Towering above the village of Corfe in the county of Dorset, the mysterious ruins of the castle are a reminder of the power of William the Conqueror who commissioned its construction around 1068. As one of the first Norman castles in England to be built in stone, it sent a clear message to everyone who saw it. This is Norman power and we’re here to stay. Corfe Castle was built alongside a natural path through the Purbeck hills and the name Corfe actually derives from the original word for cutting through. Once built, it dominated and guarded the road from Swanage to Wareham – nothing could pass without falling under the shadow of its lofty walls.
The site chosen by William and his advisors already had a dark history before construction even began and was once the site of a Saxon hall and fort where it’s believed King Edward was murdered by his own step-mother so that her son ‘Ethelred the Unready’ could inherit the throne of England.Henry I continued what William the Conqueror had started and constructed a formidable stone central-keep out of the resilient stone from the now famous Purbeck quarries. A combination of stone walls, earthen ramparts and ditches combined with its position on a craggy outcrop meant the castle could be effectively defended. This proved to be true when it was besieged by King Stephen during the Civil war known as The Anarchy and successfully survived largely intact.
King John (The Bad), who has become notorious for his part in the story of Robin Hood and the Magna Carta, and Henry III his son and successor are both credited with significantly extending the fortress. As father and son they were also responsible for the lengthy and illegal imprisonment of Eleanor the Beautiful, Fair Maid of Brittany. Many historians agree that this was the most despicable act of King John during his entire reign. Although she later died as a nun in Bristol and was finally buried in Amesbury over 30 miles from Corfe Castle, many believe part of her spirit may still haunt the castle as a the tragic weeping of a young girl is often heard in the evening amongst the ruins especially as winter approaches.
The castle ceased to be a royal fortification and residence when it was sold to Sir Christopher Hatton. It was sold on Sir John Bankes in 1635 and was besieged during the English Civil war. Lady Mary Bankes, a formidable and courageous woman managed the defence of the castle in 1643 and successfully retain it for the Royalists. In 1645 it was again besieged but this time it was one of the few remaining outposts of Royalist support. During the siege she was betrayed by one of her own soldiers who opened a way into the castle. The siege was over and perhaps out of respect for the courage of Lady Banks the family were allowed to leave the castle unharmed. Once they were gone Corfe Castle was systematically destroyed thus becoming the ruins that can still be seen today.
The remnants of Corfe Castle are owned and managed by the National Trust and it is considered to be one of Britain’s most spectacular ruins. It has been featured as a setting in numerous books and paintings. It is believed to have been the inspiration for Kirrin Castle that regularly featured in the ‘Famous Five’ series of children’s stories by English author Enid Blyton.
Corfe cast is said to be haunted by several ghosts including a shimmering headless woman that instils pure terror in anyone that should see her. A weeping girl and spectral lights have been regularly reported as well as the shades of various soldiers whose uniforms seem to date back to the English civil war. Maud de St. Valery, the wife of William de Braose (the Ogre), is said to have been imprisoned and starved to death at Corfe Castle along with her son at the same time as Eleanor was kept prisoner in there.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Dorset, England, BH20 5PQ
+44 (0)1929 480 280
- Address: The Square, Corfe Castle, Wareham, Dorset, Engand, United Kingdom, BH20 5EZ
- GPS: 50.64055278,-2.058955556
- Phone: 0044 (0) 1929 481294
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: BH20 5EZ
- Entrance Fees: Yes
- Disabled Access: Restricted: A fair climb to the castle / not all areas accessible for wheelchairs
- Visibility from Road: Excellent
- Image Credits: Header Image: Helen Hotson