Muncaster Castle

(See also Muncaster Owl Centre Ravenglass, Ravenglass Railway Museum)

Muncaster Castle morning sun on walls courtesy Muncaster castleEast of Ravenglass, above the Esk River, lies Muncaster Castle, home to the Pennington family since 1208. The oldest part (c 1325) of the castle is the pele tower that stands on Roman foundations--this was an important defensive site to the Romans. Pele towers, a common type of building in the English and Scottish Borderlands, were fortified homes built as a refuge from attack during the years when robbers and raiders, death and destruction were commonplace Border occurrences.

Muncaster castle interior window in the great hall by Mary McAndrewsThe tower was altered over the years to become the comfortable family home it now is. In medieval times the Great Hall was the centre of action and all the rooms lead off it. In 1780, the Hall was changed into a dining room. In 1862, Anthony Salvin (a successful 19th century architect who did restoration work on both Windsor Castle and the Jewel House in London), oversaw alterations and rebuilding of the castle for the fourth Baron Muncaster. The present drawing room was at one time a courtyard. A fake battlemented pele tower was added on the northwest to match the existing one. The castle's tapestry room is reported to be haunted by a wicked jester.

Muncaster castle Drawing Room courtesy Muncaster castleThe family's seven centuries of accumulations fill the castle. Hanging on the wall of the Drawing Room, with its barreled ceiling, are four portraits by Joshua Reynolds. Portraits of people and pictures of horses hang in the Hall, decorated with 17th century Flemish woodcarvings. One item of particular importance is the 'Luck of Muncaster', a glass drinking bowl, given to the family by Henry VI in 1464. He stated that as long as it remained unbroken, the family would live at Muncaster.

The king is honoured with his portrait in the octagonal library, one of the most important rooms in the castle. Built where the medieval kitchens once stood, it contains 6000 books and fine furniture, and is decorated with a brass railing and a coved ceiling dating from 1780. An Elizabethan banqueting table holds a collection of miniature furniture, used as sales samples during the reign of Charles II. An elaborate Ongley dinner service is on show along with a painting by Gainsborough.

Muncaster castle church by Geoffrey Hocking12th century Muncaster Church, in the estate, was also altered by Anthony Salvin who added the north transept and built a tracery partition between the annex and chancel. A 1000-year-old cross shaft stands in the grounds.

The 1800-acre estate contains 77 acres of woodland gardens. Bluebell woods, nationally recognized, carpet the ground. The azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias are especially beautiful in the spring. In summer a Victorian style garden, established by the Victorian Penningtons, gives forth blooms of herbaceous flowering plants, while autumn sees colourful red and orange foliage. Rare Asian plants can be spotted in the hilly Sino-Himalayan gardens. It's hard to imagine but the weather here is the same as that found where the plants originally grew, at an altitude of 11,000 ft.

Muncaster castle gardens by bert23Walks are another attraction of the estate. The Terrace Walk with its views over Eskdale Valley and the Lakeland fells is particularly scenic. John Ruskin described it as 'the gateway to paradise', which could easily be a description of the entire Eskdale Valley. An Enchanted Trail, off the main drive, provides interest for younger visitors. A longer ramble along many less-frequented paths (wear appropriate footwear) through the woodlands offers views of the surrounding fells. Glimpses of shy roe deer and red squirrels are an added feature. A nature trail leads to a wood where huge old trees hide badgers, deer, squirrel and fox. Birds frequent the trail that starts from the Meadow Vole maze. A meadow vole is a 3-inch long field mouse that can be destructive to plantings.

Tawny Owl By TheButlerMuncaster is also home to the Muncaster Owl Centre, run in association with the Hawk Conservancy Trust. The Centre has a range of different hawks, owls and other birds from around the world. Flying displays take place for most of the year. The Centre provides a focus for the Castle and Estate’s conservation programs and embraces projects locally on the estate, immediate area and internationally.

Muncaster castle back view by lucyMuncaster Castle is a great family day out. Start with viewing the castle and its treasures, move on to countryside walks, have a meal, then view the owl centre and attend the bird session in the afternoon. The history, nature and scenery of Muncaster Castle combine into a wonderful Cumbrian package.

Muncaster Castle
On the A595 near Ravenglass CA18 1RD
Tel. 0 1229 717 614
Fax. 0 1229 717 010
Email: info@muncastercastle.co.uk
Web: www.muncaster.co.uk
Stable Buttery: light refreshments and full meals
Open: Castle: 3rd week March-end Oct, Sun-Fri, noon-4pm; (except last week Oct, 11am-3pm grounds and castle late openings for special events;

Gardens, Hawk & Owl Centre: 3rd week Easter-end Oct, 10.30am- 5pm (except last week Oct, 10:30am-late), Nov-Christmas, 11am-4pm; Meadowvole maze: Nov-end Dec and mid Feb-mid March, phone to check; 3rd week March-end Oct, 10.30am- 5pm (except last week Oct, scary maze only to late). For further details visit the website.

Note: Please check opening times and dates before visiting in case of changes.

Photos courtesy of Muncaster Castle , Mary McAndrews , Geoffrey Hocking , bert23 , lucy.

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