History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
by Barbara Ballard
East of Ravenglass, above the Esk River, lies Muncaster Castle, home to the Pennington family since 1208. The oldest part (c 1325) of the castle is the pele tower that stands on Roman foundations-this was an important defensive site to the Romans.
Pele towers, a common type of building in the English and Scottish Borderlands, were fortified homes built as a refuge from attack during the years when robbers and raiders, death and destruction were commonplace Border occurrences.
The tower was altered over the years to become the comfortable family home it now is. In medieval times the Great Hall was the centre of estate life and all the rooms lead off it. In 1780, the Hall was changed into a dining room.
In 1862, Anthony Salvin ( a successful 19th-century architect who did restoration work on both Windsor Castle and the Jewel House in London), oversaw alterations and rebuilding of the castle for the fourth Baron Muncaster.
The present drawing room was at one time a courtyard. A fake battlemented pele tower was added on the northwest to match the existing one. The castle's tapestry room is reported to be haunted by a wicked jester.
The family's seven centuries of accumulations fill the castle. Hanging on the wall of the Drawing Room, with its barrelled ceiling, are four portraits by Joshua Reynolds. Portraits of people and pictures of horses hang in the Hall, decorated with 17th-century Flemish woodcarvings.
One item of particular importance is the 'Luck of Muncaster', a glass drinking bowl, given to the family by Henry VI in 1464. He stated that as long as it remained unbroken, the family would live at Muncaster.
The king is honoured with his portrait in the octagonal library, one of the most important rooms in the castle. Built where the medieval kitchens once stood, it contains 6000 books and fine furniture and is decorated with a brass railing and a coved ceiling dating from 1780.
An Elizabethan banqueting table holds a collection of miniature furniture, used as sales samples during the reign of Charles II. An elaborate Ongley dinner service is on show along with a painting by Gainsborough.
12th-century Muncaster Church, in the estate, was also altered by Anthony Salvin who added the north transept and built a tracery partition between the annexe and chancel. A 1000-year-old cross shaft stands in the grounds.
The 1800-acre estate contains 77 acres of woodland gardens, renowned for their azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias, are especially beautiful in the spring. Bluebells carpet the ground. In summer a Victorian style garden gives forth blooms of herbaceous flowering plants, while autumn sees colourful red and orange foliage. Gardeners can indulge themselves at the plant centre by choosing from the largest collection of hardy rhododendrons in the North.
Walks are another delight of the estate. The Terrace Walk with its views over Eskdale Valley and the Lakeland fells is particularly scenic. John Ruskin described it as 'the gateway to paradise', which could easily be a description of the entire Eskdale Valley.
Rare Asian plants can be spotted on the hilly Sino-Himalayan Walk. It's hard to imagine but the weather here is the same as that found where the plants originally grew, at an altitude of 11,000 ft.
A nature trail leads to a wood where huge old trees hide badgers, deer, squirrel and fox. Birds frequent the trail that starts from the Meadow Vole maze.
Muncaster is also home to the Owl Centre and World Owl Trust, with 48 species from all over the world. The largest species, the European Eagle Owl and the two smallest, the Pigmy and Scoop Owls can both been seen.
Other species include the Barn, Ural, Spectacled, Milky Eagle, Brown Fish, Burrowing, and Ethiopian Eagle owl. Video cameras are placed in some of the nesting boxes, allowing visitors a close-up peek at the owls. Conservation breeding programs and owl research are conducted.
Muncaster Castle is a great family day out. Start with viewing the castle and its treasures, move on to countryside walks, have a meal, then view the owl centre and attend the "Meet the Birds" session in the afternoon. It's history, nature and scenery combined into a wonderful Cumbrian package.
Address: Ravenglass, Cumbria, England, CA18 1RQ
Attraction Type: Castle
Location: in Muncaster, just S of the A595
Phone: 01229 717 614
Historic Houses Association
OS: SD103 965
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Muncaster, St Michael's Church - 0.2 miles (Historic Church)
Ravenglass Roman Bath House - 1 miles (Roman Site)
Irton Church and Cross - 2.7 miles (Historic Church)
Stanley Ghyll Force Waterfall - 4.8 miles (Countryside)
Gosforth, St Mary's Church - 4.9 miles (Historic Church)
Gosforth Cross - 4.9 miles (Historic Building)
Eskdale - 5.2 miles (Countryside)
Ulpha, St John's Church - 6.1 miles (Historic Church)
Nearest Accommodation to Muncaster: