It may now be a ruin, but we can still feel the love in the air at Kenilworth Castle where Robert Dudley went to spectacular lengths to woo Queen Elizabeth I. Steeped in history and legend, and surrounded by stunning scenery, here are a few more of Britain’s most romantic ruins…
Denbigh Castle, Denbighshire
This Welsh fortress complete with its striking triple-towered gatehouse that stands guard over the medieval town of Denbigh has town wall walks for visitors and interpretations of the monument.
The castle was built by Edward I’s commander, Henry de Lacy after their successful campaign in the region. Hampered by a Welsh rebellion in 1294, the castle was finally completed with the help of the king’s master mason, James of St George. While here, take the opportunity to enjoy a romantic walk along the town walls that stretch for over half a mile, before exploring the classic 13th-century stronghold itself. Tel: 01745 813 385, www.cadw.wales.gov.uk
Whitby Abbey, Yorkshire
The first monastery founded on this site was done so by King Oswy of Northumbria in AD 657 and was ruled by princess Abbess Hild. The imposing Gothic remains of the 13th-century abbey that can be viewed at the site today are embellished with original carvings, as well as being mottled with marks left by nature and centuries of lashing wind and rain. On clearer days it’s possible to stand at the cliff-top abbey and enjoy the far-reaching views over the town and coastline. You can even descend the 199 ‘abbey steps’ which lead down from the abbey to Whitby’s harbour area, with convenient resting points dotted along the way where you can catch your breath and enjoy the view – just make sure you have enough energy left to make your way back up to the top again! Tel: 01947 603 568, www.english-heritage.org.uk
Kilchurn Castle, Argyll and Bute
Kilchurn Castle was built for Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy and was greatly extended in 1693. It continued to remain in the ownership of the Campbell family until the 18th-century when it was greatly damaged after being hit by lightning and began to fall into disrepair.
Today the jagged outline of this ruined castle is made even more memorable by its stunning location looking out over the northeast end of the appropriately named Loch Awe. The ragged remains of the four-storey tower are surrounded by sweeping mountains and the glistening waters of the loch, making this spot a perfect location for long secluded walks and romantic water-side picnics.
Whether you arrive at the castle by boat or on foot, you can’t help but find it an evocative and awe-inspiring sight from every angle. Tel: 0131 668 8600, www.historic-scotland.gov.uk
Witley Court, Great Witley, Worcestershire
Beautifully landscaped grounds surround the picturesque ruins of this palatial 19th-century mansion, providing the perfect backdrop to a romantic day out. Stroll around the grounds and discover the impressive and immense fountains, the largest of which depicts the love story of Perseus and Andromeda from Greek mythology, who fell in love after Perseus saved Andromeda’s life by rescuing her from a sea monster and certain death. The fountains are made even more dramatic by their jets of water that can reach up to 120-foot high.
Witley mansion fell into disrepair after a disastrous fire in 1937. English Heritage now looks after the property and has since restored areas of the garden with further plans in place to develop formal gardens based on the original design of William Andrews Nesfield, who was employed to transform the estate by William Humble Ward after he inherited the property in 1846. Tel: 01299 896 636, www.english-heritage.org.uk
Tintern Abbey, Gwent
As well as looking resplendent in the daylight, the abbey is often illuminated at night, providing an enchanting scene for all those passing by. The abbey’s oldest brickwork dates from 1131 and its architecture spans 400 years. Although the abbey is missing its roof and some interior aspects, the building remains largely complete, giving visitors the wonderful experience of strolling along the grass within the abbey walls, between huge columns that reach up to the open sky above.
It’s easy to see how the abbey and it’s picturesque position in the Wye Valley, surrounded by hills, woodland and the sound of the rushing Wye river, became a favourite with artists and poets such as JMW Turner and William Wordsworth. The vista surrounding the abbey even provided enough inspiration for Wordsworth to compose an extensive poem entitled Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey in 1798. Tel: 01291 689 251, www.cadw.wales.gov.uk
Corfe Castle, Wareham, Dorset
Perched on top of a 55-metre mound, the ruins of this ancient castle constructed of Purbeck limestone sprawl out over the hilltop.
The first foundations of the castle were laid over 1,000 years ago and since then it has been used as a royal residence, a private home, treasury and military garrison, each leaving their mark on the site and helping to create today’s atmospheric ruins. After the castle’s occupants spent 600 years having to defend it from various onslaughts, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1646 ordering the destruction of the castle. It was left to Captain Hughes of Lulworth to carry out the task by digging deep holes filled with gunpowder to topple the towers and ramparts.
What remains of the castle today has become a hugely popular place to visit, with its grounds covered with a blanket of wildflowers attracting a host of butterflies and other wildlife. Tel: 01929 481 294, www.nationaltrust.org.co/corfe-castle
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
Clinging to Cornwall’s dramatic coastal cliffs, the ruins of Tintagel Castle are steeped in myth and legend. The crumbling remains that can be seen at the site today date from 1233 and were built for Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Before this, the site was rumoured to be the place of King Arthur’s conception and you might like to pay a visit to the nearby ‘Merlin’s Cave’ after taking the steep track down to the castle walkway.
The castle is also featured in the legend of the lovers Tristan and Isolde. Tristan’s uncle, King Mark entrusted Tristan with bringing Isolde to Cornwall so that she and King Mark could wed. Instead Tristan and Isolde fell in love, and embarked on an ill-fated affair. Today, couples can envisage the story that took place as they walk along the cliff-tops, through what remain of old archways and doorways that frame the impressive views of the rugged shoreline and the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing against the rocks below. Tel: 01840 770 328, www.english-heritage.org.uk