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Mont Orgueil Castle is an impressive structure that towers over the harbour at Gorey, Jersey in the Channel Islands. It is one of two castles in Jersey; the other is the more recently built Elizabeth castle in the bay near St Helier.
The original structure for the castle was built in about 1300 and was the primary defence force for the island until the invention of gunpowder when its position weakened and Elizabeth castle (1600) was built to replace it. As with many castles it had been altered and added to over time and after its defensive role was reduced it became the islands prison for a time. However it was gradually neglected and became uninhabitable. The castle has had several royal visits in its history including Queen Victoria and Albert, George V and Elizabeth II. The castle was repaired and became a museum in about 1929 but during the occupation it was once again used as a garrison by the enemy forces, at this time extensions and fortifications were built onto the castle but in a sympathetic manner which were quite in keeping with the structure. Jersey Heritage took possession of the castle in 1994. After extensive work the castle was reopened to the public in 2006.
---Opening Times and Price Guidance---
During the winter season the castle is open Fri/Sat/Sun/Mon
During the summer season the castle opens daily.
Entrance fees are £9.50 adult, £6 for children 6 and over and £27 for a family. (March 2010)
The site also accepts the Jersey Pass which can be purchased at the Tourist Information Office. We paid £25 each for the pass which lasted two days and covered one entry to Mont Orgueil castle as well as other attractions.
Parking is available down by the harbour but that does require using the display Pay cards that are required in Jersey. You then have to walk up to the castle. We found free parking at the top by the main entrance but this would probably be very busy in high season, there is free parking just outside Gorey at the beach car park and this would give a pleasant walk to the castle. As with everywhere else we visited in Jersey it is very easy to find as it is well signposted from St Helier.
The castle is on a very exposed site and on the day we visited it was exceptionally cold and windy although this made for a wonderfully exhilarating experience but it is worth dressing warmly!
We were greeted by a very friendly gentleman on arriving at the small ticket office/gift shop who explained that a wedding was going on and told us what time we would be able to view the rooms that were being used. No leaflets are given out although I think you could buy a Guide-book if you wanted one. He explained that all of the interesting information was on the boards around the site.
I found these information boards very useful. I often find that when visiting historical sites there can be too much information and it is hard to relate it to the area you are in. Each of these boards had a clear line drawing pointing out exactly where you were standing and then clear indications of what features to look for and facts about the part you were in.
The site is actually quite large and it felt like walking around a maze. There were several open grass areas and then you could walk through an arch and find yourself in a turret overlooking the sea or a chamber taking you into the heart of the castle. There were surprises around every corner and stairs everywhere you turned. You seemed to be able to access lots of areas and we found that we just kept climbing higher and higher. There was lots of access to the outside from the tops of the towers allowing for some breathtaking views (literally breath-taking, it was mighty windy!) and a real feel for how it must have felt to be living in such an exposed spot.
There were so many rooms, passages and stairways that we actually got quite disorientated and seemed to have trouble finding our way out for a while. There is very little furniture or decoration within the castle itself although some rooms have displays reflecting parts of the castles history. There is a fascinating Urine Wheel in one room that introduces the old diagnostic techniques of urine colour analysis to identify all ailments. There was also a larger than life human display of wound encountered by soldiers and how they led to disease and death, the sort of gory details my son would have loved if he had been with us.
Dotted around the castle there are a few sculptures that have been commissioned to add atmosphere to the structure. When I read that I dreaded seeing them as I am not an arty sort of person and usually find these sorts of things a bit odd. I needn't have worried as all the sculptures I saw were very in-keeping with the site and added to the atmosphere. There was one of prisoners in one of the turrets and also a medieval soldier on horseback, they were very good.
We probably spent a couple of hours walking around and up and down the site, which considering it was so cold goes to show how interesting I found it.
During the summer season the Castle has a small cafe but this was closed when we were there although we could go in and see a lovely model of the castle that is kept there. There were toilets down by the cafe and then further up in the castle.
The Jersey Heritage seem to offer family activities in the main summer holidays so it is worth checking their website.
Due to its very steep nature and the huge number of stairs, steps and uneven passageways this is certainly not a site that would be easy for people with mobility difficulties.
---Was It Worth A Visit?---
This is certainly a castle worth visiting if you are in Jersey as it is one of the most interesting I have seen. The entrance feee is not bad if you purchase the Jersey Pass which I would highly recommend. Mont Orgueil is magnificent when seen from a distance and charming to explore close at hand.