Castle Wars: Middleham vs Bolton

I absolutely love castles. When I was young, my parents would take me and my brother on ‘staycations’ and we would almost certainly spend a day exploring a castle or stately home. Most of our holidays were spent in the south of England, so when Dan and I got together, I was excited to see what the north had to offer.

During the summer of 2017, I planned a week’s tour around the Yorkshire Dales and you know what they say… old habits die hard. To the north east of the Dales are two castles: Middleham Castle and Castle Bolton, and though they are only eight miles apart, they are completely different.
Castle Bolton was the first we visited. It stands on a hill in Wensleydale, offering beautiful views of the surrounding area.

Address: Nr Leyburn, North Yorkshire, DL8 4ET

Entry price: £8.50

Best sights: Mary Queen of Scot’s chamber; the birds of prey; the wild boar.

Bolton Castle is very well preserved for a 14th Century castle, although parts of it were slighted by Cromwell’s men during the civil war. Prior to this, Castle Bolton was an effective defensive fortress.

Today, however, there is a slick fusion of ruin and entertainment. The staff put on demonstrations and shows including archery, falconry and feeding the wild boar they keep near the car park. We arrived at around 2pm (following a traumatic trip to the vet) which allowed us to see the castle in its entirety, and catch a few of the displays. 

The best aspect of Castle Bolton is that the curators have acquired and display a plethora of 14th to 17th century objects, that give you a little something extra to look at. I’ve been to castles that are simply shells: they look great on the outside but are empty inside; or that display object not necessarily in keeping with the age of the castle. Bolton is different. It looks 14th century, smells 14th century and feels 14th century. 

Plus, every good castle let’s you climb the battlements for a view. Most of Bolton’s are gone, but one side is still accessible to the public.

A twenty minute drive away, Middleham Castle is nestled in the market town of Middleham in Wensleydale.

Address: Castle Hill, Middleham, North Yorkshire, DL8 4QG

Entry price: £5.40 without gift aid

Best sights: the Richard III statue.

Middleham Castle is a ruin, I’ll be frank, but it doesn’t make it any less interesting. On one side of the castle are people’s houses and the village, and on the other, fields and training grounds for racehorses. Its location is stunning: I couldn’t imagine living so close to a grand part of British history, and the envy bug bit me on the bottom again. 

As Dan and I initially went to Middleham to walk around the surrounding area, we debated whether to actually go into the castle, as you can see it’s a ruin, and can get so close to it without paying. I’m thankful we did.

When inside you can see the sheer scale of the castle. There are few notable sights or ‘must sees’ like Bolton, but on a warm, sunny day, you are able to weave your way through the ruins, into rooms with remains where you may never know its purpose and simply let your imagination run wild.

Again, you can climb up the remaining battlements and see views over the village, and towards a mound that was the location for an earlier 10th century mott and bailey castle – you know, those wooden ones. 

In comparison, they are both fantastic castles, but I think Bolton just steals the win. In terms of time, we spent 20 minutes in Middleham and over two hours at Bolton, simply because it has more to see and do. Both offer spectacular views, and are somewhere you can literally walk in the footsteps of significant royals. 

Although we split the visits in two, you would definitely be able to see both in a day. Go to Middleham first, have lunch in the village, then make your way to Bolton for a day of historical fun.

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