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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Brougham Castle

Medieval castle keep, Brougham castle keep, English Heritage, Cumbria, bit about Britain

I’m gazing up through the empty keep, where long-dead feet once paced across floors that have long-since rotted away.  Or maybe the timber was pinched and now resides in a nearby house.  In any event, here’s Brougham Castle, scenically sitting on the south bank of the River Eamont a couple of miles outside Penrith, just off the A66.  Someone should write a song about that road... get your kicks, on the A66…

River Eamont, castles, Penrith, Clifford family

Brougham means something like ‘village by the fort’ and Brougham Castle was built, sometime in the early 13th century, next to the site of a Roman fort, Brocavum.  King William Rufus had taken this wild part of the world from the Scots fairly recently; it was still bandit country.  The castle’s founder, Robert de Vieuxpont, was a loyal friend of King John and, at one time, was High Sherriff of Nottingham; perhaps he knew Errol Flynn.  Anyway, Brougham passed to the Clifford family by marriage and sometime around the year 1300 the 1st Baron de Clifford refortified it and constructed a new accommodation block, known as the ‘Tower of League’.  Its ruins hint at the luxury that must have been; sometime in the early 14th century, Edward I popped in to Brougham, and may well have stayed there.

Brougham, English castles, north west England, Brocavum Roman Fort
It’s an odd shape, is Brougham; but it does have a large and imposing keep.  I read in the blurb about the place that “The top of the keep provides panoramic views over the Eden valley.”  I’m sure it does, but, just to check it out, we climbed all the way up those steep, narrow, spiral staircases, round and round, leaning into the old walls, gasping and wheezing, until… we came to a locked gate.  I smell a risk assessment.  The only rewarding aspect to this pointless exercise was seeing a Roman tombstone in the ceiling; clearly, the medieval builders weren’t going to waste perfectly good pieces of dressed stone that happened to be conveniently lying around nearby.

Moving along: the 1st Baron de Clifford was killed at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.  In 1388, Brougham Castle was captured and sacked by the Scots.  But the Cliffords had other, safer, castles they preferred and Brougham apparently fell into disrepair.  It must have been in a reasonable condition by 1617, though, because in that year King James I (VI of Scotland) was entertained there.  It received more attention after it was inherited by Lady Anne Clifford in the 1640s.  This amazing woman restored a number of castles, including Skipton, Pendragon, Appleby and Brougham, where she died in 1676, aged 86.  She even created a garden on the site of the old Roman fort.

Romantic castle ruins, captured by Scots, James I visited
By the 18th century, Brougham had become an empty shell, then a ruin and tourist attraction.  Wordsworth featured it in a poem, “Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle” (to be honest, I was asleep by the end of verse two), and Turner sketched and painted it.  Today, it is an attractive, romantic, ruin, with families picnicking in the courtyard that once echoed with the sounds of a busy fortress, and kids exploring its moat and nooks and crannies.  I wonder what we will bequeath to future generations to visit and gaze at in wonder; shopping malls?

A final thought: there's a tiny museum next to the ticket office and among the exhibits are a couple of Roman tombstones.  One, in particular, caught my eye - 'To the spirits of the departed; Crescentinus lived 18 years.  Vidaris his father set this up.'  A sharp reminder that there are human stories going back at least two thousand years hereabouts.  

Brougham Castle is in the care of English Heritage.

Brougham, castle, Cumbria, Lady Anne Clifford

Brougham, gargoyles, medieval castles, Cumbria

Roman tombstone, Brougham, Crescentinus, Vidaris, visit Cumbria


  1. How nice! And your first shot with the sky is brilliant!

  2. Did you lie on your back to take that first photo? During our 2002 Olympics, Chihuly who does glass art had an exhibit in Salt Lake City and one of the rooms was glass ceiling covered with colorful glass parts, flowers and designs. It was best viewed on your back.

  3. Thanks to you, I'll never forget that Brougham Castle is on the A66. That is a great first photo, but it could make me dizzy if I look at it long enough. I knew that the name Clifford rang a bell, and yes, it was from Skipton Castle. She was a busy lady. Interesting post and great pics. Love that great stone staircase. I too wonder what we'll bequeath to future generations besides the evaporating family unit. In fact, I wonder if the noise piped into elevators, restaurants, filling stations, shopping malls, etc. would even be recognized as 'music' by anyone who lived in the 17th or 18th centuries, IMHO.

  4. I've been getting my kicks this summer by listening to the test matches - you know, when Joe Root reaches 66.

  5. That was like, a few weeks ago, when you think about it...and the world is pretty much the same kind of place, except we bomb people safely from 10kf instead of plunge a sword through their faceplate. Sigh. Love your stories and background.

  6. Just the type of place I'd love to wander through and reflect upon. Too bad there isn't anything here in the Stated older than a few hundred years.

  7. awesome!! wow wee - love the 1st shot ... that is a cool angle. did you fall over - i would think it might make you dizzy. ( :

  8. Beautiful. I love the first photo looking up the tower to the sky. I remember driving through Penrith and seeing a castle there. Am I correct?

  9. It looks truly ancient, but that's its appeal. A strangely beautiful place.

  10. I love the mix of natural beauty and decay.

  11. Never knew about that place butthen I have not looked in the Engish Heritage book any further north than the Watford Gap. Another excilent tour of one of our historic places though no doubt the facilities there are sparce like other EH sites I visited.

  12. It might be a ruin, but it is a very picturesque one, there by the river. I hope it is cared for and does not crumble away. A picnic in the courtyard would be very appealing, and I do like those stone faces and the tombstone.

  13. Considering I've passed through Penrith on many occasions for other outdoor pursuits reasons ... although maybe not this section of A66, I find it impossible to believe that I've never heard of this Castle before.
    I'm struck with the abilities of Lady Anne Clifford, marvellous woman.


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