This blog will explore some of the lesser known and hidden heritage sites of the Furness area in Cumbria.
Furness stretches from the southern most point of Walney island to the top of the Furness Fells at the northern tip of Windermere. Across that vast space are many facinating heritage gems which we will explore with information and images.
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Furness and South Cumbria, as this blog showcases, has a deep and rich heritage stretching back to pre-history. This post will show 10 Castles from South Cumbria that are well worth a look. This list has castles of all size from various periods of history. There are small towers alongside large full blown castles/manor houses. Many you will recognise but some you may not have realised existed, so sit back and take a moment to discover these wonderful fortifications (in no particular order).
1. Dalton Castle
Once the court house and prison for Furness Abbey, Dalton Castle is a wonderful little pele tower sitting proudly overlooking Dalton. Owned by the National Trust and run by the Friends of Dalton Castle, the property is open on Saturdays from April to October and is well worth a visit. It may be a small property but there is much to discover with in as well as in the surrounding town.
2. Arnside tower
This lovely little pele tower sits on a rise along a picturesque valley just outside Arnside. It was built in the late 14th Century as a free standing tower most likely as defence against possible Scottish raids. The castle suffered a large fire in the 17th Century but was repaired and used until later that century when some dismantling happened and the tower was left a ruin. It is now on private land and not open to the public but can be seen from a footpath running near by. Further up this same valley is another pele tower known as Hazelslack Tower which is smaller but similar to Arnside.
3. Millom Castle
Millom Castle stands on the outskirts of Millom itself and consists of a large central pele tower surrounded by now ruined buildings, once halls, kitchens and living quarters. The site dates back to the 12th Century when it was a wooden built motte and bailey castle. It was not until the 14th Century that it was built in stone. The castle is now a privately owned farm and is not open for viewing inside but you can get good views from the passing road and from the next-door church yard.
4. Gleaston Castle
The most ruinous castle on the list is most likely Gleaston Castle. Found next to a farm on the road out of Gleaston this castle is believed to have been started in the mid 13th century by John De Harrington I but was never fully completed. Certain areas were made fit for habitation and lived in but the full fortification was never finished. The site is now owned by a local farming family sitting in a field next to their home. The castle is not accessible for public viewing but can be seen clearly from the road passing by.
5. Piel Castle
Piel Castle was built by the Abbot of Furness on the south-eastern point of Piel Island, to guard the deep-water harbour of Barrow-in-Furness against pirates and Scots raiders. The site boasts the ruins of a 14th-century castle, now in the care of English Heritage, with a large keep, inner and outer baileys and towered curtain walls. The castle can be visited via a small ferry service running throughout the year, when the tide is right, over to the island.
6. Kendal Castle
This impressive ruin stands on a hill overlooking the town of Kendal. It was originally built in the 1200's as a home for the barons of Kendal, who had influence on the development of the town. The Parr family was one of these barons and lived in the castle for a time. Their daughter was Catherine Parr, the sixth and final Queen of Henry VIII. By the time Catherine was born though the family had abandoned Kendal Castle and it soon fell into ruin. Today it is accessible to view just a short walk up a rather steep hill. There are information boards across the site and some stunning views of the town below.
7. Wray Castle
Wray Castle is the youngest castle on this list being built in the 1800s by retired surgeon James Dawson and wife Margret, whose fortune was used to pay for it. It was constructed on the north west shore of Windermere in a neo-gothic style, meant to mimic medieval castles. The castle has changed hands many times after the Dawson's passing but is now in the care of the National Trust, who open it throughout the year. The castle is pretty bare inside from its former life as a training centre but well worth a visit.
8. Broughton Tower
Standing just outside Broughton, to the north, is an impressive structure known as Broughton Tower Castle. This castle is a mix of varying periods, it was started as a Medieval pele tower (seen in the centre of the above picture) but was later expanded in the 18th Century turning the tower into a manor house. A large extension was added to the original 14th Century castle creating a much larger and impressive structure. Today the castle has been turned into private flats so is off limits for visitors but the building can be seen from a near by field and public footpath.
9. Muncaster Castle
Muncaster Castle sits high on a hill overlooking the picturesque Esk Valley and is an impressive structure. The castle started life as a medieval pele tower (right tower in the above picture), it was extended and later, in 1862 remodelled and extended further to create the building which can be seen today. This extension included the addition of a second tower, made to match the original medieval construction. The castle has been owned and lived in by the Pennington family since 1208. They still live there today and open it to the public throughout the year.
10. Sizergh Castle
Another National Trust property to round off the list is the beautiful Sizergh Castle. Starting life as a 14th Century solar tower the castle was expanded during the Tudor period to create the large building which is present today. The Strickland family have lived in the castle since 1239 and, although they gifted the property to the National Trust in 1950, they still live there today. The castle is definitely worth a visit and a look around, be sure to take a walk in the stunning gardens too!
So that's our list of 10 Castles in South Cumbria, it is by no means an exhaustive list of all castles in Cumbria but it does highlight some of the more impressive affairs. All these sites are well worth a look, you can visit many for a wander inside and out but those which you can't are easy to see from a relatively close distance.