What could be more fun than running around imagining that you’re the king of a Norfolk castle and everyone else is a jolly old rascal…
If you’re going to conquer and then let everyone know who’s the boss now, this is the way to go about it. Built as a Royal Palace 900 years on the order of William the Conqueror, the Normans made sure that Norwich Castle dominated the city skyline, as it does to this day. The castle proved to be William’s only one in East Anglia, which shows the importance of Norwich even then. The castle now hosts a fabulous museum and art collection and you can see the dungeons and battlements – as well as the death masks from when it was a prison. If you think the castle is in remarkably good nick it’s because the Victorians re-clad it (but sssh, we don’t tell anyone that).
Castle Rising, near King’s Lynn
One of the largest, best preserved and most lavishly decorated keeps in England, surrounded by 20 acres of mighty earthworks, Castle Rising was started in 1138 by William d’Albini for his new wife, the widow of Henry I. In the 14th century it became the luxurious exile-place of Queen Isabella, widow (and alleged murderess) of Edward II. Castle Rising comprises three baileys, each defended by large earthworks, covering a total area of 12 acres.
Castle Acre, near Swaffham
Founded after the Norman Conquest in the 1070s by William de Wavenne, who was awarded the land by William the Conqueror. Although there is not much built stone left the earthworks are still very impressive and together with the priory and walled town of Castle Acre comprises one of the best examples of Norman estate planning in the country. It’s looked after by English Heritage.
The Thetford Castle mound, one of the largest man-made mounds in the country, comprises the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle, built by William de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey, soon after the conquest of England, and dismantled in 1173.
Burgh Castle, near Great Yarmouth
The one castle in our collection that predates the Normans, Burgh Castle was built by the Romans to hold cavalry as a defence against Saxon marauders. Three of the rectangular castle’s four walls are still intact, the other having collapsed over time into the marshy Breydon Water. The site is open to the public – go along and imagine what the scene was like in Roman times, when the water in front of you was a giant estuary, three miles wide.
Built between 1432 and 1146 by Sir John Fastolf, inspiration for William Shakespeare’s Falstaff, Caister Castle is of historical interest as one of the earliest buildings in England of importance to be built of brick. The moated castle has a 100 foot high tower that is still intact and visitors can climb to the top for a superb view of the castle ruins and surrounding area.
The castle suffered severe damage in 1469 when it was besieged and captured by the Duke of Norfolk, who claimed it after Fastolf’s intestate death, wresting it from the Paston family. The bulk of Sir John’s money went to endow Magdalen College in Oxford.
Baconsthorpe Castle, near Holt
Visit the extensive ruins of Baconsthorpe Castle, a moated and fortified 15th century manor house, that are a testament to the rise and fall of a prominent Norfolk family, the Heydons. Over 200 years, successive generations of this ambitious family built, then enlarged, and finally abandoned this castle. Sir John Heydon probably built the strong inner gatehouse during the turbulent Wars of the Roses period, and his son Sir Henry completed the fortified house. In more peaceful times, their descendants converted part of the property into a textile factory, and then added the turreted Elizabethan outer gateway, inhabited until 1920. It’s looked after by English Heritage.