I’m a big fan of castles, like a BIG fan. I love everything about them, whenever we go anywhere I always try and find a local castle to explore. I spend days leading up to the visit researching as much as I possibly can and the whole day in awe of the grandeur and history of the place. My main aim in life is to one day buy an old Scottish castle, restore it completely and then have all my family and friends come and stay whenever they like ( We have to have a dream right.)
I’ve decided to start writing about some of the castles we visit, it may well inspire some Embarkers and we’re always happy to add a visit onto a walking tour or organise a walking tour running between several castles, or perhaps (even better) one where we stay in a castle overnight.
We spent a couple of days exploring Yorkshire and Lancashire a couple of weeks ago and so it was an excellent opportunity to visit Skipton Castle, one of the most complete and well preserved Medieval castles in the country. The castle is fully roofed and the main buildings centre around a magnificent Tudor Courtyard whose focal point, the splendid Yew tree, was planted by Lady Anne Clifford in 1659. After parking up, the walk around the castle walls really does give an idea of how mighty and imposing the castle must have been to any who thought of attacking it, the two towers which now form the visitor entrance, were once the gatehouse adorned with the Norman French motto ‘Des or Mais’, which translates to ‘Henceforth.’
The original design dates back to around 1090 when Robert de Romille, a Norman baron, built a motte and bailey castle, this however did not prove very effective against the Scottish during their frequent raids across the border targeting the Northern counties. It was soon replaced with the incredible stone fortress we see today, standing atop of a rocky bluff with rising ground to the front and a sheer drop to the back. This ideal location combined with the moat, drawbridge, portcullis and tremendously thick, stone walls cemented the castle as a defensive fortress, one which would prove to be invaluable over the following centuries.
In 1310 the line of the Romilles died out and Edward II appointed Robert Clifford Lord Clifton of Skipton and Guardian of Craven along with Skipton Castle and its estates. The Clifford family history and that of the castle, have since been somewhat intertwined and inseparable. The castle remained the principal family seat until 1676 and the Clifford banner still flies above the castle today (with the present Lord Clifford of Chudleigh’s permission.)
A new wing (now the residential part of the castle, closed off to visitors) was added in 1536.
This was constructed as a gift to the new bride of Henry Clifford. Lady Eleanor Brandon was the daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor and her husband Charles Brandon (Duke of Suffolk and lifelong friend of Henry VIII).
The most precarious and well known time in the castle's history is during the English
Civil War. Skipton Castle was the last Royalist stronghold in the North and was under siege for three years. It is said that upon surrender and the end of the siege in 1645, the soldiers and inhabitants of the castle (led by Sir John Mallory) were welcomed with admiration of their feat by the Parliamentarians. They marched down Skipton High Street with their Royalist colours held high, their drums beating and their trumpets blaring. A previously unknown well was recently discovered within the castle walls (visible just outside the gift shop) which helped shed some light on how the castle inhabitants were able to withstand such a long siege.
The castle unavoidably took some heavy damage during the Civil War (The inhabitants were said to have hung sheep fleece over the walls to protect them from cannon fire.) Cromwell slighted the castle upon its surrender by ordering the removal of its roof. Much of the castle we see today is due to the reconstruction efforts of the last Clifford to inherit Skipton, Lady Anne Clifford, who received permission from Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell to carry out the repairs (providing the walls and roof were built to not withstand cannon fire). Lady Anne was responsible for repairing the damage inflicted upon the castle during the Civil War and for planting the delightful yew tree situated in the central Conduit Court. In contrast to the external windows of the castle, which consist of very narrow windows and arrow slits for defensive purposes, the internal windows which overlook the courtyard are large and spacious and would provide the overlooking rooms with copious light. Stepping into the courtyard feels somewhat like you are stepping into back in time, or indeed, straight into a fairy tale – it was certainly one of my favourite parts of the castle and could imagine easily passing a few hours settled against the trunk of the yew tree with a good book.
Many doors and corridors lead off from the Conduit Court and you can head off to explore these at will. The dungeons (although used occasionally to keep prisoners, there are no records of anyone being tortured at Skipton – in fact one man, while on trial at York, stated that he had never been so well fed as when he was in the care of the Lord Clifford, the kitchen (off which can still be seen a privy extending over the stream below – perhaps not the most hygienic place for a privy by todays standards,) the expansive Great Hall, the muniment tower (where all important castle documents and records were kept), The Lord’s Bedchamber and dayroom, the watchtower, the wine and beer cellars (wine was an expensive commodity and so was only drunk by the Lord and Lady of the time and their esteemed guests, all other castle inhabitants would drink ale in vast quantities which were brewed within the castle in the large lead trough type containers,) the ‘new’ kitchen created in the 17th century and the curing room (where pickling, smoking and salting of meats was carried out for preservation), are just a selection of the rooms one can saunter through at leisure while revelling in the history of this incredible place.
Within the grounds of the castle is a real gem. The chapel of St. John the Evangelist dates back to the 12th century and the then Lady of Skipton Castle, Alice de Romille. Stepping into the chapel is an enchanting experience – you can feel the history in the very walls. The chapel was originally used for the Lord and Ladies of the castle, the stationed garrison and the castle retainers. It is thought to have fallen into disuse following the Civil War and the last recorded use of the chapel was for the baptism of Katherine (daughter of Elizabeth Clifford) in 1637. It was put to numerous other uses over the centuries including a coach house and stable before being carefully recovered in 1957.
Our visit to Skipton Castle in Yorkshire was wonderful, to say the least. Within the grounds of the castle are a delightful gift shop and tea room; an ideal place to rest those weary legs and enjoy a brew while taking in the view of the majestic castle before you. The woods surrounding the castle follow the valley of the Eller Beck and provide the perfect opportunity to meander through and view the fortress from a different vantage point.
Skipton is certainly somewhere we will be returning to, to wander the corridors of the castle once more and discover a few more of its secrets. It’s the perfect place to visit between walking routes or to enjoy and relaxing day. The delightful town of Skipton offers tremendously welcoming hospitality just waiting to be explored on our next Embark adventure.