Fun through the ages: Family days out for history buffs
My son’s favourite dressing-up outfit is his knight’s costume – complete with a shield and sword. He can easily spend hours battling dragons and building defences with his toy castle, but even better are the occasions we’ve visited them in real life. Even at his young age, he has an understanding of the intrigue attached to these magnificent buildings.
From kings, queens, knights and princesses, and tales of bloody battles, torturous dungeons and heroic deeds, castles are a brilliant way to connect young and old with our past. Plus, they’re so much fun and a great way to let imaginations run wild.
Dover’s royal history sees it named as one of the most important medieval castles in England under the rule of Henry II. But it’s Dover’s wartime era that saw its secret underground tunnels at the centre of one of the most daring wartime plans, where hundreds of thousands of troops were rescued from the Battle of Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo in 1940.
Dressing up…On selected days The Great Tower is brought to life and you can meet the characters of King Henry’s court yourself!
From its beginnings as a Norman stronghold and palace to Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, Leeds Castle is known as one of the ‘loveliest castles in the world’. And it has 500 acres of open spaces – there are several parkland and woodland walks, as well as wildlife to enjoy. Lose yourself in the maze and grotto, or watch the falconry show. Kids will also adore the two large adventure playgrounds.
Woof woof! There are more than 130 rare and valuable dog collars on display. See if you can spot a Spanish iron herd mastiff’s collar that dates back to the 15th century.
We were bowled over by the magic surrounding these 13th century ruins, resting on a jagged headland looking out to the Atlantic. Not only are the views breathtaking but even on rainy days a new exhibition, which explores the story of Tintagel to the legend of King Arthur, will keep the family entertained. We loved wandering the large site but be warned, lots of uneven steps and rough ground is unsuitable for young children, so a sling is advisable.
Beach time… Twice a day rock pools are revealed on Tintagel Beach, but are you brave enough to enter Merlin’s Cave?
We’re huge fans of the National Trust, who look after several castles across the country, but we’ve had the pleasure of visiting moated Bodiam Castle on several occasions. Built in 1385, the gatehouse with an original wooden portcullis, as well as a virtually complete interior, are a sight to behold. We love the children’s trails, and The Medieval Game of Life allows older kids and teens to choose their own adventures.
Bat life… See how many Daubenton’s bats you can spot in The Gatehouse – one of the largest roosts in the country.
With over 11 centuries of history from sieges to attacks, and famous custodians such as William the Conqueror, this castle oozes history. But aside from exploring the turrets, towers and battlements, Warwick boasts a serious amount of fun from the new Horrible Histories Maze, to the birds of prey show and spooky dungeon experience.
Sleepover… Feel like a real-life knight and spend the night in a themed lodge on Warwick Castle’s estate.
Hopping on a boat or walking along the cobbled causeway leads you to the magnificent St Michael’s Mount and its exotic plants and gardens. Legend has it that the archangel Michael appeared to a group of people and, to this day, pilgrims still make their way there. The castle has also inspired tales of giants, mermaids and mystical creatures!
Treasure hunt… Go on a search for a giant’s stone heart, the armour of a samurai warrior and a mummified cat!
I’m lucky enough to work close to the Tower of London so I often get to go for a stroll around what is possibly one of the most iconic buildings in English history. Located by the River Thames, tours with the famous Yeoman Warders tell tales of intrigue, imprisonment, execution and torture. Look out for the activity trails, and don’t forget to see the Crown Jewels…
Time explorer! After downloading the special app, complete challenges around the castle to win special badges.
Technically a fortress, Dunnottar in Aberdeenshire sits on a 440 million-year-old rock in the Northern Sea and was a great stronghold in many important events in Scotland. Visited by William Wallace in 1297, Dunnottar was also embroiled in a plot to hide the Crown Jewels from Oliver Cromwell in the 18th Century.
Castle on the sea! The ruins and dramatic views are a fantastic natural playground for kids of all ages.
Home to the Dukes of Norfolk for more than 1000 years, Arundel Castle boasts beautiful landscapes across the South Downs in West Sussex. The ancient Castle and stately home still retains original features such as the Norman keep, gatehouse and barbican. However, it’s Arundel’s themed gardens that have given us the most pleasure. See if you can spot the gilded coronet dancing upon a jet of water.
Climbing high! There may be 131 steps to contend with, but the view from The Keep is worth the effort.
At the end of the 11th Century the Normans extended their conquest of England into Wales and the castle became the centre of Norman rule in Pembrokeshire. Explore the grounds and visit the only restored Tidal Mill in Wales, an 11th-century Celtic cross and a medieval bridge.
Ghostbusters… Kids can discover the spooky stories about the ghosts haunting Carew including a Celtic Warrior and The White Lady!
So with all this history right on your doorstep, what are you waiting for? Grab the kids – and a wooden sword or two. There's no time like the present for an adventure in the past.