on September 18, 2011
Carisbrooke Castle is quite easy to find, on the main road one and a quarter miles south west of Newport. It is open daily between 10am and 5pm, entrance tickets cost £6.50 for adults, £5.20 for seniors and £3.30 for children. It is run by English Heritage, so if you are a member of this organisation, you get in free.The castle was built in the 11th century and is very well preserved. We were surprised to find how much of it is intact and not just ruins. There is a lot to see and do here, you need almost a full day. As well as the castle, there is an excellent museum, featuring historic aspects of life on the island.Carisbrook Castle stands proudly on its own hilltop. The original castle was built during the reign of William the Conqueror on the site of an 8th century Saxon fort. In 1647, King Charles I was imprisoned here by Cromwell's Round Heads. He was executed in January 1649. You can still play bowls on the green here that he used and see the window from which he tried to escape. The castle chapel and museum has very interesting Charles I memorabilia.We started off our day by watching the film about the castle just by the entrance. It tells you all about the history and is narrated by a cartoon donkey called Jupiter (the voice is local comedian Phil Jupitus). It is very informative and interesting for children and adults - our son watched it twice and is a good place to get the flavour of Carisbrooke.One of the biggest attractions here is the 16th century Wheelhouse. During sieges, donkeys took turns treading a large wooden wheel connected to a rope that hauled buckets of water up from a well. The Carisbrook donkeys still operate the tread whell and raise water 161 feet from the castle well. They give daily demonstrations - a board outside gives the times. This is a big attraction in the summer months. We had to queue - the wheelhouse is small and only a limited number of people can get in. The donkey we saw was called Jenny - all the donkeys' names start with J. This started when Charles I was a prisoner here. When he wrote letters or was planning his escape from Carisbrooke, he always signed his letters with a J. So, for 150 years all the donkeys have had a name that starts with J. This is a tradition that continues. The donkeys all look very well cared for and are never forced to work on the wheel. We were amazed when the guide threw a coin into the well, it took a good 5 seconds before you heard it hit the bottom!Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice made the castle her home after 1914. She commissioned the altar painting in the chapel in memory of her son, killed in action in 1914. The chapel is lovely - small, peaceful and with a serene atmosphere. The new Princess Beatrice garden is in tribute to her.The Great Hall, Great Chamber and smaller rooms are open. There are lots of ruined domestic buildings and displays of chain mail, cross bows and arrows. In one place, children can dress as either a Norman soldier or a Civil War trooper- this is fun and they can stand guard in the doorway.Be sure to take the wall walk all around the castle - you see it from all different angles and it is a fun thing to do. Also climb up the 71 steep and heavily worn steps to the top of the keep. It is not really that difficult a climb, but you are rewarded with a wonderful view. Look out for the window from which Charles I tried to escape - it is the one with bars on!There are cannons everywhere - our son loved climbing on these and playing make-believe battles.The museum was set up by Princess Beatrice - it is quite interesting, especially the replica of Charles I's bedroom.They have a very nice cafe and tearoom - we enjoyed the cakes on offer here.We spent about 5 hours at Carisbrooke Castle. It is a fun but also educational day out for children and adults alike.If you drive south from the castle via Shorwell to Chale on the coast road, you can easily get to St Catherine's Point near Niton. This is the most southerly point of the Isle of Wight. On a nearby hill is St Catherine's Oratory - a lighthouse built in 1323 which has the most wonderful views.
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