One of England’s most besieged castles has turned the ripe old age of 1000 this year.
A new exhibition at Carlisle Castle in Carlisle, England, tells its thousand-year history. Well, approximately a thousand years, since nobody actually knows when the first castle was built here. Like with many great English castles, it got its start with a Roman fort. This fell to ruins and was replaced in the late 11th century by a Norman fort built by William II, son of the famous William the Conqueror, known to his detractors as “Billy the Bastard.”
Carlisle Castle is located on the English side of the Scottish border by an important river and town. This made it of vital strategic importance. The Scots took it several times, only to have it taken back by the English again and again in a series of bloody conflicts that only ended when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Scottish uprising lost at Culloden in 1745 and the bodies of my ancestors were tumbled into a mass grave.
(It’s a bit freaky to know there’s a mass grave with my name on it, but I don’t hold a grudge. Why should I?)
I got to visit Carlisle Castle when I hiked the Hadrian’s Wall Path. What remains of the castle is very well preserved and shows a series of changes over the years, not the least of which was when Henry VIII adapted the place for use by artillery. While artillery meant the death of most castles, Carlisle hung on because of its thick walls, earthworks, and the large number of artillery emplacements it had to defend itself. After 1745, however, it lost its purpose. There was never another serious rebellion in Scotland. The castle became the headquarters of the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment, which has recently moved out and been replaced by the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.
The oldest part of the castle, the Captain’s Tower, probably built around 1180, has opened for the first time in 25 years. There’s also a regimental museum on the grounds and some fascinating renaissance graffiti in the Keep, including a crude drawing of a mermaid.
Carlisle itself it worth a day or two of exploration, with its windy medieval streets, museums, old pubs and the most awesome indie bookshop in England.