When I traveled to England over Winter Break, I knew that I was going to experience some sort of culture shock…I just wasn’t sure what the extent of it would be. Would I be more surprised by the food or the accents? Driving on the left side of the road or the different currency? Would it be seeing a different map whenever I watched the weather forecast, or would it be spending the holidays in a different culture?
Y’all are going to laugh at me, but I remember one of my biggest concerns being how New Years was celebrated abroad. If the British aren’t watching the ball drop in Times Square, then what do they do?
(Yes, we can clearly see my priorities: I’m spending 3 weeks abroad and one of my biggest worries is how I’m going to be ringing in the new year.)
In the end, I eventually found out the answer to my question. No, I’m not still talking about New Years. (But if you’re really wanting to know, the answer is watching Big Ben chiming at midnight.) I’m talking about what would be the biggest culture shock to me…and it wasn’t even something I had expected.
Yes, I knew England was old; that goes without saying. I just hadn’t expected how often I would be seeing that history. It seemed like everywhere I turned, there would be some relic of the past just sitting on the side of the road like it was no big deal. And when I found out that there were castle ruins everywhere that we were free to explore? You better believe I didn’t believe them at first.
During my three weeks in England, I visited 4 castles, 2 of which were sets of unattended ruins. It was only when I was visiting these ruins that the depth of England’s history was really put into perspective for me. After all, everything back home was so much newer in comparison.
Needless to say, the sheer experience of exploring castle ruins is one to be rivaled with, as it can hardly compare to just learning about them online, through a documentary, or even by taking a tour. That’s why I have put together a guide and photo diary to the two sets of castle ruins that I visited, so that you all can take the opportunity to visit them (or some like them) when you visit England.
Sitting on the edge of Shrewsbury, near the border of Wales, is Morton-Corbet Castle, one of the two unattended castles on this list. Parking is available next to the church and graveyard that borders the castle’s property, and a gated path leads up to the ruins. It’s important to read the sign that’s near the gate, as it will give you some important instructions for visiting the ruins, such as to be cautious of the uneven ground and that bringing metal detectors onto the property to search for ancient treasure is prohibited.
(Sorry mom, gotta leave my metal detector in the car.)
But of all four castles that I visited on my trip, Morton-Corbet was without a doubt my favorite. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful, intricate, and fun to explore, but it truly is “abandoned” in the sense that you may have the entire place to yourself during your visit. This is how it was for my uncle and I during the majority of our visit, and even when another family arrived, the grounds were so huge that we didn’t even cross paths. (After all, the above picture shows only a small portion of the castle!)
According to the English Heritage website, the castle began it’s construction in the 13th century, and it lasted over 500 years. With the long length of it’s construction and renovation (as well as it’s different architectural styles), it makes exploring and learning about the castle even more fun. Different panels are scattered around the site, providing information about the castle and it’s history in reference to the sections they are closest to. Additional plaques are mounted on the actual castle walls, identifying where certain rooms would have been.
For example, the above picture is of the kitchen ruins, which is not only identified by the plaque on the wall (look on the right-hand side of the photo), but is also explained in depth in a panel nearby. The fireplace is quite easy to identify, but can you guess what those other small archways are on the left? No?
Yeah…not so much fun to learn after you’ve already walked in them.
However, one of the coolest parts about visiting this castle was that it had a dungeon! (duh, Duh, DUH!)
Just kidding, I’m pretty sure that it was actually a cellar, but we can pretend like it’s a dungeon if you want.
Either way, getting to walk down into the cellar of a castle is pretty cool. It seemed to be perfectly preserved, but you’ll need a flashlight if you really want to walk into it.
When visiting, I would advise to wear a good pair of shoes. Like the sign warns, the ground can be quite uneven and especially muddy after a good rainfall. (I can testify that.) It’s also important to note that there is no modern paving.
In terms of exploring castle ruins, Morten-Corbet is a must-do. So much of it has been preserved that it still feels alive everywhere you go, which makes it the best for learning about history and for exploring. For more information about Morten-Corbet, click here to go to the English Heritage website.
Not too far away from Morton-Corbet Castle is Action-Burnell Castle, another set of unattended castle ruins that I visited on my trip. Although Acton-Burnell is much smaller than Morten-Corbet, it holds just as much magic, which starts from the moment you arrive. After parking in a gravel parking lot (okay, maybe that part is not so magical), you go through a gate into a dense set of woods, and walk along a path for about a minute. Then, as you round a corner and walk out of the trees, a castle suddenly appears.
Sounds straight out of a fairy tale, right?
What makes Acton-Burnell so different from Morton-Corbet (besides the smaller size) is the fact that the “shell” of the castle is still intact, making it easy to see how the exterior would have looked even in 13th century, when it was first built. (According to the English Heritage website.) Because of this, a lot of rooms (? Storage closets? Guard outposts?) along the outer walls are still intact, and you can walk through them in and out of the castle.
When visiting Acton-Burnell, I cannot tell you how necessary it is to wear a good pair of waterproof shoes or boots. The area in and around the castle is almost entirely grass and dirt patches, which means that it can be EXTREMELY muddy when you go. When I visited, it was an impromptu trip (on our way back from the mall), so I was wearing more boots meant more for fashion then exploring castle ruins. Combined with the giant patches of mud and puddles everywhere, it made exploring the ruins a bit hard.
Similar to Morton-Corbet, Acton-Burnell also had informational signs posted around the grounds, which gives you a ton of information on the history of the castle. However, Acton-Burnell did not have plaques on the walls labeling the different areas, which made it a bit more difficult to figure out what parts of the castle may have been. For more information about Acton-Burnell, click here.
How to Find Castle Ruins
During my free time, I was often scouring the internet for cool places to visit during my trip. My best friend? Google Maps! All I had to do was type “castles near me” in the search bar, and plenty of recommendations would pull up, complete with ratings, pictures, and their locations on a map. That’s how I found all of the castles I went to!
Of course, if I try to do that now it just pulls up White Castle locations. Go figure.
Another way to find not only castle ruins, but other historic landmarks around England, is to use the English Heritage website. (I know I’ve already mentioned it a few times in this post, but the website really is amazing!) Not only does it provide the histories and locations of the landmarks, but it also gives info on whether entry is free or not (they provide memberships if you need them), info on how to get there, and more. After finding different landmarks on Google Maps, I always checked the English Heritage site next to see if they were worth visiting.
Although I’ve always loved visiting historic landmarks, exploring castle ruins definitely that passion took it to another level, and something I didn’t even realize was possible. Now I’m just waiting to go back to Europe so I can explore some more!
Have you visited any castles or castle ruins? Or do you plan to? Let me know!