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It's kind of hard to miss Bolsover Castle. Situated in the small, fairly non-descript village of Bolsover in Derbyshire it dominates the area. Sitting high on a hilltop and situated right on the hill edge, it is an impressive building and a fantastic castle to visit, whether your preference is for old, traditional style castles or something (slightly) more modern.
As noted above, Bolsover Castle dominates the area it is in, so it is hard to miss. Thankfully, it's also easy to get to by car. Simply follow the signs to Bolsover village from Chesterfield and the castle sits right on the edge of the town. The castle site itself is well-signed with the usual brown signs and there is a car park near the entrance which is free for visitors to the castle (although you need to obtain a token from the gift shop to operate the exit barrier.)
A Quick History Lesson
Bolsover Castle dates from the 1600s and belonged to a family loyal to the Royalist cause in the English Civil War. When Charles I was exiled, the owner of Bolsover went into exile with him and suffered the indignity of seeing his ancestral home being partially destroyed by the Parliamentarians as punishment for his support of the late King. When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1662, the lords of Bolsover returned, embarking on an ambitious rebuilding project that resulted in the castle we see today.
Bolsover Castle actually consists of two distinct parts. The biggest part of the site is occupied by a ruin, dating from Tudor and Stuart times. Despite being a ruin, the castle still consists of some pretty impressive structures, including a rare example of a 17th century Keep. Although none of the internal structure remains, it's often clear from the remaining walls where the original rooms were (so for example you can see the walls which marked the Great Hall or Kitchens) and these give you a good idea of how the castle would have been laid out in the late 16th or early 17th centuries. The owners were also great lovers of horses, and the old stable blocks and riding area which they built are still mostly intact and can be viewed today.
The ruins are surprisingly extensive and, whilst there are no towers to climb and or complete rooms, it will still take quite a while to wander around. Most of the main rooms have some well-written boards giving you information about each area (although a few of these repeat information you have already read elsewhere) and taking you through the history and development of the castle and the significant events it has witnessed. For an English Heritage site, the boards are very good (lack of information is a weakness of many EH sites, I find). They give you a potted history of the site and point out some of the more interesting features to look out for on the castle. An audio tour is available (free), if you want more information, but I can't comment on this as we didn't use it.
In addition to all of this, there is a very well put together exhibition in the old stable block which gives lots of information about Bolsover and the family that lived there. This is well-written and interesting and I'd recommend it as the first place to go when you enter the castle as it really gives you an idea of the history of the site and things you should be looking out for as you wander around.
A nice touch is a little video presentation (lasting about 15 minutes) which takes you round some key parts of the site and shows you what it looks like. This is mainly aimed at disabled visitors or the infirm (to whom large parts of the castle would be otherwise inaccessible) and is well put together, if ever so slightly cheesy in parts. Supposedly narrated from the viewpoint of one of the Lord's loyal servants, it takes you through certain parts of the castle and pointing out what they would have looked like in their heyday, helping to give the ruins a sense of place and context.
Fine though the architecture is, however, the most impressive feature of Bolsover is arguably the view. One of the most complete parts of the castle stands right on the edge of the hill. From here, you can see just how completely the castle dominates the surrounding area; the owners were literally looking down on everyone and reminding them of how important they were. Today, this means that the castle offers stunning views across the Derbyshire and Yorkshire countryside and on a clear day, you can see for miles.
The ruins of Bolsover Castle are well worth seeing and if you enjoy wandering around ruined sites are very interesting. Mrs SWSt and I easily spent the best part of two hours there and enjoyed every minute of it. The ruins are on an impressive scale and the views across the surrounding countryside almost worth the admission price on their own!
You do, however, need to go on a good day. Since it is a ruin, much of the site is open to the elements and on a rainy day, you would get very wet indeed. Moreover, because it sits on top of a hill, the site is very exposed and open to the wind. The day we went, the UK was being battered by the tail end of a hurricane and it was so windy that we could scarcely hear each other talk even when we were standing right next to each other! Some areas were like a wind tunnel and the wind there was so strong that it was a struggle just to walk in a straight line. Choose the day of your visit with care!
But surely, I hear you cry, you said there were two castles at Bolsover and so far you've only talked about one. What can I say? You've got me. So here goes...
The second castle is affectionately known as the Little Castle and is a stone keep-like building in the middle of the ruins. This new section, built after the Restoration, is still complete and visitors can go inside and see the lavishly decorated interiors which depict myths and legends in rich colours on the walls. It's here you can see the changing nature of castles: from a building designed to protect and defend to one designed to impress its visitors with its grandiose (and expensive) decor.
Sadly, I can't tell you much more as the Little Castle was closed off when we visited, due to the high winds. Some people say that it is the most impressive part of the castle, although since both Mrs SWSt and I love ruined castles, I suspect we would still have preferred the older ruins and would have been more disappointed had we been able to get the Little Castle, but not the older 17th century section. From what we saw on the video presentation mentioned above, the Little Castle does indeed look very ornate and in your face - perhaps slightly tacky for modern day sensibilities, but still impressive in a gaudy way.
The castle has the usual gift shop selling a range of goods for both adults and kids, together with a decent sized tearoom which sold some very nice cakes and is well worth a visit. There are toilets just outside the shop and (unusually) another lot inside the castle.
Entrance to the castle is £8 for adults, £4.80 for children and £7.20 for concessions (2012 prices). Although slightly more expensive than some properties, you effectively get two castles for the price of one, so it represents good value for money. Even without seeing inside the Little Castle, Mrs SWSt and I spent the best part of two hours there. And, in fairness to English Heritage, they reduced the admission cost to half price on the day we went due to the lack of access to the complete site. Given how much else there is to see on the site, I felt that this was a very fair offer indeed.
With its impressive views of the surrounding countryside, imposing ruins and the addition of the Little Castle, Bolsover castle is a fine example of a 17th century castle, which charts both the defensive importance of such buildings and the gradual move to more ornate, elaborate family homes all on the one site. Well worth a visit. Just make sure you pick a nice day to go!
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
This is one of my favourites of the English Heritage venues, I have some wonderful memories of days out. A romantic date sat enjoying wine and roast chicken on the ballroom steps facing out over the countryside, a date watching the local re-enactment society and joining in the dancing and another time watching the travails of King Arthur by a performance group.
Visibly towering over the surrounding countryside from its hilltop and visible from the M1 motorway, Bolsover occupies the site of a medieval castle built by the Peverel family shortly after the Norman Conquest.
Sir Charles Cavendish purchased the old castle in 1612 and began renovation and expansion on his 'Little Castle' project. Despite its wounded appearance, Cavendish' masterpiece was not designed for war, but for sophisticated living.
Representative of a better time, it was created more as a retreat than a full time home and the architecture and decor inside the conserved areas are evidence of that.
There is restoration work being undertaken at the moment, bring back the majesty of the battlements and the Venus Gardens, the fountain is in use again after hundreds of years frozen in time.
Furthermore, a series of paintings or enormous value historically have recently been returned to the castle, again creating more of the view of what would have stood there hundreds of years ago.
The buildings are beautiful, built in more than one stage, the architecture is somewhat inconsistent but gorgeous nonetheless. Parts of the buildings are preserved and redecorated to give a better example of the standard of living for the various class levels which would have resided there.
There is an audio tape tour you can enjoy as you wander the grounds and gain some real knowledge about the history.
There are often events here, especially through summer and autumn, and it really helps make it a full day out.
Bonfire night and Christmas both get a nod in the events calendar too, with a fantastic fireworks display for one and a wonderful festive market for the other. The market can be really expensive and parking very limited for both events.
A smaller than average gift shop but still worth picking something up from there to remember your visit.
A while ago I produced a review about the town of Bolsover in Derbyshire. In it I mentioned the lovely castle that sits on the hill overlooking the Vale of Scarsdale and the surrounding Derbyshire countryside. We don't visit as often as we should, but I very lucky in that I get to help out at events (the most recent being the Derbyshire Food & Drink Fair), gaining me free entry to the grounds and castle.
~~~HOW TO GET THERE.
We usually go to the castle from where we live in Chesterfield. Our normal methods of transport are either a shared taxi (costs about £8.00 from the town centre) or by bus (numbers 81 to 83 drop off at the centre of town and its not far to walk to the castle). There is a train station around six miles away (also in Chesterfield) and then you need to walk into the centre to get the bus to Bolsover. If approaching by car there are a number of signposts leading from junction 29 of the M1 - if you are driving from the direction of Chesterfield it is approximately six miles east of the town on the A632. If you need any further directions there is a postcode/town search function on the English Heritage website at http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.11540 which gives more detailed information from anywhere in the UK via Googlemaps.
There is a pay car park in Bolsover itself, as well as a dedicated coach park opposite the entrance to the castle and a car park with disabled bays.
~~~A BIT OF HISTORY.
There has been a castle on the site since the time of the Norman Conquest, when the Peveril family built the castle as a defensive structure. It was purchased by Sir Charles Cavendish in 1612, who changed the focus from the defensive to the decorative. It was at this point that work began on the "Little Castle" and Charles turned the castle into more of a retreat than a place of battle. Charles' son William (the Duke of Newcastle) took over the reins in 1616 and continued in the same manner - elegance and opulence reigned and William was renowned as a bit of a fan of the erotic (those who saw the recent Most Haunted Live for Halloween will know about the supposed orgies and devil worship!)!
During William's tenure the Terrace Range and the Riding House were constructed and it is at this point that the castle became the building that we mostly see today. Recent years have seen an extensive restoration project and Bolsover Castle has begun the recapture the grandeur that visitors in William's era must have experienced - although it has recently been reported in our local newspapers that vandals are trying to undo the good work and are stealing the lead from the roofs and generally trying to wreck the place!
~~~A VISIT TO THE CASTLE.
The castle is open to the public this year can also be found on the English Heritage website - they change seasonally so I'm not going to list them here because they may not be accurate when you decide to pop over.
It currently costs £6.80 for adults, £3.40 for children and £5.10 for concessions. Members of English Heritage can get in for free and family ticket will set you back £17.00. Guided tours can be arranged, but these do cost about £4.00 each on top of the standard entrance charge. It's always worth checking whether there are any special events happening because these often offer a good deal which includes entrance to the grounds and castle. There is a 15% discount for groups of 11 or more visitors paying together plus a free place for every additional 20 paying passengers. This includes free entry for the coach driver and tour leader too. It's worth bearing in mind that groups need to give at least six weeks notice of their visit and need to book on 01246 823349.
Events include the Food & Drink Fair in May, Christmas Shopping Weekend in November and a variety of historical themed events throughout the year - check regularly on the English Heritage website for details or see local press and TICs.
Disabled access isn't bad to most areas of the site, although there are a few steps here and there. Wheelchair users should note that the Little Castle isn't accessible at all. For anyone with visual impairment there are a number of audio-visual displays and also tactile models in the Discovery Centre (more on that in a bit). For the hearing impaired there is a hearing loop.
***The Riding House***
It was here that the Duke's horses were trained and exercised in the elegant manner of Jacobean England. It is a magnificent structure that has really been restored in a sympathetic way. Allow around half an hour to go around it fully.
This is really a place to keep the younger visitors entertained during a visit to the castle (most of the building hasn't much to offer children to be really honest). Here there are audio-visual displays, models and exhibits. Again allow about half an hour for this part.
You really need a good day to appreciate the grounds fully. Clear and bright weather is also essential for experiencing the spectacular views of the valley from the top of the hill where the castle is sited. A wander around the grounds takes you to the Venus Garden (very beautiful with statues and seats where you can have a bit of peace), the Fountain Garden (recently restored and well worth a look because the fountain now works after hundreds of years of being broken) and plenty of grassy spaces for a picnic (there are some picnic tables set up too). In the grounds you can also visit the café, the visitor centre (where there is also a shop) and toilets (including disabled access toilets).
We generally don't bother with the café or the picnic area and try to time our visit so we can be out while the local pub (The Blue Bell) is still doing meals. Failing that there are one or two good takeaways in Bolsover town centre - there is a chippie too that also has an inside eating area.
This is a really good idea because it does mean that paying for the guided tour isn't really necessary. The tour takes around an hour, but this really is down to you - you are put in charge of your visit and how much or how little you choose to learn is entirely down to your own preference. I found the audio tour very interesting and enjoyed learning more about the history of the building and the people who resided and visited the castle through the ages. Anyone with less interest in history may not find it quite so good - but again it's down to personal preferences. The tour is well put together and does give some good insights.
The tour takes you through all the different buildings and actually helps to bring some of the rooms to life. Most of the rooms are unfurnished and without the help of the descriptions it could be quite difficult to fully appreciate what you are seeing - it would be nice one day to see some of the rooms restored so we can see how magnificent the place once was!
For anyone interested in history and enjoys visiting places of interest, Bolsover Castle is an excellent place to come to. If bringing children it would be best if you try to time your visit to coincide with a special event. These tend to be around Bank holiday weekends but are often at other times too. They do vary but there are often medieval combats, archery days or other historic re-enactments that are really good and very interesting for all age groups.
The weather also plays a big part in the success of a day here. Without the weather on your side the views are lost and the day could be a bit of a washout. There are things to do inside, but it is the setting and the gardens that make the castle what it is for the tourist.
I love Bolsover Castle and every time I travel to Bolsover I look and comment on how impressive it looks towering over the valley and protecting the small town. I can see why the location was picked and can't fault it as a tourist destination and a top ten place to visit on a day out in Derbyshire!
Following the triumphs of William the Conqueror during his famous battle of 1066 the newly appointed King William set about rewarding those loyal men who had fought for his cause and several different Castles were built and given away as gifts. The Peveril family was one of the greatest beneficiaries for their support and all across Northern England there are examples of Castles connected to this prominent family. Bolsover Castle near Chesterfield is one of the finest examples of such a Castle.
Following four centuries of occupation by the Peveril's, Bolsover Castle fell into a state of disrepair. In 1553 it was purchased by Sir George Talbot who set about restoring it back to its former glory. Sir George Talbot later became the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and one of the largest landowners in the East Midlands. He is however probably best remembered for his association and eventual marriage to Bess of Hardwick. Bess of Hardwick was a formidable woman whom it would seem if the history books are correct, set about marrying a whole string of wealthy older gentlemen just prior to their death. She is associated with almost all of the large country houses in this area, including the vast Chatsworth Estate. In fact of her six surviving children the eldest two sons became the first Dukes of Devonshire and Newcastle respectively. The Dukes of Newcastle were later amalgamated through marriage into the Dukes of Portland.
In 1608 Bolsover Castle was sold to Charles Cavendish,. The Cavendish's were another prominent family that was later to become the Dukes of Portland. Charles Cavendish modified the Castle and redesigned it for elegant living, rather than for defence. This work included the building of the tower, which was completed in 1621. This tower is today known as the "Little Castle".
Unlike the majority of other English Castles, Bolsover Castle largely survived attack during the English Civil War when so many other similar Castles were destroyed. This was partly attributed to the fact that by this time its defence purposes had been largely diminished.
By the early 18th century the Cavendish family had more or less retreated to their country estate at Welbeck Abbey, which is still the seat of the Dukes of Portland today. In 1752 the Cavendish's stripped the lead from Bolsover Castle's roof and plundered other items to carry out repairs to their now preferred residence at Welbeck Abbey. Once again Bolsover Castle fell into disrepair and for over a century it remained largely unoccupied. In 1945 the 7th Duke of Portland gave Bolsover Castle to the nation and today it is cared for by English Heritage.
Today Bolsover Castle still dominates the town. The Castle sits on top of a hill overlooking the town centre and has magnificent views right across towards the Peak District National Park and Chesterfield. It is easy to understand why this spot was such an obvious place to build a fort.
Bolsover Castle is one the most intact Castles that I have visited. This is due partly due to the extensive renovations that English Heritage has carried out but it is also because as far as English Castles go, this was in a pretty good condition to start with. There are roofs on top of the most important areas of the Castle and the whole place has a real feel of still being lived in, although it no longer is permanently lived in. At night the whole Castle is lit up and its bright orange glow can be seen from many miles around. It can be clearly seen from between junctions 29 and 30 of the M1 Motorway.
Despite occupying such a prominent position within Bolsover the Castle cannot be seen close up without paying your entrance fee. Of course it is possible to see the Castle from a distance but when you are close to it you find that it is entirely hidden behind huge walls. From the gates on the road all that is visible is the visitors centre.
It is possible to have a look around the visitors centre for free but to access the Castle you need to pass through a turnstile within this centre. The visitors centre is well worth lingering around for a while and there are various exhibitions here telling the story of this Castle. There is also a gift shop and toilets, which have facilities for the disabled and baby changing units.
Bolsover Castle is a large Castle, with a neatly trimmed grassy courtyard in the middle. The Little Castle is very well preserved and has fancy leaded windows, which at first glance I mistook for stained glass windows. There is a steep, winding staircase inside here which is well worth climbing right to the top as the views from here are amazing.
The Castle is open at the following times:
April 1st - April 30th - Daily (except Tuesdays and Wednesdays) from 10am until 5pm
May 1st - September 30th - Daily from 10am until 6pm
October 1st - October 31st - Daily (except Tuesdays and Wednesdays) from 10am until 5pm
November 1st - March 31st - Daily (except Tuesdays and Wednesdays) from 10am until 4pm.
Admission charges are:
Adults - £6.80 (10 Euros)
Concessions - £5.10 (7.5 Euros)
Children (aged 5-15) - £3.40 (5 Euros)
Family ticket - £16.50 (24.5 Euros)
English Heritage Members - Free
Children under 5 - Free
Overall I would definitely recommend a visit to Bolsover Castle, although it can work out a little bit pricey.
Set on a hilltop overlooking the Vale of Scarsdale, Bolsover Castle enjoys panoramic views over the beautiful Derbyshire countryside. Children will love the fairytale Little Castle, designed as a fantasy entertainment house with magnificent wall paintings. Visit the indoor Riding House where William, Duke of Newcastle indulged his passion for training horses in balletic movement. Wander round the beautiful Venus Garden, with its secluded love seats, 23 statues and fountain which plays again for the first time in centuries. There are also intriguing audio-visual displays to enjoy in the Discovery Centre.