Carlisle Castle

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This magnificent imposing medieval stone castle and keep – built in 1093 – stands proudly in the city it has dominated for nine centuries. It has withstood many sieges, imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots, been home to the Kings Own Royal Border Regiment, and infamously been the most frequently besieged place in the British Isles.

English Heritage shares the castle with the Territorial Army, the county’s emergency planning services and the Cumbria Museum of Military Life.

Explore the many buildings, including the Medieval Royal Castle rooms, the Warden’s apartment, storerooms, Queen Marys Tower – each room contains detailed information. Walk around the castle walls, and bear in mind this is still a working castle. Stand in the dank dungeons and see the ‘licking stones’, where prisoners were kept in damp, pitch black, horrific conditions and the only water they had to keep them alive was the water that ran down the walls, their tongue impressions are imprinted on the stones for all time.

My interest was piqued reading about Mary Queen of Scots’ plight during her turbulent reign. In 1568 she escaped her prison and boarded a small fishing boat which carried her to England. She was taken to Carlisle Castle where she spent almost 19 years as a ‘prisoner’. She was of course, treated with respect, befitting her status. She was granted daily walks and given permission to ride her beloved horses. Although Mary paid what she could for her keep, her cousin Queen Elizabeth settled the remaining weekly balance. In 1308 a two-storey building was added to provide better accommodation for her, this tower was demolished in 1835 when on the verge of collapse. Mary was moved to various other accommodation over the years that followed and in 1587 Queen Elizabeth reluctantly gave in to pressure and ordered her execution.

No visit would be complete without visiting the onsite military museum. This compact building is filled with knowledge, covering 300 years history of the county’s Infantry Regiment and its soldiers, past and present. There are interactive attractions for all ages, cabinets filled with uniforms, medals, weapons and silver from 1702 to present day.

This registered charitable museum has been located in the castle since 1932 and run by the Kings Own Royal Regiment. Sharing remarkable stories of courage, loyalty and service, it continues to be an important source of information for former soldiers, historians and family history researchers. It is imperative we keep the memories alive for our future generations. Should you wish to find information about an individual soldier from one of their regiments, they offer an invaluable service to assist your search. There are weekly talks and they welcome new recruits. Re-enactments in the grounds are planned for various dates in the summer. These are run by the museum, so check the website or their Facebook page for further details. Discover the story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

During the summer you will find the castle café open, serving tasty affordable food and drinks and free public toilets. Bear in mind there are many steps and cobbled stoned areas, so hardy footwear is advisable. Check the website for opening times and prices.

Should you have two or four legged friends with you that need an extra burn out, then visit nearby Bitts Park, about 4 minutes’ walk from the castle, a fantastic park with flat paths, formal gardens, riverside walks, sports facilities and skate park. The brilliant children’s play area including splash park provides so much fun for the kids. You will find a range of pop-up shops (although at the time of our visit only a couple were open and the toilets were closed) but in the summer all the shops and toilets are open.

I may have gone on a little with this article but believe me it will be worth the visit.

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