“ Hertfordshire / England „
Berkhamstead Castle (Hertfordshire)
My husband and I have always been a fan of castles and ruins and from previous visits to other castles it seemed as though our little girl was becoming a fan of them as well (though she preferred to climb the ruins than look at them!). You would think with our love of castles we would have realised that we had our very own castle ruins only about 20 minutes drive down the road from us, though I only found out about Berkhamstead Castle ruins about six months ago! So with the weather warming up again after a cold period in August, we decided to take advantage and visit Berkhamstead for the day.
Berkhamstead Castle is situated in Hertfordshire in South East England, (map reference: SP996083).
If coming by car the easiest way for those who do not know the area is to take the A4251 into Berkhamstead and then follow the signs to the train station until you pick up those lovely brown signs to the castle itself. The train station is just around the corner from the castle and the station is on the London Midland line from Birmingham to Euston. For buses, it is always best to check before booking, though at the moment Arriva has frequent services between Watford and Aylesbury (No. 500) or between Hemel and Northchurch (No. 32) which stops in the high street which is about 10 minute walk away from the castle.
We knew the area reasonably well (which is even more surprising that we did not know about this castle!) and headed straight to a large outdoor carpark next to a playpark and the canal which we knew to be free though unfortunately at 10.45 in the morning, it was full up! We tried the spaces outside the castle next though these are limited and get full up early by those who take the train to work as they are also free so again no luck. All roads around the area do not allow parking and so that left us the station carpark opposite though as this cost £5.50 we decided to go to the local KidZone first! This way our daughter was happy! Luckily, after our daughter had had enough of climbing in the indoor play centre, we were able to get a space in the playground carpark for free. This is literally just down the road from the castle, behind the supermarket and next to the canal so in a perfect position.
The castle gates open at 10.00am every day and close at 4pm in the winter and 6pm in the summer and the best thing about these ruins is that they are completely FREE! It is a rare thing to be able to go into castle ruins for free these days, no matter what size the castle or ruins are.
WELCOME TO THE CASTLE
I have been to many castle ruins in my time, some big and full, and others very small. Berkhamstead Castle ruins leans more to the small side. There are few complete ruins to explore, and mainly just pieces of the walls dotted around. There is one part which you can clearly see was once a room and a few pieces which have door arches and peep holes though if you are looking for more then this might not be for you. Personally, it did not matter at all that it was small; my husband, myself and my daughter really enjoyed it.
On entrance to the castle you go through some large gates and up a stone driveway. This is reasonably smooth and pushing a buggy up it was not too difficult so wheelchair users should not have too much of a problem, though there are some very steep hills within the ruins in which could certainly cause problems. It was then when I noticed something I had never seen before; a lovely little house in the middle of the castle! A very unique place to have a home! This house is private, though, and has nothing to do with the castle at all, though there is a small part to the side of it with some information and history about the castle which you can go and see. This is only a small room though well worth a look if you are interested in the history of the castle.
The history, in brief, is thus;
It all begins after the defeat of Harold in the battle of Hastings in 1066. The Duke William of Normandy marched his army through the South of England until he reached Berkhamstead. Here he was met by the Archbishop Ealdred, the Bishops of Worcester and Hereford and the chief men of London who swore allegiance to him and offered him the crown. After he was officially crowned in London, he granted the Manor and Honour of Berkhamstead to his half-brother, Robert (Count of Mortain).
A more detailed account can be found online in such places as http://www.berkhamsted-castle.org.uk.
Back to the castle visit itself!
The castle covers a vast open space of grass, surrounded by a double moat which is mainly filled with weeds these days. The large open space is perfect for children to run around and enables people to sit down and have picnics (which is what we did!). There is no cover in the castle ruins, though, so bring an umbrella if there is a hance of rain! My younger brother was going to have his birthday party here back in June though unfortunately the rain cancelled it though this is a perfect place for active children to have a party and best of all it is completely free. As far as I know, you do not need to inform anyone of your party plans - just turn up on the day and celebrate!
Around the large open space are many parts of the castle ruins. There is one interesting rectangular area which looks as though it was once a room, though try as we might, we could not find where the door could have been! This piece is sanded inside and would work well for children playing a small game of football! Many of the pieces of ruins are up on hills which are quite steep so no good for prams or wheelchairs though this will not prevent enjoyment from the peaceful area (though the high speed trains coming past every now and again might!). The highest point, and possibly the most interesting part of the castle, is the motte which is approximately 13m high. This may not seem that high though climbing back down made me very nervous! There is a set of stone steps to the side of the motte with hand rails all the way up. The steps are well kept and easy to walk up, though can be quite scary when you look down! The other side of the motte it is apparent that people have climbed up the hill - we even saw some young children climbing up which got me very nervous as they kept slipping from the steepness and it is quite a drop. Suffice to say, we took the steps both up and down! Once at the top you get quite a view over the ruins and a little over the surrounding part of Berkhamstead, though most the view is blocked by tall trees. Upon the top of the motte is some more stone ruins as well as a stone hole in the ground which looks like a well. This is fenced up really well, unlike the motte itself so be careful when going near the edge as it is a large drop!
Although not the largest of ruins, it is still a lovely place to visit and the interesting local history is appealing. It is the perfect place for picnics though do take sun cream on hot days as it is a sun trap! Our two and a half year old daughter loved racing around the big open space as well as climbing (with our help) over the smaller ruins to explore. She even made one lower piece which had three sections into her imaginary house complete with door and a hole in the wall television! I love her little imagination! We had explained that the castle had fallen down over the years and she was happy to point out all the 'broken bits' of castles to us!
There are no facilities here at all. As already mentioned, the steep hills and slopes make it difficult for prams and wheelchairs, though access into the main part of the castle space is easy enough for both prams and wheelchairs - we had no problems pushing the buggy into the castle grounds. Parking is very limited and you might have to end up paying £5.50 for the station carpark, though do check the playground carpark just down the road if you can not find a space opposite the castle entrance as this is completely free and only a five minute walk away. There are also no toilets or shops or any other facilities on the grounds. Nearest toilets are in the station I presume (as we never went there) and the town is about 15 minutes walk down the road.
This is a perfect place for a picnic and has a wonderful area to explore. It is not very big though certainly well worth visiting if you are in the area, and best of all, it is completely free.
The castle dates back to the 11th century and is an earthwork motte and bailey fortress with a dual moat.