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Ludlow Castle is situated within the market town of Ludlow in South Shropshire. Although a ruin, it is now open to the public and is privately owned. As you look through the gates, you only see one wall, and you think there is nothing behind it, but there is much more to see once inside.
Ludlow castle started life as a Norman fortress, needed to hold back the unconquered Welsh; it was subsequently the property of various Earls and key historical figures such as Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. In the 15th Century it became a Royal castle and other famous residents included young Prince Edward and Richard, who were to become better known as the Prices in the Tower. Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII died here whilst honeymooning with his wife Katharine of Aragon (who went on to marry Henry). It was abandoned 1689 and fell into decline before the Earl of Powys took it over in 1811 and halted the decline, his descendants opening the castle to the public.
You enter the Castle grounds through the Gift Shop and pay your admission (£4.50 for adults when I visited at the end of 2009), you walk across the field and enter the actual Castle after crossing the (dry) moat and walking through the gates of the Great Tower. Originally built in Norman times, and added onto to make it an impressive four stories high, over subsequent years. I believe you can climb this tower, but it was icy when we went, so it was closed.
You also have a round chapel, again Norman. There was a rectangular chancel, but this no longer remains, but the circular nave is still standing and makes a lovely home for the local pigeons. The North Range at the back of the castle includes more towers and we climbed these with care. This part is slightly younger then the other parts - about 14th Century. The staircases are fairly treacherous and you need strong footing as they are narrow and spiral and it was a bit icy at the top. I think it is worth doing if you can face the staircases, as there are some lovely views of the town and area. However, I think it is worse going down than up on these stairs, so I urge caution! The North Range contained the Great Hall and other lodgings and there are lots of little small rooms and hidey places for small children. When we visited, the countryside sound effects consisted of pigeons cooing and human parents calling their missing offspring!
Outside of the gates is a chapel that later became a courthouse. There are plaques dotted around the castle for you to read with a little bit of information on each one. I did think these weren't particularly informative and think they have missed a trick here. I don't recall an audio tour being offered but there was a guide book on sale. The Castle is really a fair-weather attraction as you are walking across grass and through uneven, broken stone floored buildings with no roof. In the winter some of the slopes and steps could be icy, and parts of it were quite muddy, so practical footwear needs to be worn.
You exit the castle through the Gift Shop again; they have an excellent selection of relevant history books. There were also a lot of children's gifts, mugs and homeware gifts. As you come out of the shop, just opposite is the Castle House which holds a few craft style shops, and the Castle Tea Room. This is a smart little tea shop, accessed down a corridor, where you can sit inside or outside (outside is actually a glass covered corridor, although in summer months, you may be able to eat outside 'proper'). They offer cakes, sandwiches and baked potatoes as well as tea, coffee and hot chocolate. There are also toilets here too. Depending on if there is a market on or not, you maybe able to park outside the castle, alternatively you can park on the streets surrounding it where parking restrictions allow or use the Park & Ride service. There are local buses running nearby as it is right on the market square. The castle is open all year round, but only at weekends in December and January (except in the break between Christmas and New Year when we went). Opening hours vary according to the season, with the Castle being open until 7pm in the summer, but only 4pm in winter so this is worth checking out. They seem to have various special events on throughout the year, some of which are open to the public, and some which keep the castle closed.
If you are in Ludlow I do recommend a visit, although you may feel you get more out of it from purchasing a guide book. Having visited lots of historical sites in the area, I feel they could bring it to life more. Weather needs to be a consideration, and you need to be steady on your feet due to the uneven floors.
Gosh it is nearly May and I am still doing my best to keep up with the new me and my new years resolutions; which in brief was to have more family time and get myself better. Well it's the last Saturday in April and I am still keeping up the good work, we are having a family outing to Ludlow Castle which is only approx 45mins from our home; my youngest daughter has decided to joins us and with the walk around the lovely town of Ludlow and the Castle we headed for some fun and exercise.
After a lovely week of sunshine we woke up on the Saturday morning to heavy rain, but undeterred we still set off for our day out, someone must have been smiling down on us as half way to Ludlow the sun came back out and stayed with us for the duration of our visit. I have to also note this wonderful day as the first day of my husband giving up smoking; we thought a family day out will lighten the mood, keep him busy and make the transition that little bit easier. He managed it and at the time of writing this review has been a non smoker for a week now; well done hun.
~~ Our Day ~~
Like I said when I got up early Saturday morning it was raining, but I was determined not to be put off and forced my optimism onto my hubby and daughter telling them that the sun will come out as I have booked it, so with that in mind we grabbed some fruit and piled into the car to make the trip to Ludlow.
Luck was definitely on our side as we found a parking space very close to the centre which I could use with my disability badge, the parking is very limited in the centre of Ludlow, but there are car parks scattered about which are only a short walk as well. The Castle is in the centre of the main town which is a beautiful picturesque town on the top of a hill, with Tudor style buildings and a small farmers market in the centre. We had a little walk through the market and sat on a bench outside the castle to share a bacon sarnie, (oh well it is a day out and I only had wheatabix for breakfast). I have to mention that the atmosphere was very peaceful, I know it was only around 1030hrs but there was not a lot of people about and those that were, took life at a steady pace, none of the hustle and bustle that you get in some old towns, and there are a few of them in Shropshire where I live.
I cannot walk far so we did not go in search of shops, much to my daughters disappointment, I think she was secretly hoping for a big shopping centre to walk around and spend loads of money in; we just looked at the small market which only had possibly a dozen stores, I remember the butty wagon, the pet store, clothes store, cheese store, fruit and veg, and the home made pickles and jam store. Oh I think there was a bread store as well.
After a short rest whilst my hubby ran back to the car as he had only just noticed that there were pay and display signs up, we left the square and went to the castle. The Castle itself is split in two; when you face the entrance you can go left through the gift shop, purchase your ticket and go round the castle ruins, or you can go right to the renovated area where the tea rooms and hotel are. Obviously I had a peak at the tea rooms for the review (but family wouldn't let me go to the hotel bit, but you can see pictures of this on the website www.ludlowcastle.com ).
We bought our tickets and guide book (which cost us £3.00, it is not as glossy as a lot of guide books, but it did contain a lot of history), had a quick look around the gift shop, making a mental note to get a little gift later for my other daughter who could not make it as she was working. Off we trot out through a very small door it was narrow and short which led us to the castle grounds; me being a typical reviewer got my camera out straight away and started snapping, then my daughter took it off me and took charge of the pictures, now I thought I took a lot, but she out did me by miles, thank goodness for digital cameras and the computer. We took pictures of the door with my hubby standing next to it just to show how small it was I am 5ft 5in and I managed to walk through ok, but daughter and hubby are 6ft plus each and both had to duck.
My daughter made our visit, as anyone knows I do love old buildings and take great pleasure in looking at the architecture and seeing how many parts of it have stood the test of time, but having my daughter with us and her enthusiasm for getting the right photographs made it loads of fun too. Enough waffle lets get onto the delights of the castle; the gift shop was set in the old porters lodge and the prison, it is set on two levels so you can go upstairs if you wish to spend more money, we actually didn't venture upstairs as I am not a great fan of paying the gift shop prices to buy something for the sake of it. My daughter did get a couple of small items for her sister on the way out, just to show her that she was missed from the visit.
We then moved onto next door to the ruins of the old stables, this is just a ruined bricked shell now with little window typical of the Norman era. After looking around and taking a few photos, my daughter pushed us forward so she could take more photos of us walking across the grass towards the old chapel (St Peter's Chapel) where we sat outside so she could take more photos of us, I don't actually remember going into the chapel at all, as my daughter was asking us to go into Mortimer's Tower which was built in the 13th century, you wouldn't notice this from the Outer Bailey (which is the grassed area where this half of the castle is situated is called), but the tower is actually semi circular where as the other towers are all rectangular in shape. My daughter asked us to climb up so she could take some photos and I did want to look at the views; I don't do stairs very well at all, but with my hubby's help and my sheer determination, I did manage to get to the top and look at the views, the steps here were extremely tiny and narrow only one person at a time, I am a size 6 in shoes and my feet only just fitted on the steps, hubby and daughter have larger feet and they had to twist their legs to get up and down, this gave them both pains in their thighs we discovered the next day. Was it worth climbing for their discomfort in all honesty no it wasn't, although the view was fantastic but that was all that was up there, you climbed up very narrow and uncomfortable stairs which are hundreds of years old to a little square approx 3ft x 3ft which was modern wood on top of the brickwork to allow you a viewing point.
My daughter was happy as she got some great photos for us and I was pleased that I managed to get up and down although it was a bit difficult with my stick I went up on all fours and came down very cautiously and slowly. With hindsight if I had realised this beforehand I would have saved my climb until I got to the Inner Bailey and climbed up the range instead where there seemed to be a bit more room.
You go over a little bridge which takes you over what appears to be a dry moat into the Inner Bailey which houses the ruins of The Keep, the Round Chapel and the North Range. We had loads of fun here looking at the various ruins and taking even more pictures, my daughter climbed to the top of the Keep for us and took more pictures, but again the ancient stairs were a little difficult. We had a family photo taken outside the ruins of the Judges Lodgings which in its hay day was a three-storey structure which was set against the wall.
We took a look in the round chapel, which looking at the guide book was magnificent in its day, there is not really much left of it today, this Norman Chapel was known as The Chapel of St Mary Magdalene and it had a circular Nave which is mainly still standing today; the rectangular chancel did not survive the test of time.
We moved on from the chapel to the North Range, which is a selection of buildings that hold the Tudor lodgings, the great hall, the great kitchen, Prince Arthur's chamber etc. There is a picture of this in the guide book, showing it as it would have looked in 1765 taken from a drawing by the Shrewsbury architect T F Pritchard, one thing I noticed from it was how the Norman arched windows stood out. It was walking through these building that we had loads of fun, with my daughter climbing up onto ledges that were about 4ft deep to get to the window to take a photograph, it was so tempting when you have this backside facing you to want to smack it, lol. We went into one of the chambers and it was like a pigeon loft they are everywhere we actually took a picture of one pigeon and it looks like it is stuck on to the wall, as it is simply sitting on a brick that is slightly jutting out.
There was a old stairway that took you up to the next level this has broken away in places and has loads of weeds growing over it, but it is a lot wider than the internal stairways but it is still stone and would get a bit slippery in the rain, my daughter climbed this for me as there was no support for me to go up and down.
I have visited many castles and although this one has suffered over the years it is still a wonderful specimen of Norman Architecture and has slightly more to see than others that I have visited and has survived better than many that I have seen; I often wonder if modern architecture will stand the test of time as well as these magnificent buildings have.
~~ A Little History ~~
The first mention of Ludlow Castle, which started life as a Norman Fortress can be found in the chronicles of 1138, although it is older than that the exact date cannot be established. It was one of line of Norman Castles that was built around the time to keep out the Welsh during those turbulent times. The de Lacy family (a name that comes up a lot with properties of this era) held on to the lordship until the late 13th century.
In 1240 the last male heir of the de Lacy family died and the fortress was handed down to the two daughters one of which married a French Baron who happened to be a distant relative of Eleanor who was queen to Henry III. In 1283 the castle was passed down to the baron's son Peter De Geneville who started to build the domestic buildings of the Inner Bailey and create a fortified palace of luxury, as the troubled times with the welsh had died down.
It became a Crown property during 1461 and it continued to be so for a further 350 years, but sadly the castle was left abandoned around 1689 and without any tender loving care it was left to become the ruin it is today. The Earl of Powis took ownership of Ludlow Castle in 1811 and tried to stop further decline of such a magnificent building which brings us up to modern day where it is open to the public and they are trying to keep up the restoration of it.
~~ Castle House ~~
I have a little admission here I did not thoroughly do my research before visiting the castle, my hubby and my daughter did not want to go over to the tea rooms or to try and look around that section, so apart from the little peep I had of the porch area outside the tea room and the toilets I cannot give much of a personal opinion, but I have taken a look at the web site and my guide book to give you a little insight on it.
Castle House still has the tennis court that was there during the Tudor period and it was the last grand mansion to be built in Ludlow.
I checked the toilets which were very strange for this country as they were unisex, so it was just a set of cubicles for use from both male and female, no urinals men. You find this quite common in some countries but this was a first for me in this country; I used these facilities which were very modern and very clean, a little refreshing in an old building but this area of the Castle house does have a very modern feel with modern furniture and artwork on the walls, bringing about a mixture of an ancient shell with modernised interior.
The lean too style veranda which led to the toilets also lead you to the Castle Tea Rooms where you could enjoy light snacks, like cakes, sandwiches, baguettes, jacket potatoes etc. You can see the full menu on the internet at the link I put on the review earlier, I did take a look and the prices did seem pretty average for this type of place. If you do get a chance please take a look at the pictures for Castle House which shows some of the renovation work they have under took and the rooms they have for hire for weddings etc and the apartments that you can enjoy an overnight stay in.
A lot of the food is homemade and with local produce one of the items that jumped out at me, although I didn't get to try it was Lavender Shortbread, I did wonder what that tasted like, so if anyone does visit here and try this let me know what you thought.
You can also take a look at The Pantry which is the original Scullery in the mansion still with its original cooking range, copperware and quarry tiled flooring, The Study with old family photos and a carved fireplace with the Prince of Wales feathers and also the Garden Terrace where you can enjoy you afternoon tea or elevenses on a warm sunny day.
Gosh I wish I had seen these now, there is only one thing for it, I will have to go for another visit one day and simply up date you with the splendour of it all.
They have been renovating the Castle House and they have made some lovely (well they look lovely on the web site) self catering lodgings; according the web site when you rent one of these apartments there will be a hamper waiting for you on your arrival which is apparently from the award winning Deli on the Square, this as well as fresh breads and two bottle of wine one red and one white. Sounds pretty good to me and the pictures look great.
~~ Future Events for 2009 ~~
Sat 9th May and Sun 10th May - they hold the Ludlow Food Spring Event, where you can get beer, bangers, breads and buskers for a fun day out.
Sunday 10th May - Marches Transport Festival - this is a vintage vehicle display which is held in the castle grounds (the outer bailey which is the grassed area I mentioned earlier in the review), and it also spills out onto the market square outside the castle grounds. I do like the sound of this as I love vintage vehicles, but sadly I am at work that weekend.
Spring Bank Holiday weekend (Sun 24th and Mon 25th) - they will be having full days of various activities to keep you amused these include, guided tours, archery, birds of prey and flying displays.
Ludlow Festival - held between Sat 20th June and Sunday 5th July - this is a host of different activities with a variety of entertainment to suit everyone.
Throughout the summer they hold special activities for all the family on their 'Summer Wednesdays' these dates are shown on the website (only 6 of them), you have the same activities on these days as the spring bank holiday.
They also have 6 'Summer Thursdays' as well where they offer the castle tours, short story telling, medieval games and castle crafts, which sounds great to take the kids to and keep them busy for the day. Again like some of the other events there are ticket prices here, which can all be found on the website along with the dates.
Ludlow Food Festival is held over three days in September 11th - 13th - it is a three day food and drink festival.
There is much, much more, so take a look if you are interesting in visiting, you might find something that will interest you as well as the castle and make you day out even more enjoyable.
~~ Other bit and bobs ~~
Adults - £4.50
OAP/Student - £4.00
Family (2 adults plus 2 children) - £12.50
Children (under 6yrs free) - £2.50
They do special arrangements for school children in groups for education purposes, so well worth contacting them on 01584 873355 to make arrangements).
The above prices are for normal days, for the special events some of which I mentioned earlier the prices may vary slightly
The castle is open most days, but there are some dates listed on their website and closed to the public, some of these are where it is closed for part days as well, so it is worth checking. Opening times do vary throughout the year so it is wise to check on the web site before visiting for opening and closing times.
Disabled access is limited as this is an ancient building and so not all of it can be accessed by a wheelchair user.
There is an audio commentary which you can hire for £2.00 when you buy your ticket, I believe the £2.00 is refunded on your return, commentary lasts for approx 50mins.
Car parking you would have to use the town car parks as there is no parking on the grounds of the castle.
~~ How to get there ~~
As I mentioned earlier it is smack bang in the middle of Ludlow Town.
Address for your sat nav is -
Ludlow is off the A49, if you look out for the park and ride car park there is a frequent bus service that picks you up and drops you in the Castle Square, which is right outside the castle.
If you travel from the Birmingham area you need to go west on the A456 through Kidderminster.
If you come from the M5 then leave it at Junction 3 and follow the A456 through Kidderminster.
There is also a train service that frequently visits Ludlow.
You can contact the castle on 01584 873355.
~~ Conclusion ~~
We really did enjoy our day, our visit took a totally different turn having our daughter with us, and she brightened up the visit with her enthusiasm for taking our pictures and taking pictures of the ruins for us. It was also fun as she was always checking our ticket which came in an the form of an A5 size piece of paper with a map of the castle grounds on it, showing you what each section was. It is a must visit for anyone that loves Historic buildings and castles, I have seen better and I have seen worse, but it never ceases to amaze me that I am standing in the centre of a building that was built all those hundreds of years ago and the sweat and tears that those poor men must have gone through to pick up each stone to lay it on top of the others, especially when you actually look at the size of the brick that was used. There are educational boards scattered around the castle grounds showing you useful information about the section you are in. I would say though unless you are a parent that likes to educate your child and make learning fun as you go around the castle, you will get more value for money if you go on one of the activity days or special events as then you not only have the castle to look at but the added attractions as well, making it a full day out. I would like to go again one day, but I have a few more places to go and see first.
I have just been talking about our visit we a colleague at work, as Ludlow Castle is not too far away, a few people have visited here, so I thought another opinion would be worth while mentioned, she attended the food festival last year and really enjoyed it, she also mentioned as she has two young children that as you come out of the castle if you turn left and walk down the hill you will come across a small section of river which is shallow enough for the children to paddle in, apparently this is quite popular with visitors and is just at the back of the castle grounds. What a fun way to finish your visit with a little picnic and a paddle to wear the children out.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.
The castle dates back to the 11th century. Come and take a glimpse into the lifestyle of medieval society.