Friday, 6 March 2015

Four of Cornwall's best castles to visit

Cornwall is absolutely steeped in history - and there is no better way of getting to grips with this than by exploring heritage sites.

There are so many on offer that it is likely to be a case of narrowing down the choice to what you can fit in with the rest of your holiday plans.

The county's castles range from medieval keeps to 16th century fortresses. Here are just a few of the sites open to the public.

Launceston Castle
Launceston Castle is a Norman motte and bailey. Central to the attraction is a 13th century round tower that was built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall. It sits inside a shell keep that predates the construction of the central tower. This may have been built as early as 1067, shortly after the Norman conquest.

The top of the tower can still be reached by a dark internal staircase - and it is well worth the trip, as spectacular views are offered over the surrounding area of Bodmin Moor and the Tamar Valley. Approaching the castle is also a rewarding experience, as it dominates the landscape.

An exhibition is present at the site, which traces 1,000 years of Cornish history, including finds from site excavations and details of how the site continued to be used as a prison after the Civil War.

Restormel Castle
Restormel (pictured above) is another 13th-century circular shell-keep, which encloses the main rooms of the castle and has helped to keep them preserved in very good condition. Like Launceston, it is built on an earlier Norman mound and is surrounded by a deep dry ditch.

It also commands spectacular views over south Cornwall - including the River Fowey - and is a popular picnic spot. This is also a popular area for distinctive wildlife, such as the Tetraphasis Obscurus - or the Black Pheasant. Outdoor theatre performances are regularly hosted here in summer evenings - and visitors can still climb the castle steps to look down on the remains of the rooms.

Pendennis Castle
Pendennis was originally constructed between 1540 and 1545 and has a lot to offer as a family day out. It is one of many great fortresses built by Henry VIII to defend the country against invasion. It remained active as a Royalist stronghold in the Civil War, and also as a Second World War observation post.

This fascinating history is traced in exhibitions throughout the site, which include a recreated Tudor gun room, interactive exhibitions, a hands-on Discovery Centre, and displays of George Butterworth's wartime cartoons.

St Mawes Castle
St Mawes is also one of Henry VIII's coastal artillery fortresses - and is arguably the best preserved. It boasts a charming clover-leaf shape that was originally surrounded by octagonal outer defences.

Unlike Pendennis, little development work was carried out on the site after its completion - and visitors will still be able to see carved Latin inscriptions in praise of King Henry VIII and his son Edward VI.

An audio tour is available to help bring this history back to life for visitors.

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