Newest Review: ... since Saxon times at least, but the current building was begun in about 1100. Given the Isle of Wight's proximity to France, with w... more
Beautiful castle on the Isle of Wight
Carisbrooke Castle (Isle of Wight)
Member Name: AbsintheFairy
Carisbrooke Castle (Isle of Wight)
Advantages: Lots to see and do
Disadvantages: Queues for the donkey demonstrations
*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:
Summary: A lovely place to visit