In the Isle of Purbeck, overlooking a village of the same name, perched on a hilltop, are the ruins of Corfe Castle. It’s an early Norman castle built in the time of William the Conqueror.
Looking at the Corfe Castle ruins from any of the surrounding hills or from below is an inspiring and spectacular sight. The photos you see do not do it justice. The castle ruins seems perfectly placed, with a gorgeous backdrop whichever way you look at them.
And of course it becomes a special places for sunrises and sunsets with hill tops directly to the west and the east.
Of course Corfe Castle is not all just views and sunsets, there is intrigue and history too. Let’s take a look.
History Of Corfe Castle
Running horizontally across the middle of Purbeck, the Purbeck hills go from west to east above the landscape.
The hill that Corfe Castle sits on is a smaller isolated hill located in a gap of the Purbeck hills. This is where the name comes from: Old English for ‘cutting’ or ‘gap’ is ceorfan.
We know that even before the Normans came that there was a special Saxon era fortress or noble residence on this hill. An example is that it was the home of AElfrida, wife of King Edgar. It is believed that it was here at Corfe Castle that she murdered her stepson Edward The Martyr so that the younger son, Aethelraed the Unready, could take the throne.
William The Conqueror
After the Norman Conquest of 1066, William the Conqueror had the stone castle built. The forest of Purbeck was one of his favourite hunting grounds.
It must have been a special castle because many of his castles of the late 11th Century were built using mainly timber, but this one was built using stone. Also, effort was made to transport stone from elsewhere as the chalk hills surrounding were not usable.
Over the coming centuries it was expanded on by future kings. Henry I had a rectangular keep built. King John added more splendour and size with a great hall and chapel. It was here that King John held captive his niece Eleanor, a threat to the throne. He moved her here from Brough Castle in Westmorland. He also starved 22 of her Knights to death at Corfe Castle.
After John, Henry III spent a fortune on Corfe Castle: £1000, which in the 13th Century was a whole lot of money.
Elizabeth I sold the castle away from the monarchy and in 1635 it was purchased by Sir John Bankes, the Attorney General of Charles I. Of course then the Civil War broke out in 1642.
Whilst Sir John was busy in London during the war, his wife, Lady Bankes, held out being besieged twice by Parliamentary forces over the course of 3 years. She was a force to be reckoned with in her time. She had just 80 people assisting her. The besieging army had over 500! It is said she stayed hidden in her chambers throwing hot coals down on the attackers.
She only lost 2 casualties whilst the Parliamentarians lost over 100. Of course, as history tells us, the Royals eventually surrendered. Instead of retribution though, the Parliamentarians were so impressed by Lady Bankes that they let her leave with a set of Corfe Castle keys. These are now on display in the new home she set up in Kingston Lacy.
Becomes A Ruin
After the civil war, like many other castles, it was slighted and eventually made unusable for future use. This created the ruined view we see today. It would have been too much of a job to destroy it completely. Much of the stone, too, was taken by locals to use in buildings.
The castle, estate and much of the village of Corfe Castle remained in the Bankes family’s hands until it fell to Ralph Bankes who left it all in his will to the National Trust.
Viewing Corfe Castle
The iconic view that everyone usually goes to see is the one looking down and across to it from West Hill. This is the hilltop that you go to for a sunrise photo. During the day it is great too. For just a short sharp climb you can sit in wonder looking at the scene.
If you look at the photo above, taken from the top of West Hill you can see how the Purbeck Hills carry on and beyond. A top tip is to go up onto that side for a lovely sunset looking the other way.
I was staying not too far away at Burnbake Forest Lodges which are walking distance from Corfe Castle. Right from the lodge door I could step out and walk up onto these hills and take in the views of the castle and surrounding area.
Great for the dogs too I might add.
The Village Of Corfe Castle
Down beside the hill that Corfe Castle is perched upon is the village of the same name. A little picture postcard kind of place that looks gorgeously at home in the Dorset landscape.
If you venture into the village it is a bustling little tourist hotspot that has the marks of the National Trust all over it.
Just outside the village and castle is a large National Trust Car Park to help stop village congestion. If you are a National Trust Member you can of course park free and get into the castle free. If you are not a member then you pay for both. Parking is £5 and castle entry is £12 per adult (peak). Another joy of walking the area from the accommodation instead of going by car.
Another thing to look for at Corfe Castle is the steam train. This heritage line runs from Swanage to Norden stopping at Corfe Castle. Rebuilt and now taking passengers on the 9 and a half mile route with full sized steam engines.
As I was walking the hills here I regularly spotted them passing by.
When people think of Dorset and Purbeck Island they usually think of cliffs and coast. Just a couple of miles inland you have this amazing setting with amazing history.
If you are ever in Purbeck or looking for a new area to walk in and explore, then take a wander in the hills around Corfe Castle. You won’t regret it.
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