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The 10 Best Castles in Cornwall

best castles in cornwall

Explore history at the best castles in Cornwall

I love crossing the River Tamar to explore the the best castles in Cornwall. These historic outposts whisper tales of Arthurian legend, epic sieges, and stunning sea views. Imagine exploring crumbling ramparts where medieval knights once patrolled, or peering out from gun batteries that guarded against invading ships. Our journey through Cornwall’s best castles offers something for everyone – from romantic ruins shrouded in myth to imposing fortresses showcasing coastal artillery. So, lace up your walking boots and get ready to delve into Cornwall’s rich history, one castle at a time.

Perched on the Precipice: Pendennis Castle Guards the Cornish Coast

pendennis castle

Clawing its way skyward from a rocky peninsula, Pendennis Castle stands sentinel over Falmouth harbour. Its formidable grey walls, built between 1539 and 1545 by Henry VIII, have witnessed centuries of Cornwall’s maritime history.

This artillery fortress wasn’t just for show. Pendennis, along with its sister castle St Mawes across the harbour, played a pivotal role in defending England against foreign invasion. Visitors can explore the labyrinthine passages and gun decks, imagining the roar of cannons echoing across the waves. Interactive exhibits showcase the lives of soldiers stationed here, from the strict routines to the camaraderie forged in the face of danger.

Beyond the military might, Pendennis offers breathtaking panoramic views. Gaze out at the sparkling harbour, dotted with bobbing boats and yachts. On a clear day, you might even spot the Lizard Peninsula stretching out towards the horizon.

But Pendennis isn’t just about the past. It’s a vibrant space that hosts living history events, theatrical productions, and even falconry displays. Wander the manicured gardens, bursting with colourful blooms, or grab a bite to eat at the café with its picture-perfect views.

Pendennis Castle is a captivating blend of history, drama, and stunning scenery. It’s a must-visit for anyone seeking a glimpse into Cornwall’s rich past and a chance to be awestruck by the power of the ocean.

Tintagel Castle: Where Myth and History Collide

tintagel castle in ruins

Tintagel Castle, shrouded in mist and clinging to a windswept headland, is a place where legend and reality blur. For centuries, it has been associated with the mythical King Arthur, said to be his birthplace or even his last stand. While archaeological evidence suggests a more complex history, the dramatic ruins still ignite the imagination.

Reaching the castle requires a thrilling footbridge suspended over a chasm. Once inside the courtyards and remains of towers, you’ll be transported back in time. Parts of the structure date back to the 5th century, with additions made by the Normans in the 12th and 13th centuries. Explore the Great Hall, envisioning medieval feasts and meetings held within its walls. Descend into Merlin’s Cave, a tidal sea cavern accessible at low tide, and feel the spray of the ocean as you contemplate the legends that surround it.

Tintagel is not just a historical monument, it’s an interactive experience. The interactive displays bring the castle’s past to life, detailing the lives of those who lived and worked here. Families can participate in fun trails and activities, while history buffs can delve deeper into the ongoing archaeological excavations.

Beyond the castle walls, the windswept cliffs offer breathtaking panoramas of the Atlantic Ocean. Breathe in the fresh sea air and watch the waves crash against the rocks. Tintagel is a place to step back in time, ignite your imagination, and appreciate the power of nature.

Restormel Castle: A Majestic Silhouette on the Cornish Landscape

restormel castle

Rising from an emerald knoll amidst rolling hills, Restormel Castle cuts a striking silhouette against the Cornish sky. Its circular design, a rarity in England, hints at its early Norman origins, possibly built in the 12th century. Despite its imposing presence, Restormel’s history is shrouded in mystery, with much left to the imagination.

The castle’s central keep, a formidable cylindrical tower, dominates the site. Climb the winding staircase (be prepared for a good workout!) and be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Imagine knights surveying their lands from this vantage point, keeping watch over the Fowey Valley below.

While the interior spaces are largely shells, the evocative ruins speak volumes. Trace the outlines of vanished chambers, picturing the daily life that once unfolded within these walls. Restormel’s charm lies not just in its history, but in its romantic atmosphere. Sunsets paint the sky with vibrant hues, creating a magical scene that’s perfect for capturing on camera or simply soaking in the moment.

Today, Restormel Castle is a popular spot for picnics and leisurely walks. Explore the wooded grounds and let your imagination wander amidst the ruins. This historic landmark offers a glimpse into Cornwall’s medieval past and a chance to connect with the timeless beauty of the Cornish landscape.

St. Michael’s Mount: A Tidal Island Crowned with a Castle

st michael's mount

St. Michael’s Mount isn’t your typical Cornish castle. This tidal island, accessible by causeway at low tide and by boat at high tide, is a captivating blend of granite, greenery, and historic charm. Atop its rocky peak sits a medieval monastery, later fortified in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The castle itself is a labyrinth of passageways, courtyards, and grand rooms. Explore the Great Hall, where time seems to stand still, and imagine lavish banquets held within its walls. Climb to the ramparts and be rewarded with breathtaking 360-degree views of Mount’s Bay and the Cornish coastline. On a clear day, you might even spot Land’s End in the distance.

St. Michael’s Mount isn’t just about the castle. The island boasts beautiful sub-tropical gardens, a testament to the mild Cornish climate. Wander through vibrant displays of flowers, exotic plants, and mature trees, all set against the backdrop of the dramatic coastline. Legend whispers of giants inhabiting the island, adding to its mystique.

A visit to St. Michael’s Mount is a journey through time and a celebration of nature’s beauty. Whether you’re exploring the castle’s rich history, picnicking in the gardens, or simply soaking up the stunning scenery, this unique island offers a truly unforgettable experience.

Launceston Castle: A Powerful Guardian of the Cornish Landscape

launceston castle from a drone

High on a natural mound overlooking the town of Launceston, Launceston Castle commands respect. Its formidable presence, a mix of Norman and medieval architecture, speaks volumes about its role as a powerful administrative centre and prison throughout its long history. Construction began in the 12th century, and the castle continued to be a center of power for centuries.

Unlike some coastal fortresses, Launceston Castle wasn’t built right on the water’s edge. Instead, its strength came from its imposing size and strategic location. Explore the immense twin gatehouses, each flanked by sturdy round towers. Wander the inner courtyard, picturing bustling marketplaces and courtly gatherings held within these walls. Climb the keep, the tallest structure, and be rewarded with panoramic views of the rolling Cornish countryside.

Launceston Castle isn’t just about impressive stonework. Exhibits within the keep delve into the castle’s fascinating past, showcasing archaeological finds and bringing to life the lives of those who lived and worked here. Interactive displays allow visitors to step back in time and experience the sights and sounds of medieval Cornwall.

Today, Launceston Castle offers more than just a history lesson. The expansive grounds are a popular spot for picnics and leisurely walks. During the summer months, the castle comes alive with events, from historical re-enactments to open-air concerts, offering a taste of the past with a modern twist. Whether you’re a history buff or simply seeking a scenic escape, Launceston Castle provides a captivating glimpse into Cornwall’s rich heritage.

St Mawes Castle: Guardian Across the Bay from Pendennis

st mawes

Standing sentinel across the mouth of Falmouth harbour from its larger sibling, Pendennis Castle, St Mawes Castle offers a unique perspective on Cornwall’s coastal defenses. Built in the 16th century by Henry VIII, this artillery fort played a crucial role in safeguarding England’s southwestern shores from potential invasion.

Unlike Pendennis’ imposing bulk, St Mawes boasts a more playful star-shaped design, a testament to evolving military tactics of the Renaissance. Explore the gun decks, imagining the roar of cannons echoing across the harbor as they repelled enemy ships. Descend into the magazine, a cool and damp chamber that once housed gunpowder and other weaponry.

St Mawes Castle isn’t just about warfare. Climb to the rooftop terrace and be captivated by the stunning panoramic views. Spot the vibrant town of St Mawes nestled below, with colourful houses cascading down the hillside. Gaze out at the sparkling blue waters of the harbour, dotted with bobbing boats. On a clear day, you might even glimpse the Lizard Peninsula jutting out into the distance.

Today, St Mawes Castle offers more than just a historical experience. Interactive displays bring the fort’s past to life, detailing the lives of soldiers stationed here. Families can participate in fun trails and activities, while history buffs can delve deeper into the fascinating world of Tudor artillery. The castle grounds host regular events throughout the year, from art exhibitions to open-air performances, adding a touch of vibrancy to this historic site.

Caerhays Castle: A Fairytale Castle Wrapped in Enchanting Gardens

caerhays cornwall

Unlike the imposing fortresses that dot Cornwall’s coastline, Caerhays Castle offers a touch of whimsy. This 19th-century Gothic Revival building, constructed from a warm, honey-coloured stone, appears more like a fairytale creation than a defensive structure. Nestled amidst 160 acres of vibrant gardens, Caerhays Castle is a haven for horticulture enthusiasts and history buffs alike.

The castle itself is a captivating blend of architectural styles. Jagged towers, pointed arches, and decorative chimneys evoke a sense of mystery. While not open to the public, the castle adds a touch of grandeur to the surrounding gardens, its silhouette peeking through the lush greenery.

The true star of the show, however, are the gardens. Caerhays boasts one of the most impressive collections of plants in Cornwall. Wander through a labyrinth of colorful pathways, discovering hidden dells, cascading waterfalls, and vibrant flower borders. The mild Cornish climate allows for a diverse range of flora to thrive, from exotic palm trees to vibrant rhododendrons. Springtime brings an explosion of color, while autumn paints the landscape in fiery hues.

Caerhays Castle isn’t just about aesthetics; it has a rich history too. The gardens were the brainchild of the scholarly Glanville family, who have nurtured them for generations. Explore the Shell House, a unique garden folly adorned with seashells, and delve into the stories of the eccentric characters who shaped this unique landscape.

Today, Caerhays Castle and its gardens offer a delightful escape. Enjoy a leisurely stroll through the vibrant grounds, or participate in one of the many events held throughout the year, from guided tours to open-air theatre performances. Caerhays provides a glimpse into a bygone era, a place where history and nature intertwine to create a truly enchanting experience.

Chun Castle: A Solitary Sentinel on the Cornish Coast

chun castle

Unlike the grand fortresses of Cornwall, Chun Castle stands as a solitary sentinel, a rugged survivor perched on a windswept clifftop. Dating back to the 14th century, this unassuming structure offers a glimpse into a simpler time, where defense relied more on strategic location than elaborate fortifications.

While lacking the grandeur of other Cornish castles, Chun Castle boasts a rich history. It played a role in various conflicts, from the Wars of the Roses to skirmishes with pirates who plagued the Cornish coast.

Today, Chun Castle offers a unique experience for visitors. The surrounding clifftop is a haven for wildlife, with nesting seabirds and wildflowers clinging to the exposed rock face. Breathe in the fresh sea air, enjoying the tranquility of this remote location. Chun Castle isn’t just a historical site; it’s a place to connect with the raw beauty of the Cornish coastline and contemplate the lives of those who once guarded it.

(Note that Chun Castle is a ruin rather than a castle to explore)

Cromwell’s Castle: A Solitary Guardian on Tresco Island

photo of cromwell's castle

Standing sentinel on a rocky outcrop overlooking the turquoise waters between the Isles of Scilly’s Bryher and Tresco islands, Cromwell’s Castle isn’t your typical Cornish fortress. Built in the mid-17th century, this circular gun tower is a powerful reminder of a tumultuous period in English history.

Cromwell’s Castle wasn’t built by the esteemed Oliver Cromwell himself, but rather during the Protectorate following the English Civil War. Royalist supporters had used the Isles of Scilly as a base, and the newly formed Parliament saw the need to secure the strategically important islands. The result? This formidable artillery tower, designed to prevent enemy ships from entering the harbor.

Unlike the grand fortresses of mainland Britain, Cromwell’s Castle is a study in functional simplicity. A tall, circular tower with thick walls and minimal windows, it exudes an air of strength and purpose. Explore the single chamber within the base, imagining the soldiers stationed here keeping watch for approaching vessels. Climb the external stairs (no longer original) and reach the rooftop platform, where cannons once dominated the view. Here, take in the breathtaking panorama of the surrounding islands and the sparkling sea.

Cromwell’s Castle isn’t just a military relic; it’s a tangible link to a significant period in British history. Managed by English Heritage, the castle offers informative displays that delve into the events leading to its construction and the role it played in securing the Isles of Scilly.

Today, Cromwell’s Castle offers a unique experience for visitors. The surrounding island of Tresco is a haven of peace and beauty, with subtropical gardens and pristine beaches. Explore the castle grounds, breathe in the fresh sea air, and enjoy the tranquility of this remote location. Cromwell’s Castle may be a testament to a bygone era of conflict, but it now stands as a peaceful sentinel, offering stunning views and a glimpse into a fascinating chapter of English history.

St Catherine’s Castle: A Guardian on the Cornish Cliffs

st catherines castle

Perched dramatically on a rocky headland overlooking the mouth of the Fowey Estuary, St Catherine’s Castle isn’t your grand Cornish fortress. This compact 16th-century artillery fort, built by King Henry VIII, offers a captivating blend of history, stunning scenery, and a touch of adventure.

Constructed during a period of international tension, St Catherine’s Castle served as a vital coastal defense. Its D-shaped design, equipped with gun-ports for cannons, provided a strategic line of sight across the estuary, guarding against potential invasion from France and the Holy Roman Empire. Protected by a curtain wall and the surrounding cliffs, the castle remained in use for many years, a silent guardian over the bustling port of Fowey.

Today, St Catherine’s Castle offers a glimpse into its fascinating past. Explore the well-preserved interior of the tower, imagining the soldiers who once patrolled its ramparts. Descend into the lower battery, a later addition from the Crimean War, showcasing the fort’s evolution through the centuries. Climb the narrow path along the coastline for breathtaking views of the Fowey River snaking its way inland, dotted with sailboats and fishing vessels.

St Catherine’s Castle isn’t just about history; it’s a haven for nature lovers and adventurers alike. The walk from Fowey to the castle provides a scenic route, offering glimpses of hidden coves and lush greenery. For those seeking a challenge, the climb to the castle rewards with panoramic vistas of the Cornish coastline.

While not as large as some Cornish castles, St Catherine’s charm lies in its accessibility and family-friendly atmosphere. The free entry makes it a budget-friendly option, and the relatively small size allows for easy exploration with children. Keep a watchful eye on little ones near the cliff edges, but otherwise, let them run free and soak in the historical ambience.

St Catherine’s Castle may be a small fort, but its historical significance and stunning location make it a must-visit for anyone exploring Cornwall. Whether you’re a history buff seeking a glimpse into England’s coastal defenses or simply a nature lover yearning for breathtaking views, St Catherine’s Castle offers a unique and captivating experience.

Best Castles of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

castles of cornwall

“Castles of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly” is a comprehensive guide exploring the rich history and architectural marvels of Cornwall’s castles. From iconic landmarks to hidden gems, this book delves into the captivating stories behind these structures, offering a fascinating journey through Cornwall’s cultural heritage and scenic landscapes.

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