Acclaiming the title of one of the largest inhabited castles in the country, Bamburgh Castle resides as home to the Kings of Northumbria, spanning nine acres of land and steeped in over two thousand years of history. Those visiting are privileged enough to walk amongst its volcanic foundations, consisting of whinstone – so-called due to the sound it makes after being hit by a stonemason’s hammer. Fourteen areas are open for public viewing including ‘The Keep’ which stands directly adjacent to ‘The Medieval Kitchen,’ stocked with an array of classic confectionery. ‘The Battery Gate’ provides a perfectly accessible route, winding down the Northumbrian coastline stationed 150 feet below. Previously, this would have stood as the main entrance, welcoming horse drawn carts and carriages into the castle. Home cooked food and refreshments are available to purchase at the ‘Clock Tower Tea Rooms.’ Discounted rates are available for groups upon entry and driver facilities are convenient. Those carrying young ones could choose to hire a ‘hippy chick,’ inviting the perfect opportunity to access all areas. The venue itself stands witness as the ideal destination for weddings in particular and has a solid reputation as one of the most important Anglo Saxon archaeological sites to date; supported by the Bamburgh Research Project.
T: 01668 214515 E: administrator@ bamburghcastle.com W: www.bamburghcastle.com
Groups drawn to a persuasively realistic experience should look no further than Bodiam Castle. Situated directly opposite the river Rother, its convenient location offers the ideal opportunity for people to get stuck in. Although to this day some of it remains in ruins, the grounds play host to a range of seasonal events throughout the year, as well as reputable re-enactments from a group of enthusiastic volunteers. Visitors are guaranteed to be enthralled by the medieval castle’s striking exterior, with almost every inch surrounded by moat – yet the interior preserves a wealth of fourteenth century antiquity and heritage. Maintained by the National Trust, a romantically picturesque castle welcomes those lucky enough to visit, situated amongst the historical settings of the late ninth century countryside. The venue can be approached by a seasonal steam train on the Kent & East Sussex Railway to Bodiam station, which is a half-mile walk away. Limited coach parking is available at the castle – prebooking is advisable. If prebooked, coach parking is free – a £5 fee is otherwise payable. The coach drop-off point is located a five to 10-minute walk from the entrance but a mobility buggy service is available. A passenger ferry runs from April through to September and is available to embark at Newenden Bridge. Once arrived, groups of all sizes can be accommodated on picnic benches, which are also on hand for those looking to tuck into their packed lunches whilst taking the time to enjoy the stunning scenery this venue has to offer. Facilities for children include a specialised guide freely available upon entry at the ticket office.
T: 01580 830196 E: bodiamcastle@ nationaltrust.org.uk W: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodiam-castle
Those visiting will find it fascinating to discover the derivation behind Dartmouth Castle, renowned for its prominent ‘Gun Tower,’ constructed to carry canon as a defence by the townsmen of the time. Access to the top of the tower denotes breathtaking scenery from the estuary and beyond. Further remodelling to suit a Victorianesque house style, means the popular English Heritage site now stands as a faux fortress, located on the brink of the Dart estuary for over 600 years. Those lucky enough to walk its grounds are guaranteed to experience a particular attention to detail, beautifully maintained amidst the sublime setting of the south west coast. Groups can be assured that there is plenty to explore, including a network of hidden passages which invite the possibility of an adventurous day out. Transport to the venue includes a luxury boat trip across the river alongside, boasting direct access to the castle itself. A discounted overseas visitor’s pass is available upon request and paying members can enjoy free access to the most intimate parts of the structure. Groups of 11 people or more can look forward to a discount of up to 15% and a group booking form is available on the castle’s website. Coaches can park in Dartmouth town centre – the castle being a mile’s walk. Alternatively, a ferry service runs from the embankment to the castle every 10 – 15 minutes. The castle is a 200-yard walk from the embarkation point. The ferry costs £2 each way for adults and £1 for children.
T: 01803 833588/839618 E: customers@englishheritage. org.uk W: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/dartmouth-castle
A symmetrically hedged walkway invites those visiting to walk in the footsteps of royalty, with Eastnor Castle having been ranked third out of the 13 leading attractions in Ledbury on TripAdvisor. Awarded a Certificate of Excellence in 2013, this tranquil estate surrounds itself with a lush woodland meadow, accompanied by trees that are rumoured to have been planted towards the second half of the 19th century. A neighbouring lake does well to further expand the estate’s horizons. ‘The Knights Maze’ is a definite must see, labelled as the sites most popular attraction since its plantation in 1994. Installed in 2005, a rustic tower marks the centre of the maze; an additional assault course injecting a certain element of fun for children in particular. Those looking to wind down could choose to visit the ‘Castle Tea Room’ located in the former kitchen; offering a range of homemade snacks manufactured from locally sourced produce. Hot and cold beverages are available to take away for those eager to explore the grounds. For a self-guided tour, groups can visit on normal public opening days. Dedicated guided tours for groups are available on Mondays and Tuesdays throughout the year – except between July 21 and August 22, when they must be pre-booked. Group organisers are admitted free of charge. The ‘Ice Cream Parlour’ provides the ideal spot in the summer, selling delicious ice cream made fresh from the pedigree Jersey Cows nearby. The castle itself is only open to the public between April and September, so those looking to explore shouldn’t hesitate.
T: 01531 633160 E: enquiries@ eastnorcastle.com W: www.eastnorcastle.com
An historical destination equipped with a distinctly warming familiarity, Herstmonceux Castle currently stands as an extension of Queens University. Its name is a derivative of the family who once inhabited it – although at the time, it was renowned as one of the largest private homes in England, uniquely so because it was built out of brick born from French influence. Those visiting can get a glimpse of how the castle stood all those years ago, with homely fireplaces installed into the walls and a bay window constructed which overlooks the moat, inclusive of the stunning Elizabethan arboretum. A surge of tourism around the 19th century soon made it a popular tourist attraction to those who found themselves embroiled in the enriching surroundings of the South Coast. Although the site is not freely open to the public, it specialises in guided group tours which are available to book from April onwards. It is recommended that larger groups book at least two weeks in advance. ‘Chestnuts Tea Room’ can accommodate parties of up to 30 people upon request, with a host of sample menus to choose from. Printed postcards also provide a perfect souvenir opportunity for anyone visiting. Perhaps take a trip to the ‘Observatory Science Centre’ which GTW highly recommends in light of the highly interactive educational experience provided. A brief trip to view the dalek-like telescopes used for star gazing is a definite highlight. On site accommodation is provided through a 1950s-style B&B conveniently located 500 metres from the castle itself.
Former home of the prestigious Boleyn family, Hever Castle and Gardens paints the picture of a grand Tudor superstructure, with distinctive ivy patterned across its dominating exterior; visible on approach along the medieval drawbridge provided. Groups looking to tour historical properties could choose to embrace the castle’s authentic ‘Gatehouse,’ housing an array of antique weaponry and relics from the past. The archaic prayer books displayed elsewhere are a nice personal touch, inscribed by Queen Anne Boleyn herself. Meticulously laid out over four years, a splendid garden setting is what makes this destination so paramount. The ‘Italian Gardens’ invite a rather renaissance quality, displaying an array of sculptures of international affluence. The 38-acre lake spanning the estate is also marked a redeeming feature, with rowing boats available to hire on a seasonal basis for those wishing to cross. Proposed garden trails are accessible to download via the castle’s website, with an additional ‘Tudor History Trail’ tailored to group leaders in particular. Award-winning restaurants welcome reservations from groups of all sizes, with an option to serve coffee, lunch or afternoon tea if required. Guided tours can be arranged out of visiting hours, allowing for a more intimate viewing experience. A collection of international audio tours are also available to purchase upon entry. Download the ‘Group Tour Brochure’ online for more information.
On the brink of a cliff side overlooking Christchurch Bay, Hycliffe Castle’s growing importance as a remnant of the romanticist era is presented through its dominating exterior, combined with the pretty patterned garden opposite. The ‘gothic revival’ mansion currently stands under the watchful eye of Christchurch Borough Council and has since been labelled one of the most popular wedding venues in Dorset and Hampshire. The ‘Heritage Centre’ especially aims to inform and describe, accompanied by keen volunteers who are on hand to answer any queries. Exhibitions have been set up displaying the work of local artists, with a nice personal touch inclusive of black and white photographs detailing what the castle would have looked like in all its splendour. Those desiring to find out more could choose to visit the ‘Castle Staterooms’ which play host to educational talks, practical workshops and evening concerts. Group discounts are available for parties of more than 10 people. Alternatively, guided tours provide an affordable luxury, with an exclusive glimpse into areas that aren’t open to the public. Castle information sheets are available upon entry and have been translated into a multitude of languages including French, Spanish and German. The ground floor of the structure is fully accessible to wheelchair users and those that require it will find they are available upon request. Why not pop down to Hycliffe Village? With a uniquely tailored trail that invites guests to witness the grave of Gordon Selfridge, former inhabitant and owner of the extravagant London store.
Over 1,000 years of history is confined within the Tower of London, directly accessible by riverboat which can depart from Westminster; crossing along the River Thames. To accommodate larger groups in particular, coach parking is available on Lower Thames Street; a mere two-minute walk from the tower entrance. ‘The White Tower’ stands iconic as the most original aspect of the tower itself, initially constructed to enforce fear upon the citizens of London. ‘Yeoman Warders’ more commonly known as ‘Beefeaters’ stand guard in characteristic dress, hired to perform detailed guided tours of the building specifically. Once entered, memorable highlights include first hand observation of ‘The Crown Jewels.’ A choice of itinerary is available online for those seeking longer or shorter stays, detailing some of the top things to see and do. Discounted group passes are available to pre-book online or over the phone, by travel traders looking to embark on a specialised group tour in particular. Passes are valid for two years after purchase, allowing groups plenty of time to plan their expedition around the tower. ‘New Armouries Restaurant’ serves up cooked meals and light snacks inspired by the history of British food. For example, inspirational chefs choose something fitting from the season to inspire each dish served to customers. Meal vouchers are available for groups to book in advance, with a generous range of options to choose from. Additional cafés and bars are situated in the vicinity for those who perhaps fancy a taste of something different. A working drawbridge has been opened more recently – recorded as the first time in a generation. It is said to have welcomed around 193,000 group visitors over the past year.
T: 020 3166 6311 E: For Group Passes contact groupsandtraveltrade. hrp.org.uk. For Meal Vouchers contact TOL@ ampersandcatering.co.uk. W: www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon