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Man the forts! The best castles within 90 minutes

Ready for a right royal day out? We've rounded up 12 of the coolest castles in Northants and beyond. Tiara at the ready, let's go!

Rockingham Castle, Northants

Rockingham Castle Northants

Built on the instructions of William the Conquerer, the castle and grounds are open to visitors in the summer season and the views from the ramparts, taking in five counties, have to be seen to be believed. There are twelve acres of sweeping lawns, a beautiful rose garden, ‘Elephant’ hedge and a wild woodland garden. Inside, visitors can explore the Servants Hall, The Street, Old Kitchen, The Great Hall, Naval Lobby, Panel Room and Long Gallery. Family friend Charles Dickens is said to have drawn inspiration from Rockingham for Chesney Wold in his novel Bleak House.

Fotheringhay Castle, Northants

Thistles at the site of Fotheringhay Castle

Fotheringhay Castle is one of the last remaining signs that, once upon a time, Northamptonshire was nationally significant in terms of power and politics. All that remains of the castle today is a big hill and some boulders beside the River Nene, but this is the place where Richard III was born and Mary Queen of Scots was executed and is, rather spookily, now covered in thistles, the national flower of Scotland. Plus, the views from the top are fantastic.

Boughton House, Northants

Boughton House Northants

Not technically a castle as such but inspired by the Palace of Versailles so we’re having this one. The gardens and park at the magnificent Boughton House are among the grandest in England , with the house boasting a cracking collection of fine art including a Gainsborough, an El Greco and several Van Dycks. Make like Marie-Antoinette and let the kids eat cake in the beautifully landscaped grounds, which include a rather spectacular inverted pyramid.

Blenheim Palace, Oxon

At the heart of the pretty Cotswold market town of Woodstock, the World Heritage Site is the only non-royal country house in England to hold the title of a palace – so yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. Go for the stunning Baroque architecture and grounds and stay for the many events the venue holds across the year, from exhibitions and outdoor cinema to food festivals, light trails and a brilliant Xmas market.

Belvoir Castle, Leics

Belvoir Castle

This Grade I-listed historic castle has undergone some serious renovation work in the last few years and, more recently, the addition of a new £2.5 million artisan shopping village, The Engine Yard. Just our kind of Castle.

Ashby Castle, Leics

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What began as as a manor house in the 12th century turned into a beautiful castle. Owned once by Lord Hastings, visitors can learn more about the castle’s colourful history and even climb up the half-ruined Hastings Tower to enjoy gorgeous views from the top. The kids will love the underground passage between the tower and the kitchen.

Kirby Muxloe Castle, Leics

While not a lot remains today, it’s still worth visiting the remnants of this picturesque fortified mansion. The atmospheric moated ruins of the fine gatehouse and corner tower of this brick-built mansion, have been extensively conserved by English Heritage and there’s something beautifully romantic about it. Take a walk around the moat and then settle down for a picnic in the grounds.

Sudeley Castle, Glos, Cotswolds

It’s no surprise that this majestic castle is a popular wedding venue: the grounds are perfectly manicured and boast views of the rolling Cotswolds. (History nerds will also be interested to know that it’s the only private castle in England to have actual royalty buried within its grounds – Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr.) There’s plenty to entertain for an afternoon with an adventure playground and 10 – yes 10! – award-winning gardens to explore. Extra points if you spot all 16 species of pheasants that strut around the grounds.

Warwick Castle, Warks

Warwick Castle

This spectacular castle just over the border is always a winner with Muddy and it’s very good at luring us back. The castle and knight’s village are now open and to keep the little people entertained there’s The Falconer’s Quest (the UK’s biggest birds of prey show) and the spooky castle dungeon. There’s also an 3D interactive trail, starring Julia Donaldson’s Zog the lovable dragon, on until 5 Sep.

Kenilworth Castle, Warks

Kenilworth Castle

This impressive medieval fortress-turned-Elizabethan-palace has loads to see within its grounds, including the mighty Norman keep at the heart. Also worth mentioning are the beautifully restored Elizabethan gardens with their marble fountain, ornate aviary and pretty floral displays. English Heritage members get in free.

Oxford Castle & Prison, central Oxford

It’s not often you find a castle slap-bang in the middle of a city and Oxford’s one is a goodie. Think: guided character tours of the site taking in the historic Saxon St. George’s Tower with 360° panoramic views of the spires, the 18th-century debtors’ tower, and 900-year-old crypt.

Broughton Castle, near Banbury

This beautiful moated and fortified manor house has belonged to the Fiennes family since 1447. It’s one of our favourite local castles – small enough to get around without boring young children, and a lovely garden and grounds for them to bomb about in.

Windsor Castle, Berks

windsor castle

The Queen’s weekend hangout, Windsor Castle, is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world – pretty impressive, right? Inside the castle you can see a collection of WWII pantomime pictures, painted as backdrop for the shows Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret performed to raise funds for troops at the front. 

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