So after not being able to travel anywhere apart from work for the past 4 months, I used the opportunity to get out into some open space as soon as it was allowed! One of the first places to open up in the UK was a handful of English Heritage outdoor properties. One of which was Beeston Castle in the heart of the Cheshire countryside. Being only a short 20 minute drive for me, it was the perfect place to take my first post lock down outing.
**Please note, if planning a trip to Beeston Castle be sure to check the website first as entrance is currently on a pre-booked timed ticketed basis due to current social distancing measures. The site currently operates a one way system and has hand gel stations in place. The castle feels extremely safe to visit and has organised the one way system very well. Please scroll down to find more information on booking tickets**
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Although most castles in England sit proudly on top of hilltops, Beeston holds a slightly more precarious position, dramatically sited on top of a rocky cliff. This position makes it a wonderful place to view the fabulous landscape below with views stretching out over 30 miles in all directions. Even if you aren’t a castle lover, the views on a clear day are worth the visit alone!
History of Beeston Castle
Although the castle dates back to the 13th Century, a fortification has existed on the cliff since early prehistoric times. During the Bronze Age the crag was an important centre for metalworking and many bronze objects have been found within the site as well as much earlier Neolithic artefacts such as flint tools and pottery. There is also evidence that occupation continued through the Iron age with remains of an Iron age hill fort beneath the medieval defences.
Much of the castle as we know it today was built during the 1220s by Ranulf, sixth earl of Chester. It is thought the inner and outer gate houses as well as the tower to the east were built during this time.
Not too long later in 1237 Henry III took over the ownership of the castle and granted the earldom of Chester to his son, the future king Edward I. During this time Cheshire became part of the royal demesne, meaning the Crown retained the lands for themselves. Edward came to Beeston in 1264 and used the castle to house prisoners from the battle of Evesham and a base before forcing the surrender of Chester. Chester then came the military base for all other English expeditions during this time.
During the 14th Century much of the castle was remodelled with previous wooden structures rebuilt in stone. In addition a new bridge was constructed 34ft high, 7ft thick and 20ft long. The remains can still be seen underneath the new modern bridge in place today.
In 1602 Beeston Castle was thought to be no use to the English crown and was sold in part with the nearby Peckforton Estate to Sir Hugh Beeston.
Following the outbreak of civil war in 1642, Beeston was seized by parliamentary forces let by Sir William Brereton in 1643. It held around 300 men as well as housing much of the areas wealth for safety. The castle became the scene for many battles and although breaches had been made, they had managed to hold the castle. However by November 1643, the royalists had received reinforcements from Ireland and the garrison had been reduced to just 60 men. Eventually the commander Captain Thomas Steele had no choice but to surrender the castle. although he managed to secure honourable terms for his men, it wasn’t the case for Steele who was later tried and shot at Nantwich.
The royalists only managed to hold onto the castle for around a year, with the defeat of the king at the battle of Rowton Heath 2 miles south of Chester there was little point in further resistance and the castle was surrendered on the 15 November 1645. Chester itself surrendered on 3rd February 1646 and with it the civil war in Cheshire was over. In the aftermath orders were made for Beeston and other neighbouring castles to be demolished.
During the 17th Century Beeston Castle started to become a bit of a tourist attraction, these cliff top ruins became an inspiration for numerous artists. The 19th Century saw a bigger increase in popularity when access to the castle was greatly improved with the opening of the Chester to Crewe railway which included a station at Beeston.
In 1944 the first festival was held at the castle organised to raise money for a ‘widows and orphans’ fund. This became an annual 2 day event and by the 1850’s it was known as the Bunbury fair. It is during this time that current ticket office building and surrounding walls were built. In 1845 the current Beeston Fete was established, which still continues to this day, held every year on August bank holiday.
Visiting Beeston Castle
Currently tickets are only available on line for pre-booked time slots. All tickets are available to book here.
Since 1984 Beeston Castle has been owned and looked after by English Heritage. The site is free for those with an English Heritage membership. which I defo recommend buying. Membership gives members free access to over 400 historic sites throughout England and only costs individuals £5.25 and couples £9.08 a month. You can even buy a family pass with either 1 or 2 adults for the same prices with each adult able to include 6 children free.
If travelling from overseas you can also buy an overseas visitor pass for 9 or 16 days, for details click here.
If you don’t have English Heritage membership then entrance to the castle and grounds will cost adults £9.90, children £6.00, concessions £9
Getting to Beeston Castle:
By car: Located 11 miles SE of Chester, on minor road off A49. Be careful driving through some of the local roads around the castle as many are only one car wide. You are likely to see the gatehouse entrance before the carpark and may have to back track like me as the carpark is slightly hidden as you come round the bend.
Sat nav: Postcode : CW6 9TX Latitude : 53.126057 Longtitude : -2.690318
Parking: Parking charges apply to non-members. Parking free for members. Entrance is located 10 metres across road from the site.
Public Transport: GHA service 83 (Tue) to Beeston; Otherwise GHA service 56 (Thu & Sat) to Bunbury Heath (then 1 mile walk) or Arriva service 84 to Tarporley (2 1⁄2 miles)
Exploring Beeston Castle:
You will enter the castle at the main castle gate across the road from the carpark. Inside you will fine the ticket office and a small gift shop. Tickets don’t need to be printed, they can be scanned from any mobile device.
Once you enter the site, you can either walk down and check out the ancient caves or take the trek up towards the castle. I would personally get the hard slog done first by walking up to the castle. Although it looks high, the climb up isn’t too difficult, mostly grassy and some woodland trails. Just make sure you had sturdy shoes on unlike me, who had platformed sandals on, how I never broke my ankle, I’ll never know!
As you can see from the pictures, once you have walked through the woodland, you climb up to the left following the old wall that once circled the castle. Be sure to look back a few times as the views behind you are amazing. You will eventually be greeted with the fabulous sight of the castle. Although from the outside the castle looks intact, it is only the front wall that is still standing.
Probably the hardest part of the climb is getting over the bridge! It looks a steeper than you think. Getting back down is equally daunting especially in platforms! However over and inside the castle you are free to enjoy the most incredible views across the Cheshire plains. You can even spot nearby Peckforton Castle peaking through the trees on a clear day.
Be sure to check out the well, it’s thought to be one of the longest wells in any English castle thought to be at least 110 metres deep.
Once finished taking in the views from the top, make ya way down and follow the trail until you reach the roundhouse. The Beeston Roundhouse is a reconstruction of a Bronze Age circular dwelling that was made of wooden or stone posts – filled in with mud and twigs.
When Archaeologists were excavating parts of Beeston Castle in the 1970s and 1980s they found post-holes dug into the bedrock thought to be the foundations for these prehistoric huts. They also discovered Bronze Age objects such as axes and knives. Based on this archaeological evidence, the team at Beeston reconstructed this prehistoric roundhouse at the site, using traditional materials and techniques.
The inside of the roundhouse has been dressed appropriately for the era with various implements such as arrowheads, stone axes, pots of varying sizes and faux animal hides. It offers a great opportunity to see what life was like during these ancient times. Please note that due to current social distancing restrictions you can not currently enter the Roundhouse, however you are free to observe from the outside.
Once finished at the roundhouse, its time to make your way back down the hill through more woodland trails before finding yourself back near the entrance. At this point head across the field and you will find a small gap that leads down towards the caves.
During the 19th century these caves were known as the ‘Beresford’s Caves’ supposedly named after a local resident who used to make a living from quarrying the sandstone. The stone was extremely soft therefore used to make an early form of industrial sandblasting for cleaning the hulls of canal boats. Today entrance to the caves is forbidden due to safety reasons and now home to a colony of bats.
After you visit is over, cross over the road and you will see a small cafe serving hot and cold drinks as well as a variety of snacks and delicious cakes. Its a lovely place to chill and have a bite to eat and a cuppa.
If you are the slightest bit interested in history or architecture then I fully recommend a trip to Beeston Castle. Although most of the castle is in ruins, its not hard to imagine what this place must of been like during its heyday! Due to the current social distancing restrictions its a great time to visit. due to the limited number of people allowed in at anyone time, you will feel like you have the place all to yourself!
Have you visited Beeston Castle? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.
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Thanks for reading,