Scarborough Castle


Scarborough Castle is an impressive medieval fortress in a stunning location overlooking the town from high up on the cliffs. Given it’s setting, it rather reminded me of Chinon Castle in the Loire region of France.

We walked across the town from the museum and climbed up the hill to enter through the fortified gatehouse. The castle is under the stewardship of English Heritage so we were able to enter without paying the entrance fee on the day.

There’s evidence of human habitation on the promentry from pre-historic times and the Romans were here – they built a signal station on the cliffs. The first castle on the site was built in the 12th Century. It becam a Crown property during the reign of Henry II and over time was expanded to become a major fortress. It was beseiged, and badly damaged, during the Civil War, although, due to it’s strategic position on the coast, a garrison was kept here until the 19th century. Although a ruin today, there are substantial remains to explore and it’s location presents good views over the coast and town.

The remains of the fortifications are along the south of the headland, facing the old town. During medieval times the cliffs to the north would have been pretty much impregnable.

A view over the Barbican towards the south bay

We walked past the Inner Bailey and bought a coffee from the kiosk next to the Master Gunner’s House – a later building. We then decided to walk along the top of the cliffsto take in the views before exploring the walls from the east side.

About half way along the cliffs there’s the site of a Roman signal station, one of a chain of structures built along the north east coast. There’s little in the way of physical remains of the Roman structure. A chapel was built on the site near a “holy” well, in about 1000 AD which was extended over the next few centuries and the visible stonework are the remains of this building.

The well

At the end of the headland we reached the eastern end of the castle walls. They’re still quite substantial.


There’s remains of several towers and rooms incorporated with the curtain walls and ruins of other structures inside the Outer Bailey.


We made our way to the Inner Bailey with it’s rectangular keep known as the Great Tower.


There’s a viewing platform here that provides god views over the town, harbour and south bay.

A view from the castle walls over the harbour
The Great Tower – it was badly damaged when beseiged during the Civil War
Inside the Great Tower
View over the Inner Bailey from the viewing platform
The curtain walls seen from the viewing platform
Looking back towards the castle on our way back to the car after our visit

Whitby Abbey


After the walk with my son along to Sandsend and back, during the afternoon all four of us headed through Whitby, over to the East Cliff and then up the 199 steps to visit the ruins of the Abbey. Perched on top of the cliffs above the town and next to the old Parish Church, even on a fine day it has rather a “spooky” atmosphere, especially when viewed across the graveyard as in the picture above! No wonder Bram Stoker used this as a location for the early part of Dracula.

We’d all been into the abbey during our previous visit to Whitby, but it was certainly worth another visit – although you can much of the structure from outside the walls without paying the entry fee, we’re all either members of English Heritage or Cadw (the Welsh equivalent) so we got free entry and were able to get a closer view.

The current Abbey wasn’t the first one on the site. The original Anglo Saxon builing was founded St Hild when Whitby was part of the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, way back in the 7th Century when the the town was known as Streaneshalch and is the liklely location of an important gathering of the clergy, known as the Synod of Whitby, which established the dominance of the Roman Church over the Celtic tradition in the kingdom of Northumbria. The Anglo Saxon building was destroyed following the Viking raids in the 9th Century. The site was then deserted for a couple of hundred years until after the Norman invasion when a new Romanesque Benedictine Abbey was founded in 1078. This wasreplaced by the current Gothic structure constructed over a protracted period between the 13th and 15th Centuries. The Abbey was closed by Henry VIII in 1540 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and it gradually fell into ruin – no doubt used as a “quarry” by the locals.

Here’s a few shots I took during our visit.


Lindisfarne Priory


Lindisfarne Priory is the official end of St Cuthbert’s trail so we went to have a look shortly after we arrived on Holy Island. These days the ruins are cared for English Heritage who have a small museum telling the history of the site and putting it into context.


This structure didn’t exist at the time of St Cuthbert. The original Celtic Christian Monastery was abandoned in 875 following the Viking raids. These are the ruins of the Norman Monastery that was founded in the 12th Century., the church being constructed around 1150. Consequently it was a Romanesque building and was modelled on Dirham cathedral.

The Priory was closed in 1537 during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and, as was generally the case, the buildings were used as a “quarry” . Stone from the Priory is known to have been used during the construction of LIndisfarne Castle, for example.


Although you can get a good look at the buildings from St Mary’s churchyard, the adjacent field and from on top of the Heugh, we paid our entry fee that allowed us to get close up to the ruins and allowed entry into the museum.

We entered from St Mary’s churchyard through the West Front


This is the West Front, seen from the inside. Typically Romanesque with it’s rounded arches and thick masonry. It was originally flanked by two towers; there are substantial remnants of one of them

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Battlements and cross-shaped arrowloops were added in the mid-14th century when the whole priory was fortified in response to the outbreak of war with the Scots.

This is the north aisle of the Nave. The rounded arches are supported by massive piers, very typical of Romanesque churches. They’re decorated in a style similar to some of the later piers in Durham Cathedral.


A view from the east of the end of the nave


This is the “rainbow arch”, a surviving rib from the Crossing where the main tower of the church would have stood.


These are the remains of the Presbytery at the east end of the church. It was rebuilt in a more Gothic style with large windows pointed arches and exterior buttresses supporting the walls.



There are only limited remains of the monks’ living quarters to the south of the church. It wasn’t a large community.


This bronze sculpture of St Cuthbert, which stands at the south end of the site, was created by Durham born sculptor, Fenwick Lawson


Castlerigg Stone Circle

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A couple of miles to the east of Keswick town centre – all uphill – we came to the Castlerigg Neolithic stone circle..Four and a half thousand years old, with 38 stones (some claim more!) laid in a flattened circle in the middle of a field surrounded by some of England’s highest mountains with Skiddaw and Blencathra to the north and Helvelyn to the south east. The high peaks were shrouded in low cloud, but that only made it more atmospheric

It is not just its location that makes this one of the most important British stone circles; considered to have been constructed about 3000 bc, it is potentially one of the earliest in the country. Taken into guardianship in 1883, it was also one of the first monuments in the country to be recommended for preservation by the state.(English Heritage)

The land is owned by the National Trust and the monument itself is managed by English Heritage.

Being outside the holiday season, and a grey day, there were relatively few visitors, so it was a good opportunity to take a few photos.






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Coniston Hall


Many years ago during my first visit to Coniston, I stayed at the Coniston Hall campsite, which is in the woods on the shore of Coniston Water, south of Coniston Hall. The old manor house, which dates from the 16th Century when it was owned by the Fleming family, is still standing,  The west north east wing is in ruins but the rest of the building is relatively intact, the east wing being still occupied by farm tenants. The central part of the building, which at one time would probably have been the “great hall” appears to have been converted into a barn at some stage with the earth bank built to allow access to a barn door in the centre of the wall, turning it into a traditional Lakeland “bank barn”.


The style of the house has many other features common to Lakeland vernacular architecture – stone walls and a slate roof and very characteristic, tall cylindrical chimneys which we saw on a number of houses in the area. Tall chimneys were, apparently, a means of flaunting wealth, rather like people who drive flash cars these days.

The house  has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade II* listed building and today is owned by the National Trust, although it’s not open to the public.

Mount Grace Priory


We’ve whizzed up the A19 many a time visiting family in the North East, and never noticed the brown sign for Mount Grace Priory, a property managed by English Heritage. We checked out what we might visit when we were heading north up to Sunderland after out short stay in York,  and thought it would be worth a short stop.

It’s the site of a former Carthusian priory, with substantial ruins of the monastery (dissolved in 1539 by Henry VIII) and a 17th-century manor house which had been extended and remodelled as a holiday home for a wealthy industrialist, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, at the beginning of the 20th Century. There’s also a relatively small (by Stately home standards, anyway) at the front of the house.

The brown sign was hard to spot and we then had to make a right turn pretty soon after, crossing over the south bound carriageway of the busy A19 to turn into the narrow driveway that led up to the property. A bonus when we arrived – National Trust members are allowed free entry. as the property, although managed by EH is actually owned by the Trust.

First of all we had a look round the house. A couple of the rooms on the ground floor have been done up in Arts and Crafts style, including William Morris and Co. wallpaper, recreating the look from when the house was owned by Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell.

This is the Drawing Room


with an attractive fireplace, which reminded me of those at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House in the Lake District.


And this is the entrance hall



A room at the back of the house has been simply furnished


and has a particularly attractive stone fireplace – very Arts and Craft in style.


On the first floor there was an exhibition about the history of the house and the attic space, which was used for the bedrooms for Isaac Bell’s children, has recently been opened to visitors. One interesting feature was the marks on the wall indicating the changing heights of the three children.

Once we’d finished looking round the house we went out the back door outside to where the remains of the monastery are found.


It had belonged to the Carthusian order (the same as that to which the monks in France who produce the Chartreuse liqueur). Unlike other orders the monks live a solitary lives, praying and meditating, working and taking their meals in their own “cells” and only congregating for short periods during the day. So the church was relatively small and the site is dominated by two large cloisters surrounded by the remains of the cells where the monks lived.



English Heritage have recreated one of the cells so it’s possible to gain an impression of how the monks lived


The word “cell” conjures up an image of a dingy space with bars on the windows, but this was far from the case at the Priory. The cell was a reasonably large house


with a kitchen and living room,


space for prayer and study


and bedroom on the ground floor


and a workshop where weaving and the like was done on the first floor (accessed by a steep ladder)


with it’s own kitchen garden.

The cells had toilets at the end of the garden, provided with running water


and accessed by a covered passage


Very sophisticated for its time!

To maintain the seclusion, the cells were separated by a high wall.


The standard of living of the monks, and the standard of hygiene, would have been much better than that experienced by the majority of the population. But I don’t know how many people would be able to put up with a life of work and prayer where there was very little contact with other human beings.

The gardens at the front of the house, although not particularly extensive, were very pleasant.




Even today, the site is very secluded. It’s miles from anywhere and surrounded by woodland. The traffic on the A19 rushes past, mainly oblivious to the fact that the Priory is there. It would be perfectly peaceful, but traffic noise from the busy road does intrude a little. Nevertheless, it was a good way to break our journey.

Clifford’s Tower


Set on a tall mound in the heart of Old York, Clifford’s Tower is almost all that remains of York Castle, which was originally built by William the Conqueror. The mound on which the tower stands was the “motte” of the original motte and bailey castle which had been constructed between 1068 and 1069. The tower itself was built between about 1245 and 1272 to update the defences of the castle.


Today it’s owned by English Heritage. We meant to have a look when we were in York last year and had picked up a two for one entry voucher , but ran out of time. So we made a point of visiting during our recent short break in York – although had to pay full price!


It’s quite small and doesn’t take that long to look around. But there are some good views over York from the top of the battlements.