BUCKS & OXON
Oxford Castle & Prison, central Oxford
It’s not often you find a castle slap-bang in the middle of a city and Oxford’s one is a goodie. Think: guided character tours of the site taking in the historic Saxon St. George’s Tower with 360° panoramic views of the spires, the 18th-century debtors’ tower, and 900-year-old crypt. Oh yeah, and Malmaison is right on the doorstep for Afternoon Tea and cocktails, as is Westgate Oxford for a right royal shopping spree.
Broughton Castle, near Banbury
This beautiful moated and fortified manor house, reopening 30 May, has belonged to the Fiennes family since 1447. It’s one of my favourite local castles – small enough to get around without boring young children, and a lovely garden for them to bomb about in. You’ll need permission to park a picnic.
Wallingford Castle, Wallingford
The ruins of this major medieval castle in the pretty market town of Wallingford make for a gorgeous picnic spot. The castle grounds are bursting with colourful blooms (they’ve been recognised by the Britain in Bloom awards no less!) and there’s an abundance of butterflies in the summertime.
Deddington Castle, Deddington
Okay, so this castle is slightly unusual in the fact there are no walls, brick, mortar – or even any ruins! Once the home of Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, what’s left of the site now is the impressive earthworks (up to 15 metres high in places), ideal for countryside rambles. After stretching your legs, head into the small, attractive town of Deddington for pretty dark honey-coloured architecture and plenty of foodie options.
HAVE HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGE, WILL TRAVEL?
Windsor Castle, Berks
The Queen’s weekend hangout (is there anywhere more appropriate for the Jubilee bank hol?!), Windsor Castle, is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world – pretty impressive, right? Inside the castle you can see several exhibitions including Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace – works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Rubens and Artemisia removed from the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace – as well as a family trail and guided tours.
Sudeley Castle, Glos, Cotswolds
Located near Winchcombe, it’s no surprise that this majestic castle is a popular wedding venue: the grounds are perfectly manicured and boast views of the rolling Cotswolds. (History nerds will also be interested to know that it’s the only private castle in England to have actual royalty buried within its grounds – Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr.) There’s plenty to entertain for an afternoon with an adventure playground and 10 – yes 10! – award-winning gardens to explore. Extra points if you spot all 16 species of pheasants that strut around the grounds.
Warwick Castle, Warks
This spectacular castle just over the border is always a winner with Muddy and it’s very good at luring us back. The castle and knight’s village are both open and to keep the little people entertained there’s The Falconer’s Quest (the UK’s biggest birds of prey show), the spooky castle dungeon. The castle is also introducing an exciting new playground, starring Julia Donaldson’s Zog the lovable dragon and Zog live show.
Kenilworth Castle, Warks
This impressive medieval fortress-turned-Elizabethan-palace has loads to see within its grounds, including the mighty Norman keep at the heart (above). Also worth mentioning are the beautifully restored Elizabethan gardens with their marble fountain, ornate aviary and pretty floral displays, plus there’s a café on site. You have to pay to visit, unless you’re a member of English Heritage, but there are some lovely walks around the castle on public footpaths too.
Hever Castle, Kent
This 13th-century stunner and childhood home of Anne Boleyn has everything you’d want from a castle – towers, a moat, and a royal haunting thanks to rumours that Anne’s ghost still resides in the chambers. Inside the spectacular castle you can see the Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court or head outside to explore the beautiful gardens (including playgrounds and water maze). The 38-acre man-made lake offers lovely vistas, nature walks, and even boat hire.
Berkhamsted Castle, Herts
Considering it was built during the Norman Conquest, way back in 1066, what remains of this timber motte-and-bailey castle is still pretty substantial (come on, use your imagination!) and a great option for a family walk peppered with history. Come for a walk around the ruins, and discover Berkhamsted’s history with their mobile-friendly interactive Castle guide.
Arundel Castle, Sussex
Arundel Castle looks like something out of a storybook with its old motte perched high (100 feet to be exact) on an artificial mound overlooking the beautiful West Sussex countryside and the River Arun. The gardens here are expansive including the award-winning Tropical & English Gardens, the quirky Stumpery and abundant Kitchen Garden with warm glasshouses growing chillis, grapes and lemons.
Leeds Castle, Kent
Perched on an island in the middle of the River Len, five miles southeast of Maidstone, this castle has a lot on offer for a jam-packed day including – deep breath – playgrounds, mini golf, pretty gardens, maze, Birds of Prey Centre and, er, Dog Collar Museum!. The Castle View Restaurant serves afternoon tea, or visit at dusk to see the castle lit up as you much on the reasonable set menu (2 courses £26, 3 courses £32).