractions in Britain. Visitors can view the splendid State Apartments, which contain many fascinating pieces from the Royal Collection.

A particular highlight to look out for is Queen Mary’s Doll’s House, a world famous miniature masterpiece.

England’s medieval castles are a valuable part of Britain’s history. They were strategically designed and used as strongholds, prisons and places of entertainment. They are undoubtedly worth a look, and are within easy reach of our Club Sites if you’re touring East Anglia or the South East.