Newest Review: ... in the 1060s to its use during both world wars as a camp for conscientious objectors. Although small, the exhibition is amongst the best... more
Rich by name, Rich by nature
Member Name: SWSt
Date: 29/07/11, updated on 29/07/11 (43 review reads)
Advantages: Excellent, well-designed exhibition, stunning views from the top of the tower
Disadvantages: Expensive, not much else remains; elderly/unfit/disabled people will be unable to climb the tower
(Note: this review is purely about Richmond Castle, but at the request of Dooyoo is being added to the general category for Richmond)
Mrs SWSt and I have been to lovely market town of Richmond in North Yorkshire a number of times since we moved to the north east. However, for a whole variety of reasons, we had never actually been into the castle. Having recently invested in English Heritage membership, we decided to put this right.
Getting to Richmond Castle could not be simpler. It sits right in the middle of Richmond town centre, so whether you are travelling by car, public transport or walking, there is easy access. Nor can you miss it, since the castle sits on the top of a hill in the centre of the town.
A Quick History Lesson
Richmond Castle was first built under Norman rule when the land was given to one of William the Conqueror's loyal followers as a reward for his support in the conquest of England. Obviously the castle has evolved significantly over the years, but there are some very old parts of the castle still standing. Interestingly, despite its strong degree of fortification and ideal defensive location, Richmond Castle has never been involved in any sort of siege or war, which has to be some sort of record for a castle that is over 1000 years old.
Before entering the castle itself (accessed via the gift shop), you'd be well advised to go upstairs first (also accessed via the gift shop!). Here there is an excellent exhibition which charts the development of the castle from its origins in the 1060s to its use during both world wars as a camp for conscientious objectors.
Although small, the exhibition is amongst the best of its kind that I have seen. It contains the usual illustrated storyboards which contain a mixture of text and pictures to keep both adults and kids entertained. However, some effort has also been made to make it more interesting. In one area, a number of small market stalls have been set up, showing the types of food which might have been available from the town's market in medieval times, together with a display of some of the various finds which have been made in the castle.
There's also a really interesting section on the use of the castle to house conscientious objectors. Normally, once you get past about 1660, I lose interest in history, but this display was fascinating and very well constructed. One aspect that was particularly interesting was an interactive TV screen which allows you to view some of the graffiti carved by these men during their detention in the castle. This includes things like their names, length of their incarceration or comments on the conditions in which they were held. Sadly, due to preservation and health and safety issues, you can no longer see the actual graffiti, which is very sensible, but a bit of a shame, and the TV screen offers you the only chance to see it.
On entering the castle, there's no doubting its centrepiece - a massive tower, still standing, which can be climbed right to the very top. A few of the rooms on the way up are still accessible, which give you some idea of what life in the tower would have been like. It's from the very top, however, that the extensive climb is rewarded, as it offers some truly stunning panoramic views of the North Yorkshire countryside and, on a good day, you can see for absolutely miles. This really gives you a sense of how crucial the positioning of the castle was from a defensive point of view - no-one could have snuck up on it, that's for sure!
You do need to bear in mind that the climb to the top of this tower is via some very steep stone steps and anyone who is unfit or disabled will not be able to visit this area. In fact, if this is the case, you might want to seriously consider whether it's worth visiting Richmond Castle as there's no doubt that the views from the tower are by far the highlight of the visit.
For the rest, there isn't actually a great deal more to see, as most of internal infrastructure of the castle has fallen down over the years. You can see the foundations and walls of a couple of additional rooms and the walls of most of the original main hall remain which helps you understand how much the castle grew during its lifetime. However, for the most part, the castle is pretty much reduced to shell formed by the outside walls; the interior is mostly an enclosed open, grassed area which contains a few piles of stone marking out the foundations of different rooms.
If you are interested in this sort of thing the original gardens (which would have been used to provide both food and herbs for medicines) have been re-created in one section of the castle. Personally, I found this a little dull, as it was essentially, just a garden like any other, but if you have an interest in plants, I'm sure it will be fascinating.
The actual castle itself is fairly low on facilities. There's a small shop (although this only sells gifts, not food), a picnic area and some slightly primitive looking portakabins providing toilets and a baby changing area. This is not really a problem, however, as the castle sits right in the centre of town, with easy access to all the shops and other facilities.
At 2011 prices, a visit to Richmond Castle will cost adults £4.60 (concessions £4.10) and children £2.80. As with so many other English Heritage properties, I do feel that this is a little over-priced. Once you have climbed the one surviving tower, there isn't actually a great deal else to see. Most of the interior of the castle has long since disappeared, so that with the exception of a few mounds of stone here and there, there is not that much else. Certainly, we spent no more than about 45 minutes in there, although since we got in for free, thanks to our English Heritage membership, we didn't mind this so much. However, had we paid almost £5 each, I think we would have felt a little cheated.
If you don't think you would be able to climb to the top of the tower, you definitely would feel ripped off as there is no doubt that this is the main attraction for the castle. Take that away and all you've really got is some old walls surrounded by a load of grass.
© Copyright SWSt 2011
Summary: Interesting, but costly