“ A 12th century fortress, now a ruin, on the edge of the city of Wakefield, West Yorkshire. „
I think that its fair to say that to fully appreciate Sandal Castle you need a little bit of imagination. The ruins of this castle lie about 3 kilometres to the south west of Wakefield in a village that shares its name with the attraction. Sandal is a small, sleepy village with leafy streets and a few affluent houses that are bigger than a lot of hotels. There's a pub, a bus stop but no shops and not a lot else; expect that is for Sandal Castle.
This Motte and Bailey style castle was founded in 1180, probably by William de Warenne, who was one of William the Conquerors loyal supporters during the Norman Conquest. William was the second Earl of Shrewsbury and had been responsible for the building of Conisbrough Castle near Doncaster, about 20 miles further south. Eventually it would pass into the hands of the Dukes of York, who renovated it during the 13th century and reinforced its defences. The Dukes of York also built castles at nearby Pontefract and Knaresborough in North Yorkshire.
Today Sandal Castle is largely ruins. It is owned by Wakefield Museums and Arts Department and has a large car park and visitor centre.
The first thing that you notice about this site is that the castle stands on top of a huge grassy mound that can seen from many miles away. It is not surprising therefore to discover that the view from the top of the mound is pretty amazing but when I visited here last week it was cold and blustery as the downside of this wonderful view is that it is very exposed.
Arriving at the car park I was initially disappointed to discover that the visitor centre was closed. During the winter it opens at weekends (from midday until 4pm) but during the summer it is open daily (from 11.30am until 4.30pm). Thankfully access to the site is available 24/7 and better still it is completely free.
Having been told by my parents that "there's not a lot to see at Sandal Castle" I was immediately impressed with how much there was actually to see. The moat is more or less intact and there is a wooden bridge that crosses this moat. At the other side a set of steep steps lead up to the very top of the mound where there is a viewing platform. From here you have a 360 degree view. Facing to the west you are overlooking the great watery expanse of Pugney's Country Park whilst to the east Wakefield lies below, with its Cathedral spire pointing skyward.
Directly below to the north lies a green flat field and this is where you need to use your imagination a little bit. For it was in this very field in 1460 that "The Battle of Wakefield" took place. History books tell the story of this great battle in detail but it is suffice to say that it was one of the most important battles of the English War of the Roses. This battle would inspire a Shakespeare play (Henry V1, Part 3) and a nursery rhyme (The Grand Old Duke Of York).
As far as the ruins that we see today are concerned there are large chunks of the gatehouse and the main hall that still remain although the wooden bridge that crosses the moat is modern, having been put there in only 2003. One of the other things that you will notice as you walk around the perimeter of the keep is that there are a series of very deep wells. For safety reasons these are now covered with steel grates but it is possible to peer down them and I can tell you its very dark down there and a little bit scary.
Sandal Castle is one of the most excavated archaeological sites in Britain. Excavations began in the late 19th century and continued sporadically until the 1970's. Many of the items that have been found are on display in Wakefield Museum, some of the mosre important finds are in the British Museum in London. At Wakefield Museum you can also learn about the history of the castle.
Such thorough research and continuous digging has meant that we now more about Sandal Castle than just about any other British castle. So whilst you might think that there's not a great deal to see there today it is difficult to deny the importance of this place.
Would I recommend a visit - of course I would!