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Scarborough Castle (North Yorkshire)

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Castle / Museum. Castle Hill, Scarborough

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      23.11.2000 08:13
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      Going to the castle might not be on the top of your "to do" list when you visit Scarborough, but then, if you know Scarborough, that list won't be too long and I suggest that you add it straight away. Scarborough Castle is an English Heritage site, and the most prominent structure in Scarborough, if not the whole of the Yorkshire Coast. It stands on Castle Hill, a promontory surrounded by steep cliffs with only a narrow stretch of land connecting it to the mainland. Due to this great natural defense (location, location, location), Castle Hill has had settlements on it since the late Bronze/ early Iron Age (around 2,500 years ago). Another notable pre-castle occupant was the Roman Empire, which set up a watch tower/ signal station there to look for Pictish/ Saxon invaders. Once any trouble makers were spotted, a large beacon would be lit, and others would follow once it had been seen, warning other stations all up the Yokshire coast, and getting word back to the major garrison in York (the beacons on Castle Hill and at the top of Oliver's Mount are still there. Later a Saxon Monastery was founded, flourishing for a time, before it was the time of the Vikings, who made such an impact on the North of England, and this area especially, to land at Scarborough. They burned, sacked, and generally screwed Scarborough (which was then (I believe) called Falsgrave, which is still an area of Scarborough today). It was, as legend has it, a Viking named Thorgils (who had the nick-name of Scarthi or Harelip)) and his brother Kormak who took Scarborough and kept it, naming it after the former, Scarthi's Burh. Scar = Scarthi and borough = burh (settlement). Much has been written about the existence or not of Scarthy, and it is now widely believed by scholars that he didn't exist, though English Heritage still have stories about this man and state that it was he who named Scarborough, and what the hell, its a good tale. It was to t
      his settlement that Harold Hadrada sailed and landed his troops, after doing the usual ravaging of the East Coast, before meeting, and being defeated by, King Harold at Stamford Bridge in 1066. An Old Norse saga tells of him landing at Scarborough and sacking the town by moving up to the hills around the town, building a huge bonfire, and rolling bundles of blazing hay down on to the townsfolk. The first real fortification was built by William le Gros during King Stephen's (1135-54) disastorous reign. He became Earl of Yorkshire after playing an influential part in the defeat of the Scots at Northallerton at the Battle of the Standard. Although owning other greater castles (the one then was nowhere near as great as that which stands today), he saw the natural strength of Castle Hill and how it commanded the rich harbour, and so made it one of his major power bases. The present castle was first fasioned during the reign of Henry II after he had had to quell the power of the barons, William le Gros being one such baron who objected and was subsequently "dealt" with. Although he redistributed much of the taken lands to his supporters, he kept Scarborough for himself as a powerbase in the North. Le Gros's tower was pulled down, and the magnificent structure which remains was begun (thus showing any followers of William le Gros that King was not to be messed with). Henry also changed the small gatehouse into the imposing stone keep, strengthened the already formidable cliffs with stone walls at the top (just in case Spiderman was a supporter of le Gros), and made ditches and embankments should his already formidable defenses be breached. The castle in this form has stood strong for nearly 900 years, and has never been taken by brute force alone, only falling after being beseiged, and then only four times in its long and distinguished career as one of the country's most formidable and imporant strogholds. The most famous a
      ttack came as late as the Civil War when the Parliamentarians tried to take the castle. Despite being c.500 years old, its potential and power did not go unrecognised. The Parliamentarians turned their biggest gun, the Cannon Royal (odd name for a Parliamentarian gun, but there you go) on it and began firing. It was erected in St. Mary's Church (where Ann Bronte is buried) just below the Castle. The Castle's weaponry was useless as its cannon's could not point at the church as it was close to, and a lot lower than, the castle. The Parliamentarian's gun, however, was so powerful that its force brought down the roof of the church onto the assailants, killing many of them and burrying the gun. Eventually, after many attacks, the defenders had to surrender due to their many wounds and few provisions. The castle was again taken later in the Civil War after the keeper turned to the Royalist side, and Parliament had again to wait for a surrender after a seige. The last time that the Castle, and the town, came under fire was as late as 1914 when a German gunship shelled both (alledgedly the Captain had been reprimanded on a holiday to the town in 1912 for putting his towel on a deck chair and leaving it there overnight). So, here endeth the lesson. I have just realised how much I have written, yet can honestly say that a visit will reveal a lot more. The view, for one, is lacking here, and the site remains as imposing as ever, walking towards the castle, through the gate house, is a real wonder. The site has billboards and notices all over, informing visitors of the years of history which unfolded on those very cliffs (and who says Dover is important?). If you do enjoy a day out at a castle, or want to know about different ages of history, then Scarborough Castle is the place to go. And lets face it, if you're in Scarborough any way, you will have the free time to visit this great place. The sleepy seaside town that Sc
      arborough is today hides the bloody conflict, pilaging, raping, bloodshed and all that good stuff that happened years before during turbulent and terrifying times in what was, for a while, the capital of the North.


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