Discover magnificent castles in South West England

South West England is a popular camping holiday destination with stunning coastal areas, National Parks and unique attractions, such as its magnificent medieval castles.

Take a look below at this list of ancient castles worth exploring in the South West England region. Each wonder of construction has a unique history, stemming back hundreds of years. If only castle walls could talk!

Corfe Castle: within the grounds of our Corfe Castle Campsite

Corfe

Corfe Castle was built more than 1000 years ago. Thought to have first been built from wood, it was rebuilt in stone during the 11th century by William the Conqueror for his son, who would later become King Henry I. 

Standing at the top of a hill and along the main route through the Purbeck Hills in Dorset, Corfe Castle was and still is a striking landmark that can be seen from miles away.

In 1635, Corfe Castle was sold to Sir John Bankes, who was Lord Chief Justice to Charles I. Whilst Sir John was away with the King, his courageous wife Lady Mary Bankes, had to defend the castle twice when it came under siege. The second siege in 1645 would be the castle’s last. It was finally captured due to a betrayal by one of Lady Mary’s officers and was later demolished.

Why is it worth a visit?

Corfe Castle is a National Trust site. There are some great activities for children, which families will appreciate. The castle itself has witnessed many events throughout history, including the English Civil War that started in 1642.

Visitors can explore the castle ruins and get a feel for its fascinating history. And if you enjoy trekking, the Purbeck Ridgeway provides a fantastic walk all the way towards the coast at Old Harry Rocks.

Dunster Castle: 15 min drive from our Minehead Campsite

Dunster

Dunster Castle is situated at the top of a very steep hill (the Tor), surrounded by woodland, in the heart of Exmoor National Park in Dorset. It has existed since Norman times and was granted to William de Mohun (1st feudal baron of Dunster) by William the Conqueror in 1086.

In the latter part of the 14th century, the castle was passed by the Mohun family to Sir George Luttrell and it then stayed in the Luttrell family for some 600 years afterwards.

The medieval castle walls were partially destroyed during a siege at the end of the English Civil War but the original Great Gatehouse and the ruins of some of the towers in the Lower Ward are still in existence.

Dunster Castle, now a country house, was eventually given to the National Trust by Colonel Walter Luttrell in 1976.

Why is it worth a visit?

Inside Dunster Castle, visitors can find out more about the Luttrell family who lived there for so many centuries. You can explore the kitchens, the Billiard Room and sneak a peek into the secret passageway in the King Charles room. The original 13th century iron-clad gates are another key feature.

There are family-friendly trails to follow and spectacular views to be enjoyed of the nearby Bristol Channel and the moors of Exmoor.

Highclere Castle: 1 hr 4 min drive from our Devizes Campsite

Highclere CastleIf you’re a Downton Abbey fan, you may recognise Highclere Castle, since it provided the striking setting for Lord and Lady Grantham’s home!

The history of Highclere Castle goes back more than a millennium. There are historical records from 749AD that show the existence of Anglo-Saxon buildings at the castle’s site and there’s also evidence of a medieval palace built there in the 12th and 13th century.

Following that, an impressive Tudor house was built at Highclere, but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the real transformation took place. At that point, Highclere Castle was owned by the Carnarvon family and the legendary English architect, Sir Charles Barry, was brought in by the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon to turn Highclere into a grand mansion like no other.

Today, Highclere Castle dominates the surrounding landscape with its stunning architecture, designed in the Jacobean style. Highclere is currently owned by the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, who open up the castle to the public at certain times of the year.

Why is it worth a visit?

Highclere Castle in Berkshire, aka the real Downton Abbey, is a must-see place for fans of the popular period drama. Not only can visitors book a tour to see some of the incredible rooms inside Highclere, they can take a stroll in the lush gardens, which are full of botanical delights.

There is also an Egyptian Exhibition to see which marks the achievements of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. He, together with Howard Carter in 1922, famously discovered the Tomb of Tutankhamun, an Egyptian Pharaoh.

Tintagel Castle: 20 min drive from our Bude Campsite

Tintagel CastleTintagel Castle is situated on the north coast of Cornwall at Tintagel Island. The site where the castle stands has an ancient history, having thought to have been inhabited during the late Roman period. 

Tintagel became somewhat famous in the 12th century, when Geoffrey of Monmouth (a British cleric) professed in his writings that King Arthur was conceived there. It’s thought that these legendary associations may have led to the castle being built there in the 1230s, by Richard, Earl of Cornwall.

Why is it worth a visit?

Visitors can discover the legend of King Arthur at Tintagel Castle and explore the dramatic ruins of the castle itself, including what would have been the Great Hall. Only fragments of the castle now exist due to it falling into disrepair over time; however the parts that you’ll see are original and date back to the 13th century.

St Michael’s Mount: 22 min drive from our Sennen Cove Campsite

St Michael's MountSt Michael’s Mount is a fascinating little island, with a castle and small village at its heart. It’s located in Mount’s Bay, with the sea separating the island from the town of Marazion, Cornwall.

The name “St Michael’s Mount” came about in 495AD when a group of Cornish fisherman allegedly saw an apparition of the archangel, St Michael, on the western side of the island.

The castle was built in the 12th century and the Mount itself has been at the centre of battle several times, including coming under siege during the Wars of the Roses in 1473 and later during the Civil War.

When the tide is low, visitors can walk across to the Mount via its causeway and by boat when the tide is high.

Why is it worth a visit?

Discover the captivating history behind the castle walls at St Michael’s Mount and how it’s changed over time to become the family home of the St Aubyn family. They have lived there since the 17th century.

Visitors can explore the delights of the castle gardens, where a great range of unexpected plants and flowers thrive. Finally, witness first-hand what island life is like for the community of around 30 islanders that currently live at St Michael’s Mount.

Restormel Castle: 36 min drive from our Tregurrian Campsite

Restormel CastleRestormel Castle is a 13th century shell-keep situated in Lostwithiel, Cornwall. Stone built and perfectly circular in its design, it stands next to the River Fowey, high on top of a mound and surrounded by a deep ditch.

It was once a sumptuous residence of the Earl of Cornwall, but eventually ended up in ruins during the Civil War in 1644. With that said, the castle’s circular shell has protected some of the internal structures of the main rooms.

Why is it worth a visit?

Restormel Castle is a great picnic spot with fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and river. Nature lovers will be keen to see if they can spot “Tetraphasis Obscurus”, the “Black Pheasant” that can often be found wandering the castle grounds.

You’re spoilt for choice in South West England, countless castles to choose from. Each of the castles we’ve featured are within easy reach of at least one of our Club Sites, so make us your base for your next historical adventure.