* Prices may differ from that shown
If you've read my some of my reviews, you could be forgiven for thinking that I've done nothing recently but wander around ancient ruins and hang around crumbling old things... but I do wish you wouldn't be so rude about Mrs SWSt (that's me in trouble when I get home!)
Anyway, the latest in this long line of castle visiting took me to Prudhoe, a small(ish) village in Northumberland standing near the banks of the Tyne.
Finding the castle is pretty straight forward and both the village and the castle itself are well signed. Simply follow the signs to Prudhoe village and then watch for the usual brown signs to the castle itself. Once there, a small car park is available, offering free parking. Despite the small size of the car park (I would estimate it has room for fewer than 20 cars) we had no trouble parking when we visited, although this was before the start of the proper tourist season. I can't vouch for how busy it gets in the height of summer, but it's possible you could have trouble finding a space in the official car park.
You also need to be prepared (and able) to walk. Although the castle is only a short 2-3 minute walk from the car park, it is partially uphill, taking in a number of steep(ish) steps and the approach can be a little uneven.
Quick History Lesson
Originally built in the 1100s, the castle was occupied for over nine centuries and besieged on multiple occasions by the Scots in their border raids against the English. Such was the strength of Prudhoe as a fortified dwelling that one Scots lord lamented "While Prudhoe stands, we shall never have peace" A stronghold of the Percy's, the most powerful of the northern lords, it holds the proud record of being the only Northumberland castle that was never taken by the Scots.
The Castle Today
Although relatively little remains, the castle still presents an impressive ruin that hints at its former splendour. Despite being much reduced in size, it contains a number of surprises that will delight visitors and has several notable features which are rarely seen elsewhere.
These surprises begin as soon as you enter the castle grounds. An impressive gate house still stands making for an imposing entrance to the castle. Just outside the gate and down a small hill, you will also find the remains of the castle mill, whilst another pathway leads to a pond which gives a very picturesque view of the castle ruins. Although it is fairly low key when compared with some castles I have visited, the approach to Prudhoe is actually quietly impressive.
The castle also benefits from a very interesting and informative exhibition, located in a small building inside the ruins. Although fairly small, the exhibition is well put together with large, informative boards and plenty of exhibits on display of items which have been found in the castle grounds over the years. The exhibition clearly lays out the history of Prudhoe over the course of 900 years and really gave a sense of the building's history. It's been a long-standing complaint of mine that English Heritage properties tend to be a little stingy when it comes to information boards, but the exhibition certainly provides plenty of detail.
It is slightly disappointing that this level of clear information is not carried out into the ruins themselves. As with so many English Heritage properties, information boards are few and far between and don't contain a great deal of information. After the good example set by the exhibition this is a real shame, and often as you wander around, you're not really sure which part of the castle you are currently looking at. Of course, you can always buy a guidebook, but that's just a way of parting you from even more of your cash!
Prudhoe is quite unusual in that much of the castle is limited to the lower levels and outer walls - little of the internal structure remains. As such, it doesn't take a great deal of time to wander round and see everything there is to see (probably 45 minutes at the most); this can make it quite an expensive property to visit and one which doesn't necessarily offer tremendous value for money.
The highlight of the visit has to be the old chapel - one of the few areas where the upper floor can still be reached - which offers some excellent views across the former castle grounds. Other than that, the inside of the chapel is relatively uninteresting. The reason it is interesting, however, becomes clearer if you go and stand beneath it and look up: Prudhoe's claim to fame is that it possesses one of the earliest known examples of an oriel window, jutting out from the chapel. This is still an impressive feat of engineering today when you consider the primitive tools the castle builders had available.
It's somewhat ironic then, that this feature - the most unique one of the ruin - is given scant attention by English Heritage. Although there is an information board at the entrance to the castle which mentions it, there is nothing further when you are in the property itself: very strange, when you consider that this, above all else, is Prudhoe's unique selling point. Indeed, if you don't know what an oriel window is, you could easily miss it as there is nothing inside the castle to point out either where or what it is.
Aside from a small gift shop and some toilets, there's not really much more by way of facilities, but if you're desperate for shops, Prudhoe town centre is less than half a mile away.
2011 prices are £4.30 for adults (£3.90 concessions) and £2.60 for children. As already noted, I do feel that this is quite expensive. Even spending quite a lot of time in the exhibition reading all the information boards and looking at all the exhibits, we were in there for less than an hour and if you just do the ruins themselves, you can walk round the whole lot in under 20 minutes.
Prudhoe is open 10-5pm between 1 April and 30 September and closed during the winter months.
Prudhoe is worth a look if you are passing, but not necessarily worth making a special trip to see. Quite pricey, it has a good exhibition, but the lack of information as you wander around the ruins is frustrating. It's certainly picturesque and the view of the ruins from the mill or the duck pond is certainly worth seeing - but these are things which you can see from the outside anyway, without the need to pay. Kids, I suspect, will find it quite boring as there are no towers to climb or vast expanses of ruins they can run around. On the upside, some of its unique architectural features offer something a little different and adults will certainly find it interesting.
© Copyright SWSt 2011
Whenever there is a school holiday, it gives us a perfect chance to catch up with a bit of sight seeing, and since we are members of English Heritage and national trust, we always like to see the sights. This is a castle which is very close to where we live and when we didn't get an early start we decided to have a look.
The castle is just outside the centre of Prudhoe and is clearly signposted. Down a steep bank and there is parking outside the castle grounds although it is a bit of a "free for all" with no demarcated spaces, but I don't think it ever gets really busy.
Once we had parked up it was time to get investigating. The castle is located on a high bank- we didn't realise how high until we explored the grounds, and when you walk round the edges of the castle it does look as though there was once a moat for defence. Inside the actual building there is the obligatory shop, and because it was Easter time, we were given a bunny hunt sheet- these proved to be quite hard to find but Little Miss and friend got a chocolate bunny lolly at the end of it so it was worth the search. Also inside the main building are several display rooms and upstairs is a rather nice room where there were books, work sheets (seasona) and jigsaws so there was plenty to do even had the weather been awful.
Outside there is a tower which is accessed via some steep steps and visitors can go inside and have a look around although we were wary of the door closing behind us and being locked in!! The central grassed area has a picnic table and benches and separate benches to take a rest. Visitors can walk all around the castle both inside and outside the castle walls, and within the central enclosed courtyard there are lots of nooks and crannies in which to look for bunnies! There is also an enclosed area with carts and artefacts as well as an indoor seated area which we couldn't work out what it was for.
When wandering about the outer fringes of the castle, there is, what the girls called, a secret garden which was a high bank almost completely overgrown and surrounded by a high wall. Again, plenty of space in which to run around and a large water area which was supplied with water by what looked like an under ground stream and followed through to be a small waterfall and then stream.
Bit of history...
The building of the castle was begun between 1100 and 1120 to defend a strategic crossing of the River Tyne against Scottish invaders, and the castle itself has been continuously occupied for more than nine centuries. After two sieges during the 1170s the stone keep and a great hall were added, followed in about 1300 by two towers and in 1398, it was updated with a fashionable new great hall. The last military action the castle saw was in the 1640s, and Early in the 19th century the Percies restored it, building a new manor house within its walls.
This has definitely seen some action!!
The castle is open Monday, Thursday Friday Saturday and Sunday 10am - 5pm. These are the summer times so it's worth checking for times at other times of the year.
Free for English heritage members
Contact and getting there...
Address: Northumberland - NE42 6NA
Telephone: 01661 833459
Road Access: travel to Prudhoe and the castle is on a minor road off A695, and clearly sign posted
Train: Prudhoe train station 1⁄4 mile
* Dogs allowed on leads in restricted areas only
* There is a video presentation on Northumbrian castles.
* Some parts unsuitable for wheel chair users because of cobbles although there is a separate entrance to shop for wheel chair users.
* Disabled toilets available
* Free Parking outside the castle grounds.
This is a small and I imagine often overlooked castle, but we spent much more than the suggested one hour visiting time here. There is plenty to do inside and out and for fresh air and a bit of history, it's a great place to visit and explore.
Thanks for reading