Appleby Castle, Cumbria is a place full of history reaching all the way back to at least the Roman age. The history carries on through to the Normans, Great Kings, the Clifford family (especially Lady Anne Clifford), and then through the civil war toward the present day.
Over the hundreds of years its existed, Appleby Castle retains remnants of its early history combined with information about how each age has left its mark up until the present day.
It is a castle that has kept a lot of its historic soul; a castle that you can stay in and feel the ambience that you would expect. A place to see and learn, a place to experience the past, a place to spoil yourself.
However, as far as staying there as a hotel, don’t expect luxury or the customer service you may expect from other similar hotels at this price or stature. It is certainly quirky.
History Of Appleby Castle
The first sign of the history in the vicinity can be seen from much of the area around the town of Appleby. It is known that the Romans used this spot, overlooking the River Eden, as a signal point. They built a fort where Appleby Castle now stands to protect the river crossing.
After the Romans came the Vikings from Denmark. They settled in Appleby and the town name actually comes from a mix of Old English and Old Danish. Appleby with the Danish suffix means Place of Apples.
Normans arrived, and in the 12th Century they began to construct the castle itself. Today you can still see the Norman Keep, known as Caesar’s Tower. This keep was built in the early 12th Century and stands magnificently to this day. It was all part of a Norman Motte and Bailey Castle.
Geographically, it was taken by the Scots soon after on one of their invasions, but, once regained by Henry II in 1157, the castle came into the property of Hugh de Morville, one of the knights who murdered Thomas Beckett.
In the 13th Century, Appleby Castle came into the possession of Roger de Clifford, and the Clifford family retained it for over 400 years. It was during this period that much of the castle took shape to become what you see today.
Ownership by Lady Anne Clifford
Perhaps the most famous resident of Appleby Castle was Lady Anne Clifford, who restored it thoroughly in the mid 1600s and eventually made it her home.
Throughout the Yorkshire Dales and the Eden Valley, Cumbria you will come across castles that were returned back to their glory during her ownership. I have done articles on some of them already, including the lovely Brougham Castle, the romantically situated Pendragon Castle, and the once-so-important Brough Castle.
Lady Anne Clifford was born at Skipton Castle, a castle that is still a great place to visit and learn more about Lady Anne Clifford.
Appleby Castle is one of the Lady Anne castles that is not a ruin today.
At the time of writing, the current owner of Appleby Castle is a Mrs Sally Nightingale. As you walk around the place you can see they are doing their best with a hotel of sorts, and have completed a great renovation, bringing the Norman Keep back to its former glory and opening it as a Norman Centre to visit. More on that later.
Appleby Castle Hotel
The rooms you can stay in have been done in a way that you are stepping back in time, or should I say sleeping back in time. Wonderful old four poster beds and old furniture adorn each room. Unfortunately there is not a lot of upkeep happening, so they are dated in other ways too, alas.
Accomodation prices are what you’d expect for castle prices but, as I say, it is certainly quirky. Management and customer care is a bit chaotic and has been known to be abrupt, even when I have been there. Reviews on well known booking and review sites echo this sentiment. It is such a shame really as with improved management this place would be a magnet for tourism and the local businesses.
Appleby Castle has far more history and features than other well known Castle Hotels, though a fair amount of work remains to get it properly on the map. Just being a castle doesn’t a destination make.
It is, unfortunately, a similar story with Appleby Castle dining. While you’ll pay luxury fine dining prices for the privilege of eating in a castle, the food and service don’t reflect those of a luxury fine dining experience.
For a meal costing nearly £50 each you would expect an exquisite plate. The food is good, don’t get me wrong, but for me it is on a par with many establishments that sell meals like this for around £20.
Breakfast is also inconsistent at best. Patrons are charged extra if they wish to take breakfast in the castle, and many days only a light continental meal is available.
Walking the Grounds
As for a day visit, you can walk around the grounds of Appleby Castle and enjoy a tour of the Norman Centre.
You can also walk down by the River Eden or within the trees where you just might see a Red Squirrel.
There are pathways leading in all directions to a whole variety of interesting views and architecture. One of my favourite pathways here is the tunnel of yew trees.
These were reputed to have been planted by Lady Anne Clifford herself. The light hits them perfectly and it is a gem of a start to a castle gardens walk.
The Norman Centre
The Norman Keep of Appleby Castle is a historic treasure. Dated from the 12th Century, it has now been renovated and turned into a museum, called The Norman Centre, about the history of Appleby Castle.
A great draw to this feature is being able to get on to the roof of the Keep where you can take in views from every direction, seeing as far as the North Pennines and Lake District mountains on a clear day.
I love historic places and Appleby Town is certainly a place full of history. A lovely little town to visit. The castle is a big part of that history and should be a shining light of Cumbria.
If you are in the area it is worth taking a look around and seeing it all for yourself. The buildings, the grounds and learning about the history. If you go on a castle history tour, the guide, Kenneth, is absolutely fantastic. He puts everything into passing on his vast knowledge and is a highlight.
Appleby Castle Hotel itself could be a more welcoming, and its value for money is sadly lacking. Hopefully, in time, improved management and investment will make it an even greater asset to the people of Appleby Town and the Eden Valley.