Britain's Top 10 Castles
Explore the mysteries and secrets of Britain's stone walls. Learn about the rich history, battles, murders and possible ghosts that still haunt its castles and palaces to this day. Join the Travel Channel as we take you back to British History 101, to count down Britain's Top 10 Castles and Palaces.
At 900 years old, Windsor Castle is the largest occupied castle and oldest official royal residence in the world. Windsor Castle is much more than a castle; the grounds include several homes, a large church and the royal palace. Situated 20 miles west of London, it is also the weekend home of Queen Elizabeth II. One of the monarchy's oldest traditions, the Knights of the Garter, continues to be honored at Windsor Castle. With roots in the Middle Ages, the Garter knighthood consists of the monarch, the Prince of Wales (whose title automatically qualifies him as a Knight of the Garter), and 24 knights.
Over a million people visit the castle each year. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have all been guests of the queen at the palace.
Located a few miles from London, along the River Thames, this prestigious 1,000-room palace was once occupied by Henry the VIII, famous for having 6 wives and beheading 2 of them. Wife no. 5 was 15-year-old Katherine Howard. Accused of adultery, Howard was imprisoned but later escaped. She was caught and then tried for treason. When Howard was brought back to Hampton Court after trying to escape, she was dragged through a gallery that's now called the Haunted Gallery. Outside Hampton Court the grounds are brought to life by 60 acres filled with gardens, spectacular views of the River Thames, and a famous maze that has confused visitors for over 300 years.
Located 400 miles north of London is one of the most visited cities in Europe, Edinburgh, Scotland. Through sieges, invasions, power struggles, murder and imprisonment, Edinburgh Castle has withstood the test of time.
The castle is now the protector and safe-keeper of the Scottish crown jewels. The 500-year-old crown, sword and scepter were used at the coronations of the kings and queens of Scotland. Along with the crown jewels, the castle was the keeper of the clock. Every day for 150 years at 1 p.m. a loud gun would fire, signaling the correct time to sailors at sea and to the locals, because so many people couldn't afford a watch.
Visitors to Edinburgh Castle can see the dungeons used to incarcerate thousands of prisoners over the years. To show the real conditions back then, wax models are positioned throughout the dungeon.
St. Michael's Mount
Located roughly 600 miles south of London, St. Michael's Mount is connected to the mainland by a causeway. At high tide the mount is cut off from the village of Marazion. For many years and continuing today, Marazion has served as a great escape for the inhabitants of the mount, who sometimes crave a warm meal and a drink or 2.
Travelers have been visiting this rocky island since the 5th century, when legend has it the archangel Michael appeared to a group of people over the mount. A Benedictine monastery was later built there in the 12th century. Each year believers make the pilgrimage to the mount, where they walk up the ancient Pilgrims' Steps to the monastery at the top of the hill.
Stirling Castle, situated 450 miles from London, is a well-known symbol of Scotland. Just outside the walls of Stirling stands a monument to Scotland's great national hero, William Wallace, who led a small army against the English king, Edward I, at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Seven hundred-plus years later, the memorial for Wallace continues to remind people of the victory at Stirling.
Among the 8 centuries of battles and murders at Stirling, something very positive and enlightening did occur at this castle -- one of the first attempts at flight. Roughly 500 years ago, during the reign of King James IV in Scotland, scientist John Damian announced he would fly from Stirling Castle to France. Assembling strips of wood, chicken feathers and glue, Damian performed his brief flight by jumping off a stone wall and then gracefully flew straight down, dropping like a stone.
Two hundred and fifty miles from London, on the Welsh coast, sits Caernarfon Castle. It was built 800 years ago, after King Edward I of England conquered North Wales. Edward I took the title of Prince of Wales from the Welsh. Since that time, the eldest son of the King or Queen of England has been known as the Prince of Wales. In 1969, during a ceremony at Caernarfon, Prince Charles was dubbed the 21st Prince of Wales by his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.
At 900 years old, Leeds Castle sits 30 miles from central London. It was the home of Henry the VIII. Despite its British location, Leeds Castle has many American connections. Two families who owned the castle also owned large tracts of land in Culpepper and Fairfax, VA. Today, the castle's connection to the United States continues.
William Randolph Hearst (Hearst Corporation) almost purchased Leeds Castle, until he discovered the missing bathrooms, lack of electricity and that the servants' quarters had served as dungeons. Another American, however, did acquire the castle. After purchasing it in 1926, Lady Olive Baillie set about refurbishing the castle and installing all the necessary items.
Best known for King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, Tintagel Castle is situated in Cornwall, in the northwest corner of England. Tintagel Castle was built 800 years ago by the Earl of Cornwall, brother of the King of England. The earl was intrigued by the legends of King Arthur and his infamous Camelot. The castle was constructed to resemble the court where it's believed King Arthur reigned for so many years.
And what would make a castle complete? Like America, with its Civil War re-enactments, England has its King Arthur mock battles. Each summer, hundreds of enthusiasts come to relive the days of King Arthur and his knights.
Situated less than 100 miles from London, Warwick Castle is known for its beautiful interior and the medieval re-enactments that take place there. Until 25 years ago, generations of Earls of Warwick had resided in the castle. At the turn of the 20th century, Frances, Countess of Warwick, also known as Daisy, was known around England for her lavish, high-society parties. Some of her guests included Winston Churchill; Edward, Prince of Wales; and the future King Edward VII.
Six hundred years ago, Europe's most famous jousting champion was the Earl of Warwick. Each year, thousands of people arrive at Warwick Castle to watch re-enacted jousting competitions.
Tower of London
For over 1,000 years, the Tower of London has dominated the city's skyline. It has housed the royal family and the crown jewels, which have been on public display for 350 years. Over 2 million people visit the tower every year.
The Yeoman Warders, better known as Beefeaters, run the tower and tell stories of its past to eager listeners. The Tower of London has a dark past. Torture, murder and executions all took place at the tower at some time or another. Traitor's Gate, the entrance from the River Thames, is known for being the last stop for those on their way to their execution. Among the executed were 3 queens of England, including Ann Boleyn, wife of Henry the VIII.