Saturday 25 April 2009

Corfe Castle, Isle of Purbeck, Dorset

The garden of the National Trust tea room in Corfe must have one of the best aspects of any cafe in Britain. It sits just across a wooden drawbridge from the medieval castle's partially-ruined, but still proud, stone gatehouse, overlooked by the remains of the towering keep and battlements behind. Despite the crowds inside the sprawling and battered castle walls, which lean at impossible angles, you are quickly transported back to yesteryear. You have to cross another bridge over the "Great Ditch" before clambering up to an inner gatehouse, from which you follow a winding path up to the keep itself standing high on the hilltop. From here you get grand views of the surrounding countryside, the postcard-perfect stone village of Corfe and the stream train puffing in and out of the station. But don't let the kids run around like headless chickens - there are some steep drops.

Evocative and atmospheric
With plenty of nooks, crannies, dungeons, arrow-slits and guardhouses to explore, young Harry Potter fans will love it, while adults steeped in the legends of King Arthur or Lord of the Rings will find it all very evocative and atmospheric. Even on busy days, it is possible to find quiet corners where you can soak up the sense of history and reflect on the heroic, but unsuccessful, defense of the castle by Royalist Lady Bankes against Parliament's Roundheads. Although Cromwell's order to demolish Corfe Castle with gunpowder clearly did a lot of damage, it is still well worth the National Trust's £5.50 adult admission charge. 9/10