Wild, rugged, and with scores of fairytales dancing around its shores, Cornwall is arguably the best place in the UK to fuel your imagination. Just look at the literary tradition that’s sprung up there. Winston Graham’s Poldark, Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, and practically all of Daphne du Maurier’s novels, have their origin in the south-westerly English county. And Cornish castles are steeped in legend. If you visit Cornwall and love stories from days of yore, do include at least one in your trip. Here are just a few to choose from.
Tintagel Castle was the legendary birthplace of King Arthur, where Merlin supposedly wove his magic. The castle’s site dates back to Roman times and the King Arthur connection is said to be what prompted Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to build the castle, back in the 1230s. It’s a jagged heap of a place, connected to Tintagel Island by a thin sliver of rocky land. Visitors can climb the 148 steps to the island, which juts out into the Atlantic, and spot the low walls that remain there from a Dark Ages settlement.
Tintagel Castle is under the care of English Heritage. Visitors can sample traditional Cornish cream teas at the Beach Café. Entry is free for English Heritage members. For non-members, entry price ranges between £5.70 for a child under 17, and £9.50 for an adult. A family ticket (two adults, up to three children) is £24.70.
Getting there: There is no parking on site, but the closest pay-and-display car parking is in the village of Tintagel, 600m away. Tintagel is along the B2363.
A relative newcomer to the Cornish castles scene, Caerhays was built at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Set within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Roseland Peninsula, not far from St Austell, Caerhays boasts world-class gardens. Visitors will see the largest collection of magnolias in the UK there, with over 600 species from around the world.
As well as roaming the gardens, visitors can take guided tours of the castle, where the Williams family still live to this day. The impressive building (technically a manor house rather than a castle) was designed by architect John Nash, who was also responsible for Buckingham Palace and Brighton Pavilion. The castle’s estate is vast – 140 acres – and includes a beach as well as several Caerhays Estate holiday cottages, ranging from a cart house to fish sheds and a boat house on the beach. The holiday cottages can be booked together, sleeping up to 31 in total. They do look rather lovely – check them out on the Cornish Horizons website.
For day visitors, entry to the castle and gardens is £9 each per adult (£14 combined), or £4.50 each per child (£6.50 combined).
Getting there: Caerhays Castle is well signposted on the B2387 from Saint Austell. The SatNav postcode is PL26 6LY.
Pendennis Castle is one of Henry VIII’s coastal fortresses that can be found along the south of England, as far east as Kent. The Tudor monarch built Pendennis from 1539 to 1545, to guard against Spanish invaders. It was a strategic stronghold during the English Civil War of 1646, and then the hostilities with the French and Dutch.
Pendennis Castle holds regular events to bring the past to life. Visitors can watch knights battling it out with clubs and shields, find out how messages were sent during WWII in an interactive exhibition, and hear replayed wartime conversations in the gun room in the keep. You can read more about what there is to do at the castle in this post by Tin Box Traveller.
These days, English Heritage run and maintain Pendennis Castle. Entry is free for English Heritage members. For non-members, entry price ranges between £6.30 for a child under 17, and £10.50 for an adult. A family ticket (two adults, up to three children) is £27.30.
Getting there: Pendennis Castle is close to Falmouth, along the A39. The postcode for SatNav is TR11 4NQ. A shuttle bus runs from Falmouth, and Falmouth Docks rail station is half a mile away.
St Mawes Castle
A Tudor sister to Pendennis, St Mawes sits across the mouth of the River Fal, pointing out to sea in the same direction. Like Pendennis, it was a creation of Henry VIII, and is now under the care of English Heritage. St Mawes has more of the fine details dating back to its creation than Pendennis, like carved Latin inscriptions in praise of Henry VIII and his son Edward VI.
St Mawes Castle is strewn with cannons, to stoke the imagination of anyone wishing to delve back into the castle’s past. Visitors can go into the ‘oubliette’ where prisoners were held captive, take an audio tour, and spot the mannquins dotted around the place, just where the soldiers would have stood. You can read more about what there is to do at St Mawes Castle in this post by Mini Travellers.
Entry is free for English Heritage members. For non-members, entry price ranges between £3.60 for a child under 17, and £6 for an adult. A family ticket (two adults, up to three children) is £15.60.
Getting there: St Mawes Castle is in St Mawes, on the A3078. The postcode for SatNav is TR2 5DE. A ferry service runs directly from Falmouth. This lets visitors sail up to the castle, just as invaders would have done. The Fal Mussel Card gives discounted travel on the ferry, and other forms of public transport.
Saint Michael’s Mount
If you’ve visited Normandy in France, Saint Michael’s Mount may look familiar. It was built by the same order of monks who built Normandy’s Mont St Michel in the twelfth century. Like Mont St Michel, Saint Michael’s Mount is accessed via a causeway that is covered when the tide is high. The Cornish priory is much smaller than its Normandy counterpart, though.
After a series of military action including two sieges, the first during the War of the Roses, the castle has been the home of the St Aubyn family since around 1650. Visitors can explore the muskets, weapons and libarary stuffed with books belonging to the St Aubyns. Children can hunt for a giant’s stone heart – the Mount was said to be home to Cormoran, the fierce giant from Jack the Giant Killer. The gardens are remarkable for the chilly UK. The Gulf Stream warms the island enough for exotic plants like puya, agave and aloe to grow in abundance.
Entry to the castle or gardens is £10 or £8 each per adult (£15 combined), and £5 or £4 each per child (£7.50 combined). Neither is open on a Saturday.
Getting there: Saint Michael’s Mount is accessed by foot, along the causeway from Marazion. At high tide during the spring, summer, and autumn, frequent motorboats leave from landing points along the shore at Marazion. One-way fares are £2.00 for adults and £1.00 for children. Local and intercity trains run to Penzance station. From here you can travel by bus or taxi to Marazion, which is about 10 minutes away. There is also a regular bus service to Marazion from the bus station in Penzance. Road access is via the A30.
You might also be interested to read about Deal Castle, in Kent. And if you like to delve in the history of all things sea-based, check out this post on Cornwall’s National Maritime Museum, by Mummy Travels.
To read more about Cornwall, see our feature on Cornwall attractions to add to your bucket list. And if you want to visit a beach as well as a castle, check out our six best family beaches in Cornwall.
This is a collaborative post. All views are my own.
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