“ Address: Isle of Wight / PO30 1XY / England / Telephone: 01983 522107 „
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I am really interested in history and studied it at university, so it will come as no surprise to hear that I like to explore places of historical interest when I go on holiday. When I was researching my trip to the Isle of Wight, I found that it was home to many such places, many of them owned by English Heritage - as I am an EH member, I get free entry. One site owned by English Heritage is Carisbrooke Castle, which I resolved to visit.
*Location and Access*
Carisbrooke Castle stands on a hill overlooking the town of Carisbrooke, near Newport in the centre of the Isle of Wight. It's unsurprising that this site was chosen, since it overlooks the island for miles - perfect for defence.
The castle can be reached via car, with free parking nearby and further parking available in Carisbrooke itself, and via bus: the Southern Vectis services 6, 7, 11 and 38 all stop at Carisbrooke, as does the Medina Open Top Tour. You can get to the island itself via car on a ferry service, and on foot via services to Yarmouth and Ryde, from where you can catch the bus.
If you're reaching the castle via bus, be prepared for a long and steep walk up the hill. I was very glad I was wearing comfortable shoes! It was a pretty warm day when I visited and I was exhausted and out of breath when I reached the top!
The castle is open every day during the summer, and every day during half term; in the winter when it's not half term it is only open at the weekend. It's best to check the website for up-to-date opening times and dates.
*A Brief History*
A fortress has existed at Carisbrooke since Saxon times at least, but the current building was begun in about 1100. Given the Isle of Wight's proximity to France, with whom England was often at war, and to Europe generally, a fortress was naturally considered important, though the only serious siege took place in 1377 (against a French raiding force). After the threat of the Spanish Armada, Carisbrooke was surrounded by 'bastioned' outer earthworks.
Famously, King Charles I was imprisoned here in 1647-48 after he was defeated in the English Civil War. He tried to escape several times but on one memorable occasion became wedged in the window bars - you can still see the window. At first treated well, he was later more closely guarded once his plotting to renew the war was discovered.
Another well-known resident of Carisbrooke Castle was Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria's youngest daughter. The Queen loved the Isle of Wight and kept her youngest daughter with her as a companion, only allowing her to marry Prince Henry Maurice of Battenberg if the couple agreed to make their home with her. Victoria made Prince Henry Governor of the island, a role taken over by Beatrice on his death in 1896. In 1912 she moved to the Governor's House at Carisbrooke Castle, where she spent her summers until her death in 1944. She left her mark on the castle in the form of the commissioned altar painting in the chapel, designed in memory of a son killed in the First World War, and the Princess Beatrice Gardens, a favourite retreat, which have been redesigned (by gardening presenter Chris Beardshaw) in a period style with Edwardian flowers, water features and an orchard.
After my exhausting walk up the hill, I was incredibly thankful to reach the castle entrance. I showed my EH membership card and received my ticket, then headed toward the gatehouse. Once inside, I went into the room on the right, in which a film about the history of the castle is shown on a loop.
Clearly, English Heritage have been trying to appeal to the kids, as this film is narrated by a cartoon donkey! The donkey is voiced by Isle of Wight comedian Phil Jupitus and was chosen because of the famous donkeys in residence at Carisbrooke. The donkey tells the story of the castle, which I have summarised above.
After this enlightening treat, I resolved to explore the castle walls. You need to be reasonably fit to get the most from Carisbrooke Castle as there are a lot of steps to climb and narrow paths to navigate. However, if you can drag yourself up the view from the top is worth it - you can see all around the Isle of Wight. Luckily I was there on a clear day, and the views were magnificent. It took me a good hour or more to thoroughly explore the outside of the castle.
After being out in the sun, I decided next to go into the museum. The Carisbrooke Museum is managed by the Carisbrooke Museum Trust, but entry is included in your EH admission fee. The museum contains historical information about the castle, as well as information relating to Charles I: you can see the room in which he slept.
After having a look around the museum, I wanted to see the demonstration of donkeys operating the water wheel in the Elizabethan wheelhouse. However the queue was massive and I didn't want to wait for half an hour for the next demonstration. I feel that EH should plan the demonstrations better, perhaps allocating a time when you buy your ticket, to ensure you get a chance to see it. I did, however, get to see the donkeys in their enclosure. They were lovely, friendly creatures.
I had a much-needed piece of cake and cup of tea in the tea room, which was clean and inviting. Before leaving the castle I wandered around the pretty Princess Beatrice garden, which was beautifully laid out.
I had a great time at Carisbrooke Castle and my visit lasted several hours. I feel it is a good place to visit for all the family: children will love exploring the castle and looking at the donkeys while adults will enjoy the museum and the gardens. The lovely atmosphere and unique site of the castle can be appreciated by all.
There are toilets, a gift shop, a tea room and a picnic area available on site. Dogs are also welcome.
Accessible toilets are available on-site and it is possible to hire a wheelchair. Assistance dogs are also welcome. Though much of the site is open to wheelchair users, some areas are not, such as the upper floors of the museum and the castle ramparts. For more information it's best to check the website.
English Heritage Members: Free
Child (5-15 years) £4.50
Family (2 adults and up to 3 children) £19.50
For more information about Carisbrooke Castle, see the website:
Isle of Wight
On a recent trip to the well known Isle of Wight, one attraction we were looking forward to seeing was Carisbrooke Castle, based in the center of the island at the capital of Carisbrooke. At first, we were slightly disappointed with the leaflets describing the castle as a 'donkey sanctuary' as we wanted to see the castle rather than some donkeys, though I am glad we ignored this part as the visit was well worth while.
'It is my earnest hope and desire that with the help and co-operation of others I may be able to form a full collection of objects of historical interest connected with the Island, so that this memorial gatehouse may become a museum worthy of such an interesting castle.' Quote from Princess Beatrice on 11 August 1898.
This delightful medieval castle is situated high upon a hill and holds unique history dating back to the 8th century. The main building was laid out in the 11th century into the beginning of the 12th century, and as the castle passed from one person to another, more of the castle was built, including the flanking towers, the gatehouse, keep houses and domestic houses, the well house in the courtyard all the way up until the 17th century when donkeys were introduced to the castle to drive the winding gear in the well.
Quite a lot of the castle is now in ruins, which gives that extra piece of history and makes the castle exciting to look around, though some of the structure is still standing. When walking around the castle grounds, there are many signs and details which take you back to the original construction, the history and the reconstructions through to modern day usage. There are also many rooms in one of the main buildings which hold actual artifacts which you can touch and feel, another great aspect about this castle. There are many castles in which do not allow this and simply show these artifacts behind glass cabinets, so this was certainly a different experience.
******Specific Parts of the Castle******
There are many different parts of the castle, some mentioned above, which combine, make your visit a wonderful experience for the whole family. I will cover some of the main parts of the castle below;
* One of the most amazing parts is the restored 13th century chapel which was commissioned by the Countess Isabella. It is apparent that it has suffered quite a lot of damage through the years, and has been reconstructed a number of times, once being at the time of King Charles I imprisonment, yet it continues to stand tall, full of beauty. It is now a working chapel (although off limits in the main unless a service is going ahead) and has become a memorial for those who died during the two world wars.
* There are approximately 200 plus stone steps leading up to the highest point of the castle, the turret tower. The steps are in perfect condition, but climbing them are not for the faint hearted! Once you reach the top, though, the view over the island is tremendous. In part, the tower is a ruin, yet through small reconstruction, you are able to walk around the top of the highest point. I found it quite scary and it is certainly not for those who are afraid of heights, yet if you can, I fully recommend this climb.
* The Old Well House is still in working order, and is the home of four donkeys which you are able to meet and pet. At certain times of the day, you are able to watch one of the donkeys actually at work in the well - as long as you can stand the smell!
*The original gatehouse still stands at the entrance of the castle, complete with an unused portcullis.
* Part of the castle, as mentioned before, is in ruins, and one part is Carey's mansion. There is still one complete original wall left standing which holds evidence of a fireplace and three stories. It is a lovely area to have a picnic, but not much else.
The kitchen area of this mansion is further up (yes more steps!) and holds evidence of a stove and original window
* The castle hosts an indoor museum in a couple of different sections, one being where King Charles spent a lot of his days imprisoned. As well as original fireplaces and furniture, there are also many other artifacts from the time, which you can touch and feel at your hearts desire. Some of these are as follows;
* Victorian clothing
* Rifle collection, including manuscripts (manuscripts are generally behind glass, though)
* Items owned by royals who stayed at the castle, including King Charles I
* Selected objects from excavations of the castle through a wide period of time
Also many more items in various rooms, most focusing on the castle's history, though a large collection also focuses upon the Island's history.
Looking around the museum parts of the castle is a big part of the experience and is unlike a usual museum, in the fact that it is all incorporated in the grounds and castle building with original (and reconstructed) structure. One part is hosted in the great hall, and even the structure itself is a great look. Another part is situated in the Constable's chamber. It is certainly well worth the look and can take up the majority of the visit. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed in many parts of the museum.
Although there were no events open when we visited the castle, there are events such as medieval markets and jousting tournaments which occur on a regular basis. You will need to check the dates and times to see if these events are happening when you wish to visit.
Carisbrooke Castle is as disabled friendly as can be possible, with ramps available to the toilets, café and ground floor exhibitions such as the chapel, courtyard, well house and other ground floor parts. There are many (and I mean many) steps both in the museum part and around the ruins which are not disabled friendly.
Entry to the castle is reasonably priced and are as follows;
Opening times are as follows;
Apr-30 - Sep10am-5pm
1 Oct-20 Mar10am-4pm
Closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan
And it is simple to get to as well;
11⁄4 miles SW of Newport. Follow signs for Carisbrookevillage and then the castle
Ryde Esplanade 9 miles; Wootton (Isle of Wight Steam Railway) 5miles
Southern Vectis 6, 7, 38 from Newport, West Wight and Ventnor, allto within 1⁄4 mile
I would recommend visiting Carisbrooke Castle to everyone who visits the Isle of Wight, although it is one of those places that, unless you specifically like revisiting castles over and over, you can only really visit once without getting bored. They do occasionally change the museum artifacts, and as mentioned above, often hold special events, but other than that, it is basically the same on every visit.