Carlisle Castle

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MilwVon on December 2, 2006

Carlisle Castle is a border city castle, which was begun in 1092 by William II to protect England from Scottish attack from the north. The castle is atop a high man-made hill, within the walled medieval city area of Carlisle.

The three story keep was housing for some 25 men and includes the medieval great hall and dungeon. Also contained within the keep were the kitchen and privies as well as a small room used for prayer. King David I of Scotland ordered the completion of the royal palace’s keep in the 1130s. The keep was not built for comfort or entertaining, like others that we’ve seen on our tour of castles throughout the UK. This one was built specifically as a military fortress, for protection of the king. The medieval outer wall was substantially thicker than what would ordinarily be expected for castles of the time. The building structure has been restored and has been transformed into exhibit areas for visitors today on the second and third floors. (These areas are accessible via narrow spiral staircases.)

Carlisle Castle saw much in terms of battle and war throughout her history. She played a significant role in the Scottish Wars of Edward I, as the central command point for the war he waged against Scotland in 1295. During the religious reformation, Henry VIII fortified Carlisle Castle in 1536 out of fear that the Pope may attack England (which never did happen). The half-moon battery is all that remains today of the work done by Henry VIII.

In 1568 Mary Queen of Scots arrived at Carlisle Castle initially as a guest when she fled Scotland but later was held as a prisoner and executed as a threat to Elizabeth I’s reign on England. She later had Mary executed. Mary Queen of Scots’ time at Carlisle led to the creation and naming of "Mary’s Tower" and "Lady’s Walk" for the parts of the castle that Mary lived. While she was imprisoned here, she was afforded some general privileges outside of confinement.

Carlisle was under Royalist control during the 17th century Civil War and was overtaken in 1644-1645. Later under terms of treaty, the city’s religious buildings were ordered to be left in tact. Unfortunately the Parliamentarians broke the treaty, severely damaging the Priory of St. Mary in order to use the stone for repairing the castle and city walls.

Carlisle Castle also played a brief role in the subsequent religious rebellions of the mid 18th century with the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 seeing the capture of Carlisle Castle for a brief period of time. With just a small garrison left behind to protect the hold at Carlisle, the Duke of Cumberland was able to easily retake Carlisle less than two months later.

Carlisle Castle no longer was used in protecting the border between Scotland and England by the end of the 18th century. The city walls were beginning to crumble and the importance of Carlisle Castle had diminished. It remained largely the housing for the Boarder Regiment from 1742 until 1959 when it ceased to be used as a regimental depot.

Today under the protection of British Heritage, the castle has been largely restored for the public’s viewing. It is one of the oldest fortresses of protection that exists in England today. Many of the regimental buildings have been converted to public use facilities, as evidenced by the troop drills being practiced during our visit in the main parking lot in the courtyard area.

The history of this site, however, dates back to Roman occupancy in 72AD! That’s right, recent archeological finds between 1998 and 2003 have confirmed Roman presence in this part of England with three forts on the site where Carlisle Castle now remains in partial ruin. Some exquisite coins, tools, weapons and leatherworks including floggers that were used to punish soldiers for jobs poorly done, were all found around the exterior wall of Carlisle Castle. There is a new exhibit at Carlisle Castle telling the Roman story.

There is also a nice museum telling the history of the King’s Own Royal Regiment. Included are uniforms, weapons and even a couple of vehicles out in the courtyard. Also on the grounds is a museum of Carlisle’s role in England’s history of war, with a small gift shop with related items. For me, I’m really not that interested in "war" so I took a pass on this exhibit area and ventured on out into the castle grounds while David did a photographic review of the museum.

Carlisle Castle is included in the British Heritage Pass so we were admitted free of charge. There is also a "Visit Carlisle" tourist package that you can buy at the Carlisle Visitor Centre that also includes the Carlisle Cathedral and Citadel, plus a couple of other local attractions. If you choose to just do the Carlisle Castle, the admission fee is £4.10 (£3.10 for seniors). NOTE: When you visit, you will need to park approximately two or three blocks away and walk up to the castle entrance. Car parks in this area charge and when we arrived to the car park, the local police were out ticketing cars that had overstayed their paid time.
Carlisle Castle
Near ruins of Hadrian's Wall
Cumbria, England, CA3 8UR
+44 (0)1228 591922

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