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Cromwell’s Castle

cromwell's castle isles of scilly

Discover Cromwell’s Castle on the Isles of Scilly

Hidden away on a remote archipelago off the Cornish coast lies an imposing fortress with war-torn tales to tell. Cromwell’s Castle sits perched on the western tip of Tresco, Isles of Scilly – a tiny car-free island measuring under 3 miles wide.

Once an Elizabethan artillery fort, this now ivy-clad historical gem has incredible views making it a worthy addition to any Scilly island hopping adventure. Here’s everything you need to visit this lesser-known attraction.

cromwell's castle

Getting There

To explore Cromwell’s Castle, you’ll first need to get to the beautiful Isles of Scilly!

The quickest way is to grab a passenger ferry or flight over from Penzance in mainland Cornwall. Scheduled boats and planes make the crossing frequently from late March through October.

Once you arrive, small inter-island boats travel regularly between St Mary’s and Tresco. It’s just a short 10 minute hop. Tresco’s New Grimsby quay is right beside Tresco Abbey Gardens.

From there, it’s roughly a 1 mile picturesque walk along the coast path to discover Cromwell’s Castle ruins. Simply follow signs west from New Grimsby towards Dolphin Town and the nearby Valhalla museum. You can’t miss the castle’s imposing walls nestled above the sea!

Opening Times & Tickets

One of the best things about visiting Cromwell’s Castle is that access is completely free! The historic monument sits openly on Tresco island for you to wander around and explore at your own pace daily.

It’s easiest to drop by either before or after a visit to Tresco Abbey Gardens – one of Scilly’s most popular attractions. The Abbey opens daily between 10am – 4pm from March until October.

Early or late season it’s wise to check opening times online before crossing over. Boat crossings from St Mary’s run less frequently outside of peak months.

photo of cromwell's castle

Cromwell’s Castle History

Originally named King Charles’s Fort after King Charles II, what we now know as Cromwell’s Castle has a turbulent past!

Born from the tumult of the English Civil War, the castle’s origins are steeped in political intrigue. In the 1650s, Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, eyed the strategically crucial Isles of Scilly with suspicion. Royalist forces, loyal to the ousted King Charles I, had taken refuge on the islands, posing a potential threat to Cromwell’s fragile Commonwealth. To thwart any such uprising, Cromwell embarked on an ambitious project – the construction of a powerful fortress on the island of Tresco.

Thus, Cromwell’s Castle rose from the windswept plains, a defiant symbol of the new order. Its design, a stark departure from the medieval grandeur of earlier castles, reflected the changing tides of warfare. Gone were the towering battlements and moats; instead, the castle adopted a practical, almost utilitarian form. Constructed from the local granite, its thick, rounded walls were impervious to cannon fire, while the gun platform on the roof bristled with firepower, ready to repel any seaborne assault.

oliver cromwell

But Cromwell’s Castle was more than just a military stronghold. It served as a potent symbol of Cromwell’s authority, a visible reminder of his iron grip on the Isles of Scilly. The castle’s isolation, amidst the wild beauty of the Scilly archipelago, only amplified its aura of power. For the islanders, it was a constant presence, a watchful eye monitoring their every move.

Yet, the castle’s story is not solely one of military might and political dominance. Within its sturdy walls, human dramas unfolded. Soldiers garrisoned the castle, their lives punctuated by the rhythmic clang of weapons and the endless gaze towards the horizon. The castle walls echoed with their laughter, their anxieties, and the quiet murmurings of longing for home.

With the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the castle’s military purpose diminished. It was transformed into a prison, holding both political dissidents and ordinary criminals. The once proud fortress became a place of confinement, its isolation now serving as a form of punishment.

painting of cromwell's castle

However, the castle’s spirit refused to be extinguished. Throughout the centuries, it weathered storms, both literal and metaphorical. It witnessed the comings and goings of islanders, the changing fortunes of the Scillies, and the relentless march of time. Today, Cromwell’s Castle stands as a testament to the island’s rich and complex past. Transformed into a popular tourist destination, its ramparts offer breathtaking views of the turquoise waters and the rugged coastline.

Today you can freely wander these imposing grass-covered ruins and discover its eventful history thanks to several storyboards on site. Marvel at the incredible views it commands too.

Click here for an interesting audio tour of Cromwell’s Castle by English Heritage.

What to See & Do

This free-to-access historical site lets visitors roam the remains of Cromwell’s Castle at their own pace. Tall lookout towers, looming artillery towers, and the remnants of soldier’s barracks can all be spotted.

Kids will love playing hide and seek between the walls or letting their imagination run wild between these centuries-old ruins! Lookout points make it possible to gaze all along Tresco’s northern coastline too.

cromwell's castle from a distance

Top highlights of a visit include:

  • Climbing stairs to an exposed lookout tower
  • Observing an original working cannon from the 17th century
  • Reading about the fort’s history from information panels
  • Enjoying a scenic 1 mile walk to reach the site
  • Admiring uninterrupted sea views and northern Sister Isles

While access is free all-year-round, summer is the best season to visit. There’s a higher chance of sunny dry weather! It combines perfectly with a morning visit to Tresco Abbey followed by lunch and beach time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are dogs allowed? – Well behaved dogs on leads are welcome

Is there a shop or cafe? – No, there is no official shop or cafe, but refreshments and gifts are available in nearby New Grimsby.

Is it wheelchair accessible? – The paths are made from stone and wind through heather, so sturdy footwear is advisable and they may be difficult for wheelchairs.

How long does a visit take? – You can spend as long as you like to enjoy the views when you get there, but a trip around Cromwell’s Castle can be done in an hour or so.

Nearby Attractions

When you have visitied Cromwell’s Castle think about somoe of these places too:

  • Tresco Abbey Gardens – Hop on a short boat trip to explore Tresco’s world-famous gardens containing rare sub-tropical plants from Brazil to Australia, thriving in the island’s unique temperate microclimate.
  • Isles of Scilly Museum – Located in St Mary’s Hugh Town, this museum explores Scillonian history and culture through artefacts like pilot gig boats, archaeological finds, locally created artworks and environmental displays.
  • King Charles’ Castle – Accessible from Hugh Town beach at low tide, this picturesque ancient ruined fort offers scenic coastal views over to neighbouring islands from the northern tip of Tresco.
  • Porthcressa Beach – One of the best white sand beaches in Scilly located conveniently near Hugh Town, with azure waters perfect for swimming or relaxing in with a surprisingly tropical feel.
  • Garrison Walls – Near to Cromwell’s Castle, these fortified 16th century walls overlook St Mary’s harbour and connect the island’s various batteries, with the Star Castle Hotel sitting inside the walls providing atmospheric dining.
  • Hugh Town – The tiny capital of Scilly is a pretty cluster of traditional green and grey cottages in classic Scilly style, with harbour views plus little shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants to explore.
  • Old Town Church – One of Scilly’s oldest buildings stands picturesquely surrounded by lush subtropical plants like huge palms having sheltered in this village area of St Mary’s since the 11th century.
  • Island Wildlife Boat Trips – Join a trip to see Atlantic grey seals, dolphins or the many seabird colonies around Scilly’s uninhabited islands and secluded coves, like the Eastern Isles.

Whether you’re already exploring Scilly or planning a trip, don’t pass up the opportunity to experience this impressive historic artillery fort. Kids will love letting their imagination run wild whilst uncovering tales of Tresco’s strategic wartime past. And parents get to soak up the peace, unique history and captivating views too!

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