I might have spent more time than the average person exploring and learning about Gloucestershire’s Berkeley Castle. In 2013 I spent 9 muddy days digging here with the University of Bristol’s archaeological excavations. It was mostly fun, but very soggy. I have since returned both as a paying visitor, and as part of the #DigBerkeley Public Engagement and Social Media Team. Plus, I am a big Wolf Hall/Damien Lewis lover and Berkeley Castle features in the TV show. So let’s assume that I’m a bit of a fan.
The castle you see today began its life shortly after the conquest in 1066 as a motte-and-bailey castle which basically means “a big mound of earth”. Not much later in 1153, Robert Fitzharding (the founder of the Berkeley family which still occupies the castle today) constructed the stone shell keep around the motte, and the curtain wall was added between 1160-1190. This early construction makes Berkeley the oldest continually occupied non-royal castle in England, and the oldest to be owned or occupied by the same family. In fact, when you visit, keep an eye out for Charles Berkeley and his family who can be seen pottering around in the walled garden or around and about their castle home.
Tours around the castle are freely available and worth hopping on! Highlights for me include seeing the cell where King Edward II was supposedly gruesomely disposed off (with a red-hot-poker inserted *somewhere painful*), the beautiful medieval kitchen with a high spider-web ceiling, and the enormous and impressive Great Hall! The whole place is decorated with paintings, ceramics, silvers, tapestries and objects collected over the years of occupation. Look out for Sir Francis Drake’s cabin trunk, Queen Elizabeth I’s bedding and also the bright red woven silk wallpaper which was originally part of Henry VIII’s tent at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.
Go, like we did, in the summertime to make the most of the beautiful terraced gardens. Ridiculously gorgeous flowers are everywhere and smell amazing! You can’t help but feel regal as you process around the lily pond, and it was lovely to explore the nooks and crannies, admire the wisteria-draped archways and soak in the sun beneath the castle walls.
In the walled garden there are two bonuses for visitors. One: a butterfly garden with over 40 varieties of butterfly to gawp at as well as a couple of Atlas moths which, if you haven’t seen them before, are legit the biggest moths in the world and look as though they have been hand-painted. Two: the Yurt Tea room which is possibly the quaintest place I’ve ever eaten a scone. With floral bunting, polka-dot pastel tablecloths and little bouquets of pansies on each table – it’s adorable. Alternatively, bring a packed lunch and make use of one of the many picnic benches with beautiful views over the scenic countryside surroundings.
- Berkeley Castle, Berkeley, Gloucestershire, GL13 9PJ.
- Admission: Adults £10. Student £8.00
- Open: Sun-Wednesday in the summer (April-October 29th) 11am – 5pm.
- Butterfly house open: May-Sept.
- Last free guided tour: 3.30pm
- Coffee at the Yurt Café: £2.50.
- Website: www.berkeley-castle.com
- Twitter: @BerkeleyCastle
- Adorable video which sells the castle pretty well IMO: https://vimeo.com/127155278 *click*
It’s really exciting to piece together how the landscape and society might have transformed with the arrival of the Normans in 1066. There is evidence continually being unearthed for the presence of an Anglo-Saxon minster on this site, which is super important because very few records of these early religious dwellings remain, especially as Anglo-Saxons tended to build with timber and thatch. = big archaeo-deal. Stay tuned for more discoveries!