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The Tower of London

For over 1,000 years, the Tower of London has dominated the city’s skyline. It has housed the royal family and the crown jewels, which have been on public display for 350 years. Over 2 million people visit the tower every year. The Yeoman Warders, better known as Beefeaters, run the tower and tell stories of its past to eager listeners. The Tower of London has a dark past. Torture, murder and executions all took place at the tower at some time or another. Traitor’s Gate, the entrance from the River Thames, is known for being the last stop for those on their way to their execution. Among the executed were 3 queens of England, including Ann Boleyn, wife of Henry the VIII. The Tower has been a zoo, a palace, a prison, a garrison, a royal mint and a home – which is why it’s inundated with tourists throughout the year.

Windsor Castle

At 900 years old, Windsor Castle is the largest occupied castle and oldest official royal residence in the world. The castle’s floor area is approximately 484,000 square feet (44,965 square metres).Windsor Castle is much more than a castle; the grounds include several homes, a large church and the royal palace. Situated 20 miles west of London, it is also the weekend home of Queen Elizabeth II. One of the monarchy’s oldest traditions, the Knights of the Garter, continues to be honored at Windsor Castle. With roots in the Middle Ages, the Garter knighthood consists of the monarch, the Prince of Wales (whose title automatically qualifies him as a Knight of the Garter), and 24 knights. Together with Buckingham Palace in London and Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, it is one of the principal official residences of the British monarch. Queen Elizabeth II spends many weekends of the year at the castle, using it for both state and private entertaining. Her other two residences, Sandringham House and Balmoral Castle, are the Royal Family’s private homes. Over a million people visit the castle each year.

Warwick Castle

Situated less than 100 miles from London, Warwick Castle is known for its beautiful interior and the medieval re-enactments that take place there. Until 25 years ago, generations of Earls of Warwick had resided in the castle. Warwick Castle is a medieval castle in Warwick, the county town of Warwickshire, England. It sits on a cliff overlooking a bend in the River Avon. Warwick Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 within or adjacent to Anglo-Saxon burh of Warwick. From 1088, the castle traditionally belonged to the Earl of Warwick, and it served as a symbol of his power. Warwick Castle has been compared with Windsor Castle in terms of scale, cost, and status. Since its construction in the 11th century, the castle has undergone structural changes with additions of towers and redesigned residential buildings. In the 17th century the grounds were turned into a garden. Warwick Castle was purchased by The Tussauds Group in 1978 and opened as a tourist attraction.

Edinburgh Castle

Located 400 miles north of London is one of the most visited cities in Europe, Edinburgh, Scotland. Through sieges, invasions, power struggles, murder and imprisonment, Edinburgh Castle has withstood the test of time. It is built high upon the basalt remains of a long extinct volcano, providing visitors with impressive views of the city and landscape beyond. The oldest part of the castle dates back to the Normans, and there are buildings and fortifications covering every period since.The castle is home to the Scottish Crown Jewels (Honours), the Stone of Destiny, the giant 15th century siege gun, Mons Meg, the Scottish National War Memorial and the famous One O’Clock Gun, which is fired daily at 1.00pm. The castle also contains several military and regimental museums. Visitors to Edinburgh Castle can see the dungeons used to incarcerate thousands of prisoners over the years. To show the real conditions back then, wax models are positioned throughout the dungeon.

Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle is an unusual blend of Roman fort, medieval castle and fanciful Victorian gothic mansion. The Romans established a fort on the site in the 1st century AD, but the square 8 acre fort that remains today was built in the 4th century. When the Normans built their castle in the late 11th century what remained of the Roman walls was buried under earth ramparts. The walls were revealed during excavations in 1889, and were rebuilt on the original foundations — clearly visible in places — between 1922 and 1925. In 1869 work began to remodel Cardiff Castle to the designs of the Gothic Revival architect William Burges. The great wealth of Lord Bute provided Burges with the freedom to design and build his most fanciful schemes. A visit to Cardiff Castle without viewing the interiors would mean missing out on some of the most remarkable rooms ever created during the Victorian era.

Caernarfon Castle

Two hundred and fifty miles from London, on the Welsh coast, sits Caernarfon Castle. It was built 800 years ago, after King Edward I of England conquered North Wales. Edward I took the title of Prince of Wales from the Welsh. Since that time, the eldest son of the King or Queen of England has been known as the Prince of Wales. In 1969, during a ceremony at Caernarfon, Prince Charles was dubbed the 21st Prince of Wales by his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. Like his Norman ancestors, who were insatiable castle-builders, Edward I knew that if you wanted to subjugate a people then you had to stamp a sign of your rule directly onto their landscape. That’s the thought behind the extraordinary ring of stone castles that were built around Snowdonia in the late 13th century. Caernarvon is the most impressive of the lot: virtually the same size as the town that surrounds it, with massive, polygonal towers and a huge curtain wall, half of it facing the land and half overlooking a quiet little fishing harbour. Today the combined effect is stunning, although it must have been pretty loathsome to the Welsh in the middle ages. Visiting Caernarvon is a brilliant way to get your head around that strange relationship between the kings of England and Princes of Wales. It’s connected to the rebellions of Owain Glyndwr, and it’s a short hop from Anglesey, where a certain Tudor family originally lived.

Dover Castle

When you arrived in England from the continent in Plantagenet times, the menacing square keep of Dover Castle, regal above the White Cliffs, was the first sign of civilisation you saw. That’s exactly what Henry II intended when he built it. The castle became the first stopping point for foreign dignitaries coming to visit the Canterbury shrine to the martyred Archbishop Thomas Becket. It was also the military key to England – which is why it was defended so fiercely during the civil war that followed the failure of Magna Carta in 1215. But there’s more than just medieval history at Dover. Defensive tunnels under the castle take you into the paranoid hysteria of the Napoleonic wars, when this would have been the first place to suffer if the French invaded. In the Second Word War this was the base from which the small ships left to evacuate Dunkirk.

Castle Stalker

Castle Stalker is a small tower house that is sited on an islet, known as the Rock of the Cormorants, at the mouth of Loch Laich. It was built in the mid-15th century by Sir John Stewart, Lord of Lorn. The castle was only ever reachable by boat, which made it highly defendable. In around 1620 the Castle passed into the hands of the Campbells of Airds as a result of a drunken wager by the 7th Stewart Chief, Duncan, in exchange for an eight-oared wherry. The castle did come back into the hands of the Stewarts for a short while before being lost to the Campbells once more in 1690. The castle was finally abandoned around 1840 when it lost its roof. It was bought, in 1965, by Lt. Col. Stewart Allward who spent the next ten years restoring it.

Leeds Castle

Set in 500 acres of parkland in the midst of the Kent countryside, Leeds Castle takes its name not from the city of Leeds but from its first owner, a man named Leed who built himself a wooden castle in 857. The first stone castle was built in 1119 on an island in the lake, and was later rebuilt and extended by Edward I, who added a set of outer walls, a barbican and the ‘gloriette’, a D shaped tower built on the smallest of the two islands in the lake. The castle was a royal residence for six of England’s medieval queens and a palace of Henry VIII. Much of the castle was restored and rebuilt in the 19th century, and many of the lavishly decorated rooms are open to the public. The castle grounds contain several gardens and many other attractions.

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle is a well-known symbol of Scotland. Just outside the walls of Stirling stands a monument to Scotland’s great national hero, William Wallace, who led a small army against the English king, Edward I, at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Seven hundred-plus years later, the memorial for Wallace continues to remind people of the victory at Stirling. Among the 8 centuries of battles and murders at Stirling, something very positive and enlightening did occur at this castle — one of the first attempts at flight. Roughly 500 years ago, during the reign of King James IV in Scotland, scientist John Damian announced he would fly from Stirling Castle to France. Assembling strips of wood, chicken feathers and glue, Damian performed his brief flight by jumping off a stone wall and then gracefully flew straight down, dropping like a stone.

Tintagel Castle

Best known for King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, Tintagel Castle is situated in Cornwall, in the northwest corner of England. Tintagel Castle was built 800 years ago by the Earl of Cornwall, brother of the King of England. The earl was intrigued by the legends of King Arthur and his infamous Camelot. The castle was constructed to resemble the court where it’s believed King Arthur reigned for so many years. England has its King Arthur mock battles. Each summer, hundreds of enthusiasts come to relive the days of King Arthur and his knights.

St. Michael’s Mount

Located roughly 600 miles south of London, St. Michael’s Mount is connected to the mainland by a causeway. At high tide the mount is cut off from the village of Marazion. For many years and continuing today, Marazion has served as a great escape for the inhabitants of the mount, who sometimes crave a warm meal and a drink. Travelers have been visiting this rocky island since the 5th century, when legend has it the archangel Michael appeared to a group of people over the mount. A Benedictine monastery was later built there in the 12th century. Each year believers make the pilgrimage to the mount, where they walk up the ancient Pilgrims’ Steps to the monastery at the top of the hill. St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island located 366 m (400 yd) off the Mount’s Bay coast of Cornwall, United Kingdom. It is united with Marazion by a man-made causeway, passable only at mid to low tide, made of granite setts. The island exhibits a combination of slate and granite. Its Cornish language name may represent a folk memory of a time before Mount’s Bay was flooded. Certainly, the Cornish name would be an accurate description of the Mount set in woodland. Remains of trees have been seen at low tides following storms on the beach. The Cornish legend of Lyonesse, an ancient kingdom said to have extended from Penwith toward the Isles of Scilly, also talks of land being inundated by the sea. Historically, St Michael’s Mount was a Cornish counterpart of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, France. St Michael’s Mount is known colloquially by locals as simply the Mount. The chapel is extra-diocesan, and the castle is the official residence of Lord St Levan. Many relics, chiefly armour and antique furniture, are preserved in the castle. The chapel of St Michael, a fifteenth century building, has an embattled tower, in one angle of which is a small turret, which served for the guidance of ships. Chapel Rock, on the beach, marks the site of a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary, where pilgrims paused to worship before ascending the Mount. A few houses are built on the hillside facing Marazion, and a spring supplies them with water.

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