Great Rail Journeys offers a wide variety of rail holidays in the UK, showing you some of the most spectacular sights our country has to offer. Part of the country's rich heritage is its large number of castles, ranging from majestic crumbling ruins to still-functioning Royal Residences. Many of our tours feature excursions to castles, and a few of these are shown below.
"By any standards Conwy is one of the great fortresses of medieval Europe." So proclaims the Welsh Historic Trust in an entry in its guidebook. And it's not difficult to understand why. Eight gigantic towers, a monumental high curtain wall, and a strong medieval character.
Its construction began in 1283, under the authority of King Edward I, who planned to surround Wales with a ring of castles in order to quell what he correctly feared was a violently rebellious population.
Today, Conwy stands as one of the finest castles in the country. As you approach it from the east via the A55, it is as if it rises straight out of the hills. There is a dramatic old suspension bridge, which connects the castle to the old peninsula, while the eight great towers dominate the scene.
Make the journey to the top of the tower and you are rewarded with incredible views of the town, countryside and coast below - a picturesque tableau of sailboats bobbing on the harbour waters, while sheep graze on the hillsides.
Perched imperiously on top of a wooded hill, Dunster Castle dates back to the 11th century. None of the original timber construction still stands, and the castle had its defences destroyed in the 17th century, though the ruins of an old tower and the grand medieval gatehouse paint a tantalizing picture of its history.
Today the castle is a lavish country home, as it has been for some 600 years, since it was placed into the hands of the Luttrell family. As you'd expect from its hillside position, the castle offers incredible views of the Bristol Channel, as well as the Quantock Hills and Devonshire Moors.
Or you can amble along the Mediterranean-inspired sub-tropical gardens, home of the Dunster lemon tree, said to be grown from a cutting that once graced the grounds of the castle during Victorian times.
Dunster itself is one of the best-preserved medieval villages in the country, with its octangular former yarn market, picture book thatched cottages, packhorse bridge and quaint teashops.
You can see Bamburgh Castle way before you get to it. It stands imposingly tall, on a basalt outcrop, overlooking the North Sea. From its battlements, you can see all the way to Lindisfarne Castle, the Farne Island and across to the Cheviot Hills. From early wooden palisades to the present stone fortress, the castle has kept watch over Northumbria for many centuries.
The castle site is thought to have been occupied since the 1st century, but the building as it stands is a relatively recent construction. During the War of the Roses the castle became the first English castle to be damaged by artillery fire. A succession of governors took over the running of the castle, allowing it to fall into disrepair.
It wasn't until industrialist, Lord William Armstrong, bought it in the early 19th century, that the castle's fortunes were restored. Armstrong installed one of the first examples of central heating and air conditioning, using ducts in the floor to channel hot and cold air round the building.
The name Bamburgh is thought to originate from the first King of Northumbria, Aethelfrith. Aethelfrith gave the castle to his wife, Bebba, and renamed in Bebbanburgh in her honour.
It one of the most photographed castles in the UK and one of Scotland's most memorable monuments. Eilean Donan Castle sits practically on its own island looking out towards the Isle of Skye.
It is located at the apex of three lochs, giving it a sublime aura of peace and tranquility. Yet perhaps its greatest asset is its surroundings. As well as the peaceful waters, the castle is surrounded on all sides by the forested mountains of Kintair, lending it a picture-perfect quality unrivalled in almost any other UK castle.
Originally built in around 634AD by Bishop Donan as a monastic retreat, the castle has endured a turbulent history. It has seen Viking invasions, Jacobite uprisings, and cannon bombardments, which virtually destroyed it, back in 1719.
Between 1912 and 1932 it was restored from ruins and turned into a family home by the MacRae family. Today, it stands as one of, if not the, most romantic and awe-inspiring castles in the whole of the UK.
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