Castles in the Cotswolds

Places to Go

Castles in the Cotswolds

Think of the Cotswolds and you’ll probably call to mind tranquil rolling hills, honey-hued stone cottages and idyllic villages rather than warring armies, sieges and politics, but this spectacular Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has seen its fair share of civil war and sparring royalty over the centuries, most notably around its castles (and the occasional palace).

Oh yes, tucked amongst the gorgeous scenery lie moated castles, Baroque palaces, mediaeval fortresses and homes fit for kings and queens, which today offer visitors a unique look into the past. Here’s a collection of the best to visit when holidaying in the Cotswolds and surrounding counties.

 

Sudeley Castle, Cheltenham

A bird's eye view of Sudeley Castle, its grounds and the surrounding Cotswolds countryside

Set in the pretty village of Winchcombe near Cheltenham and surrounded by the Cotswold Hills, Sudeley Castle has a history that spans over 1,000 years. Through this time, it has been the home for Richard III, Lady Jane Grey, Sir Thomas Seymour and Henry VIII’s sixth wife and widow, Queen Katherine Parr. It has also been host to a visit from Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, then later Elizabeth I hosted a celebratory party here after the defeat of the Armada. Charles I even found refuge here during the Civil War! 

With such an illustrious past, you’ll soon find yourself enveloped in its rich history and famously beautiful setting as you stroll through the ten stunning gardens and impressive castle filled with exhibitions and gorgeous rooms, some of which date back to the 15th century. Visit at Christmas and you'll enjoy the impressive castle and grounds in a whole new - and rather colourful - light! The only private castle in England to have a queen buried in its grounds, Sudeley is jam-packed with history and offers a magical glimpse back in time. There’s also a great adventure playground for kids as well as The Pavilion, which is perfect for a bite to eat. If you have more time on your hands, take a stroll into the pretty village of Winchcombe and gaze at the Insta-worthy Alms houses, which were built by the castles’ owners in the 1860’s, or join the Cotswold Way for a longer walk.

 

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock

The famous exterior of Blenheim Palace in the Cotswolds

OK, this incredible gem may not strictly be a castle, but as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers, it had to be included. Set in the village of Woodstock close to Oxford, this impressive Baroque palace was built as a gift for the 1st Duke of Marlborough from Queen Anne between 1705 and 1722. Later home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough and Sir Winston Churchill, it’s now open to the public and offers a glimpse into 300 years of history. Blenheim’s elaborate design and build caused quite a stir throughout the country when it was first built, opting for magnificence over comfort – the term ‘palace’ is a true reflection of its vast presence! 

Today, you can gasp in awe at the gilded State Rooms, take a peek at the Marlborough family’s private apartment and glimpse into the world of ‘downstairs’ where hundreds of palace staff busied themselves with the day-to-day running of Blenheim. Afterwards, stroll through the Formal Gardens, get lost in the Marlborough Maze (with over two miles of yew trees) and the fantastic Adventure Play area, where the little ones can let off steam. For a more in-depth look at this amazing place, take a look at our Blenheim Palace guide and add it to your (fast-growing) list of things to see and do in the Cotswolds.

 

Berkeley Castle, Berkeley

The golden-bricked exterior of Berkeley Castle in the Cotswolds

Home to the Berkeley family since the 12th century, this is one of the ‘March’ castles that were built to protect the area from the invading Welsh. With arrow slits and murder holes, trip steps, and huge barred doors, this is definitely a castle meant for battle and defence! Set in grounds covering 6,000 acres, it's also home to a medieval deer park, a large stretch of the River Severn and the fantastic Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge. Within the castle itself, you’ll discover unique and priceless artefacts collected by the families over centuries, including Sir Francis Drake’s cabin chest, a bedspread owned by Queen Elizabeth I and the banner of the 4th Earl of Berkeley, which was taken to the Battle of Culloden. 

Filled with endless treasures as befitting a family close to the throne (and who somehow kept on the right side of things over the centuries), you’ll find plenty to discover, including The Keep and the King’s Gallery, which is home to the cell and dungeon of King Edward II who was imprisoned and eventually murdered here. The Medieval Larders, Buttery and Kitchen are particularly fascinating and offer a sneak peek into the working hub of the castle back in the 14th century, while The Great Hall harks back to the days when this castle played host to kings and queens. Afterwards, take a stroll through the beautiful gardens before a visit to the coffee shop and gift shop. Families will enjoy the Lookout Trail and the woodland play area.

 

Broadway Tower, Broadway

People walking towards Broadway Tower in the Cotswolds

Although  more of a tower than a castle, this eccentric folly in the heart of the Cotswolds is a lovely spot and offers incredible views, especially in autumn when the whole of the Cotswolds gets dipped in honey. Built in the 18th century by the landscape designer Capability Brown and architect James Wyatt, it sits on a beacon hill that was formerly a pre-medieval trading route and a spot for sending long-distance signals, especially during the Spanish Armada in 1588. With turrets and battlements, the tower looks a lot older than it actually is, and was a ‘folly’ used for private parties within its beautiful Georgian interiors. 

Later on, members of the Arts and Crafts movement used the tower as a country holiday retreat with the likes of William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones paying a visit, while during the Second World War it became an Aircraft Observation Building. Get up on to the roof and you’ll be on the highest point in the Cotswolds, with views over 16 counties and 62 miles in each direction. Today, Broadway Tower sits within a 200-acre estate complete with a deer park. There’s also a museum, plus a visitor centre with a shop, restaurant, e-bike hire and lots of great walks if you fancy exploring the surrounding countryside.

 

Broughton Castle, Banbury

A bird's eye view of the gateway and house at Broughton Castle in the Cotswolds

This stunning moated and fortified manor house lies close to Banbury in North Oxfordshire. Mainly built in the 1550’s but with parts dating back to 1306, it has remained in the same family since 1447 and was a major player in the Battle of Edgehill when it was sieged and captured by the Royalists. Over the years, the castle was plagued by a series of owners who fell foul to gambling and it fell into disrepair, until 1956 when financial assistance and the hard work of the 21st Lord Saye and Sele meant it was fully restored to its original glory. 

Today, the castle is open for occasional visits (please check their website for open days) where you are taken on a tour of the house and gorgeous gardens, with The Stables open for refreshments afterwards. It has also featured in famous TV programs and films, such as Wolf Hall, Jane Eyre, Shakespeare in Love and The Madness of King George.

 

Highgrove Gardens, Tetbury

Looking across the perfectly manicured gardens at Highgrove House

Bringing things right up to date, Highgrove House might not be a castle but it is the private residence of Their Majesties King Charles II and the Queen Consort, which means it fits nicely into this collection. Although you can’t enter their home, a visit to their stunning gardens offer a glimpse into modern royal life and the King’s passion for the natural world.

Set close to Tetbury, the house was originally built between 1796 and 1798 and was previously owned by the son of Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister. His Majesty King Charles took over Highgrove in 1980 and has, over the years, created a series of interlinked gardens such as an arboretum, a cottage garden and a stumpery (a Victorian garden that features ferns grown on tree stumps) as well as a sundial garden, thyme walk and a wildflower meadow. To visit you need to book ahead, and a guided tour is a great option if you want an in-depth experience. Afterwards, a visit to The Orchard Room for lunch or afternoon tea is a must, while the shop offers artisan and organic produce inspired by His Majesty’s interests.

 

Book a holiday cottage in the Cotswolds to explore these and many other historical buildings, from manor houses to stately homes, that dot the landscape as well as the many other things to do in this most beautiful corner of England.

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