As soon as you get anywhere near the Cornish town of Launceston, you get to see its Norman castle proudly watching over its streets and houses. Launceston Castle is at the heart of this ancient market town and it can be visited and toured in the summer, thanks to the organisation that operates it as a tourist attraction, English Heritage.
Make no bones about it: this castle, which sits on a large natural mound, is an important relic of Norman England. It was built shortly after 1066, when William the Conqueror took the throne and made his half-brother, Robert of Mortain, the Earl of Cornwall. The earl constructed the castle in traditional motte-and-bailey design with earthworks and timber, however it was pretty much rebuilt with stone in the 12th and 13th centuries. It hasn’t changed that much since those days, which is great for history buffs.
Highlights at Launceston Castle, which was actually used as a prison in the 16th and 17th centuries and once housed George Fox, founder of the Quakers, include an internal staircase that leads up the tower for some stunning views of the countryside and town. The traditional Norman motte-and-bailey style of the whole structure is obviously a big draw for castle enthusiasts, as are the round bread ovens that are still well visible and would have served the earl and his men many moons ago.
There’s a fascinating visitor’s centre at Launceston Castle with displays charting the past 1,000 years alongside archeological finds from excavations around the site. A fair bit of history on the English Civil War is included too as the fortress was used as a base for the Royalists during the conflict. Do check ahead to see if the whole attraction is open, though, as it closes in the off-season, reopening again in April. And then bring a picnic as you prepare to conquer some magnificent views as you step back into those heady Norman times for a great historical adventure, Launceston-style.