Carrickfergus Castle is possibly Ireland’s best-preserved Norman castle. The Battle of Hastings (Norman conquest of England) was fought and won in 1066, but the Norman conquest of Ireland didn’t take place for another 100 years, in 1169, when Strongbow made an alliance with the McMurrough-Kavanagh family (eventually marrying daughter Aiofe) and the Normans invaded Counties Wexford and Waterford in Ireland’s southeast. It didn’t take long for eastern Ireland to fall under Normal rule, deposing the Irish king. Built in 1177, Carrickfergus Castle was designed to be Norman noble John de Courcy’s headquarters from which to rule this corner of Ulster. In fact, Carrickfergus predates Belfast as Ulster’s capital and main city. De Courcy was top Norman at Carrickfergus until 1204 when he was ousted by compatriot Hugh de Lacy, another well-known name in Ireland. See, Carrickfergus is a proper fortress. Built on a narrow rocky outcrop over the local harbour, the castle has massive walls, a strong keep and its own well, meaning as long as it was stocked with food, it could hold out on a siege for a very long time. But, nothing is impossible, and in 1210 King John laid siege and waited them out, taking control of the castle when those few still alive could stand it no longer. Over the years, the castle grew in size and comfort. A beautiful vaulted chapel was built in Romanesque style – still one of the best parts of the castle. As gunpowder came into being, the castle acquired gun loops and cannons. Carrickfergus was generally seen to be a sign of English dominance over the local Irish, and it was from here that the Crown launched its forces. Carrickfergus changed hands many times in the 17th and 18th centuries, and was used as a prison during the Napoleonic wars – remnants of cells remain to this day. While the regional capital of Northern Ireland was eventually moved to Belfast and Carrickfergus lost some of its importance, it remains a bustling and colourful market town, lovely and beautiful in this lesser-visited corner of the famous County Antrim.
Pro tip: Do the guided tour – it is worth it! And it doesn’t cost any extra. The tour guides are really passionate about the castle, and you’ll learn plenty. Afterwards, if it’s a warm day, go to the local shop – almost any will do, look for the plastic cones – and ask for a “99” – soft serve ice cream with a chocolate flake. A favourite of the Irish no matter the weather! (Too cold for you? Go for a pint instead – you have plenty of options. We recommend a Guinness.).
Built by the infamous William the Conquerer, this 11th century castle occupies a commanding position over the Dorset hills and coastlines in southern England (though archeological evidence suggests that the area has been occupied for as much as 6,000 years). Corfe Castle holds the distinction of being one of England‘s first stone (or at least partially stone) castles and though ruined, Corfe Castle is still partially intact. The medieval era saw further defensive structural changes in the 12th-13th centuries (in keeping constant with updates in warfare), staying more or less the same until 1572 when Queen Elizabeth sold Corfe Castle to a member of the English nobility. Besieged twice during the English Civil War, the second siege led to the castle’s downfall, and in 1645 it was deliberately destroyed (in technical terms, it was “slighted”) to eliminate Corfe Castle as a military power. Slowly falling into ruin since then, Corfe Castle is now one of southern England’s most impressive castle ruins, located in the Isle of Purbeck Peninsula (which is not actually an island). The Neolithic, Celtic, Roman, Viking, Saxon, Norman, Medieval and Elizabethan periods all show their faces on this beautiful part of English heritage.
Pro tip: You can take the train to Corfe Castle, alighting at Corfe Station. There are many lovely walks in the area – in particular, the hike along the Jurassic Coast of Devon and Dorset is particularly lovely. The closest city of consequence is Bournemouth, though Salisbury is decidedly more beautiful.
Welcome to the beautiful, rustic ruins of Cardiff Castle (or in Welsh Gaelic, Caerdydd Castell). This 11th Norman century fortification most likely commissioned by William the Conqueror, the castle was built on top of a 3rd century Roman fort, as the site provides a good vantage point to defend the city. Composed of a central Norman keep and squat lookout tower, circled by a thick defensive wall and a deep moat, perched on an artificial hilltop and topped with crinolines, the castle is the picture of fortified defence. It was repeatedly involved in conflicts between the Normans and the Welsh before finally becoming little more than a decoration after a rich Marquess built a Victorian mansion and demolished all other medieval buildings minus the Norman keep, thinking that it looked Romantic. In fact, during the Victorian era, owning a castle or ruin – a real one or an artificial ruin (called a folly) – was all the rage among the wealthy landowners at the time. Those who didn’t have a ruin on their property often either bought one, or constructed one (learn more about follies such as Sham Castle, Kreuzenstein Castle or the Chateau de Montmelas, or even the more modern Albigny-sur-Soane). Still, it makes a pretty awesome ruin! One of the most significant sites in Cardiff, be sure there to get there early (or visit off season!) to get the site to yourself.