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I visited Etal Castle on the same day as Norham Castle (previously reviewed) as they are just 5 miles apart. The two castles are very different as Etal started as a manor house, which was given a license to crenellate in 1341 by King Henry the 3rd (become a castle) due to the border wars with Scotland, and a local feud with the nearby Heron family.
The castle was the home of the Manners family until Robert Manners married the heiress to Belvoir castle and the moved there in the early 15th century. This means that only the constable was home when James IV of Scotland came knocking in 1513, before the battle of Flodden. Etal Castle surrendered to him as it was never built to withstand that kind of force.
Etal castle at it's peak was a Solar tower with a gate house, and two towers connected by a defensive wall, which could be used to defend against attackers. The Solar tower was originally two floors but when the license was granted it was increased to four floors, and formed one of the corners of the castle. The grounds were roughly square, with the tower and gatehouse at opposite corners. The castle commanded a ford and bridge over the river till, so was of some strategic importance. There would also have been several ancillary buildings inside for soldiers etc. In common with other castles in northern England at this time life would have been hard, dangerous and no doubt cold in the winter (and no doubt summer :) ) months, it's no surprise that given the chance the family left it for the warmer and more peaceful south.
In it's day, while Etal castle may not have been built to defend against a mighty Scottish army of 30000, it did successfully defend against the neighbouring Heron family of Ford Castle, who the Manners family had a feud with at the time.
Today (or in fairness about two weeks ago :) )
Etal Castle is managed by English Heritage, it forms part of the Etal and Ford estates and as such is a popular tourist destination in Northumberland. In common with many castles in Northumberland it's now a series of ruins.
It is located unsurprisingly in the village of Etal, which is in north Northumberland between the A1 and A697, it is 10 mile south west of Berwick upon Tweed.
We visited (I went with my mum and dad) on a sunny day, they both got in free as English Heritage members, I paid £4. There is a large free car park which is slightly gravelly, the toilets are located in a portacabin in the car park.
To get to the castle you take the path towards the river and enter via the small shop. This is similar to most English Heritage shops and sells a range of souvenirs, ice lollies and snacks, as well as guide books for Etal Castle and nearby Norham Castle, which is now unmanned.
Having paid you go through the door, which takes you to an exhibit on the scottish and English border conflict, as well as about the battle of Flodden. This was enjoyable and informative, there is lots to see including replicas of scottish and english pikes and halbards, and boards explaining why we fought and why the scottish lost. There is also a giant book for kids that explains about life in a castle, and the different people who lived there.
We started by looking at the remaining defensive tower, this is a small structure, which is gated off and is just a small room. The only remaining section of the curtain wall connects this with the gatehouse. The gatehouse remains are more substantial, although you can only go in the bottom section, and there is no roof. You can see the side guard rooms, and some of the stairs going up as well as the outside structure, which gives you a sense of how it must have originally looked. The north east tower is no longer there, but we walked around to where it had been before visiting the solar tower last.
Like the gatehouse the solar tower is quite substantial, although it has no roof, you can see where the floors were originally, and the fireplaces in the walls. The entrance to this is down a small set of steps, and the ground inside was quite muddy from recent rain. On the walls you can see several of the original stone masons marks.
There are several information boards around the grounds to help you get a feel of what was there, and what life was like.
We rounded off our visit with a bottle of pop and some crisps sat around one of the many picnic tables inside the grounds. In total our visit took about an hour, we followed it by getting a sandwich and drink in the cafe in the village.
I enjoyed my time at Etal Castle, and if you are in the area I think it is worth a visit, while there's not as much to see as at other castles in the area, I think that with the exhibition it is a nice day out if you like history and castles. It is probably best combined with a visit to neighbouring Norham castle as we did, or a walk along the nearby river, or even a train ride on the Heatherslaw light railway. Hand on heart I can't help thinking that if you just went to see the castle, you would be a bit disappointed, but in conjunction with something else it would make for an enjoyable day out. The castle also puts on events, which would make a great day out.
English Heritage members Free
Family (2 adults 3 children) £10.40
English Heritage membership;
Student (under 19 and NUS Members) £37.00
Adult (age 19-59) £48.00
Senior (age 60+) £37.00
Adult and Senior £70.00
Couple (age 19-59) £84.00
Senior Couple (age 60+) £58.00
Children under 19 get into English Heritage properties for free if with a English Heritage member.
Most of the site has disabled access.
There is no cafe, but I recommend the one in the village where we got some lovely sandwiches.
The ford and etal estate
This is a tourist area covering the villages of Etal, Heatherslaw and Ford and includes Etal castle, a light railway, Lady Waterford hall as well as other attractions.
*English Heritage information boards