“ Address: Tarporley / Cheshire / England „
Beeston Castle has an impressive setting, atop a 350 feet high sandstone crag in the middle of the Cheshire plain. The site has been important for human settlers since Neolithic times; flint arrow heads have been discovered as well as more recent remains of a Bronze Age community and Iron Age hilltop fort.
The castle was built in the 1220s by the sixth Earl of Chester. The castle was in use until after the English Civil War, after which it was partially demolished, in 1646, to prevent further use. It is rumoured that treasure belonging to Richard II is buried in the grounds, although extensive searches have proven fruitless.
The castle's design is based on a Syrian castle that the Earl of Chester saw during the Crusades. There is no keep; the stronghold's defences relying on massive walls, strong gate houses, and strategically placed towers.
Water, always a weak point in the event of a siege, was obtained by digging a well. This well, since the castle is 350 above the plain below, had to be dug 370 feet down through solid sandstone! This was one of the deepest castle wells in England.
The natural geology of the sandstone crag gave Beeston a huge defensive advantage; sheer drops are present on three sides, with a 30 foot drop in front of the fourth. I can imagine attackers gazing in dismay at this formidable fortress and baulking at the thought of attacking it.
Today the castle is owned by English Heritage who maintain the grade I listed building and operate it as a tourist attraction.
The castle lies near the village of Tarporley, around eleven miles from Chester: it is signposted from the main A49 road, so is relatively easy to find. There is a large, free car park outside the entrance.
Entry to the castle grounds costs £5.00 for adults and £2.50 for children. Members of English Heritage get in for free. Once inside the grounds, it's a long steep climb to get to the castle gate. Thankfully, a modern walkway with railings now crosses the final defences, allowing visitors to travel the final few yards in safety, through the massive stone structure of the inner bailey.
The steep climb means that only relatively fit people should attempt to walk to the castle. It is possible to push a pushchair to the top, but I would not recommend it due to the occasional rough ground.
In crossing the bridge, I always imagine what attackers must have faced crossing the same area; arrows and boiling oil raining down from above, with their flimsy scaling ladders being pushed off the walls by the defenders.
Once inside the castle, the scale of the place is evident. Unfortunately in ruins, enough of the structure remains intact to gain an impression of how impregnable this fortress must have been. The outer bailey is huge, and surrounded by a massive stone wall. The walls surrounding the entrance still stand and give an impression of solidity, despite the demolition work that was performed elsewhere.
A further short steep climb leads the visitor out into the centre of the castle. It is highly likely at this point, that new visitors will stand and stare. The view is reputed to be one of the best castle views in England. The Cheshire plain stretches flatly for miles around and, on a clear day, it's possible to see eight counties, from the Welsh mountains in the west, to the Pennines in the north.
The 'castle on the rock' as it was known was a superb defensive position. The view ensured that there was no chance of a surprise attack. With the elevated 360 degree views, no attacking army could get close without being spotted, giving the defenders plenty of time to prepare a 'warm' welcome.
Still visible is the 370 foot deep well. The well top is covered by iron bars to stop people falling in, but it's still possible to look down and see the light disappearing into the blackness far below. It must have been a hard job hauling buckets of water up from so far underground.
Today, the crag is used by many breeding birds. A colony of jackdaws live here, and their harsh calls can be heard as the visitor looks down on them flying below. Ravens, the largest crows in the world, breed here also. Beeston's most famous resident is the spectacular peregrine falcon. The fastest animal on the planet breeds on the sandstone cliff below the castle.
Unbelievably, in 2008, the crag was subjected to a modern attack, this time by thieves who scaled the cliffs and robbed the peregrines of their chicks. Happily, 2009 was a more successful season for the falcons. Thanks to a 24 hour watch by a dedicated team of observers, three peregrine chicks have hatched and are being nurtured by their parents.
There is more wildlife to be seen in the castle grounds at lower levels. The site contains over forty acres of woodland, home to many resident birds and summer visitors. These wonderful woods are at their best in spring and summer when all the birds, including pied flycatchers, redstarts, and wood warblers, will be singing their little hearts out trying to attract a mate.
Woodpeckers and owls are also found here. Owls are unlikely to be seen during the day, but the great spotted woodpecker will be heard 'drumming' on dead wood, announcing its territory, whilst the green woodpecker can be heard calling its bizarre 'yaffle' call that sounds like an insane laugh!
Back at ground level, the entrance building houses toilets, an exhibition and a small shop. The exhibition shows some of the ancient artefacts discovered on the site, as well as details of the castle's history. The shop has (of course) a castle theme, selling some nice ornaments as well as the usual kids stuff.
Limited refreshments are available, but there is a wonderful picnic area just outside the shop. Here, nice old picnic tables, set in a lush green field, are surrounded by woodland. My family and I had a lovely picnic here in spring, soaking up the sunshine below the castle walls.
English Heritage organise events through the year at the castle. Check their website for details (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.13501).
For those wanting a meal after the strenuous walk to the castle, I can recommend The Pheasant Inn. This is located a few miles away in the village of Higher Burwardsley. The inn serves superb food and real ale and although not cheap, is a lovely place to have lunch ( see http://www.thepheasantinn.co.uk/ for details).
I've been to Beeston Castle a few times now and never tire of this place. The sense of history here is amazing; people have been occupying the site for four thousand years and the castle ruins are mute witness to important and brutal events from medieval times.
The walks through the woods and the views from the castle are spectacular, and the exhibition well worth seeing, too. If you're in the area, and are interested in history, or just love good scenery and spectacular views, I can recommend a trip to Beeston Castle, particularly on a nice sunny day.