After visiting Willimason Park, Lancaster Castle was next on my list to visit for my reminiscing around the city. Back when I was at uni we used to go and watch the firework displays at the castle, but have never done a tour. Now the castle is no longer a prison you can go and tour around some of the inside buildings.
There’s no car park at Lancaster Castle itself, but we parked just around the corner in Dallas Rd car park. It’s a short walk up to the castle.
Lancaster Castle (also known at John O’Gaunt’s castle) dates back to Roman times, and over the centuries has had additions built, and has many interesting stories through history, from the cases of the Pendle Witches to transportation of guilty prisoners over to Australia.
It was a working prison until 2011. Now decommissioned, it’s now owned by the Duchy of Lancaster (the head of state is always the Duke of Lancaster). But even now it still operates as a court, so you can’t take photos in much of the tour. Some areas are restricted when there’s a court on as well.
Lancaster Castle tour
The Lancaster Castle tours run regularly through the day. You turn up and pay on arrival. We had no issues getting on the next tour when we arrived. Each tour can take up to 39 people.
The courtyard area is surrounded by all the different towers built in the different centuries, and the leaflet told us about the different once. It’s free to enter the courtyard and look around, but to go inside, you can only do this via a tour. The youngest child in our tour group was 7, but they do also do a couple of more family friendly tours which would be suitable for much younger children. Some parts of the tour can be quite gruesome when talking about the punishments, so like most castle tours, you’d need to think about whether your child would be ok with it.
The tour isn’t suitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs. Obviously there’s stairs and narrow walkways, and can’t be helped within old buildings. There’s a place you can park up pushchairs.
Our tour guide was Cameron, a former actor, so he really made it into a performance in parts. Speaking different parts, and trying to make it come to life with different characters. I’m not sure what N felt at first about this, but afterwards he said the tour guide was good, and ‘you got used to him’ by the end. That’s pretty high praise from him!
I thought he was very good, and the tour did last a little longer than I’d expected.
We heard about the oldest keep in the castle, the Duchy of Lancaster, a bit about the Pendle Witches, and how the 2 different courts work. Learning about heraldry was really interesting, about how heraldic shields are created by taking a person’s job, hobbies, or even name into account. Lancaster Castle holds the largest collection of chivalric heraldry. We also learnt about different punishments and crimes, debtors prison, and the more modern prison differences.
We were able to go into one of the former prison wings which was in use right up to the end of Lancaster Castle being a prison. It was just like you see on tv and films, and is sometimes used for filming (and bizarrely weddings). Having also been to Oxford Castle which was previously a prison as well, along with the Malmaison hotel which has been converted from part of that prison, it’s interesting to see how different Lancaster is to it.
It was a really interesting tour, and for me with some knowledge of the area’s history, it was good to be able to match up what we were told with things I knew. Plus I could understand more about the history of places in the city I knew with events happening in the castle’s history.
I’d recommend a visit if you’re in the area, and like history facts.
Reminiscing at Lancaster Uni
After some lunch we headed back to Lytham, but not before detouring into the Lancaster university campus so I could compare my time there with what it looks like today.
N was taking photos from the car with my camera instead of my phone as I suggested, so the photos didn’t turn out well unfortunately. So much has changed with it being nearly 25 years since I left.
Bowland Tower is easily recognisable, as is Pendle College. My own Fylde College had its accommodation blocks knocked down and rebuilt a couple of years ago, so it looks totally different with everything in the one large block now.
Our old geography department is still there, and the old lecture theatre building we used to have lots of our lectures in. But there’s so many more modern buildings that have sprung up, including a new sports centre nearer the entrance.
N refused to let me park up so we could have a wander into Alexandra Square or down the spine. It did make me think that maybe next year being 25 years my friends and I should try and arrange to meet up there next year for a proper catch up.
Lancaster’s not somewhere you’d think of visiting, but Lancaster Castle and Williamson Park are worth a visit if you’re nearby.
Have you ever been to Lancaster?