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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Speed

Conisbrough Castle

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

The 12th Century castle that inspired Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe is a challenging site for the mobility impaired, but its fame and beauty render it worth visiting nonetheless.


Don't need accessibility info? Jump to The Visit to discover what it's like to visit Conisbrough Castle and find out some of its histories.

Location


Castle Hill

Conisbrough

Doncaster

South Yorkshire

DN12 3BU


Access


Parking is available at the visitor centre for blue badge holders. There are five disabled bays. Entrance to the blue badge car park is narrow and on a bend so it can be difficult to spot or turn into if approached from Castle Hill. Approaching from Castle Street makes accessing the car park much easier (see pin on map below).




Facilities on-site are in the accessible visitor centre and include the gift shop, an exhibition, a hot-drinks machine, and accessible toilets.

The nearest Changing Places fully-accessible toilet is located 7.3 miles away in the Doncaster Tesco Extra store.


The grounds are a challenge. From the car park and visitor centre, visitors need to ascend a steep hill to access the inner bailey and keep. The main path up the hill is a smooth surface in good condition, but it is very steep. Once up there, there is a short brick paving section and then the grounds are grassy areas that are naturally uneven and have exposed foundations in parts.


The keep is accessed via a concrete set of stairs. It has handrails but there are many steps to climb and, once inside, there are many uneven steps in the spiral staircases to ascend to reach higher levels. There is seating inside the keep on all levels for those who are able to climb the stairs but need to rest regularly.



The Visit


As I almost always do, I visited with others. This time my son and I joined a friend to explore this iconic castle, and they both took plenty of pictures of the views from the top of the keep and within the keep itself. My son particularly enjoyed the projections of characters onto the castle walls telling some of the stories from its history.




Conisbrough Castle is one of the more challenging sites I've been to in terms of accessibility, but that doesn't mean it should be dismissed. The visitor centre is accessible and includes an interesting exhibition, and staff can offer alternative options to visitors with access needs if they call in advance of their visit.





The keep can be seen from the ground in front of the visitor centre and is so picturesque with its hexagonal appearance thanks to the buttresses supporting the circular structure. The romantic ruins have inspired artists and writers for centuries: most famously, it was the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. So, if you're a creative sort, why not visit and see what it inspires in you? I'll certainly be doing some drawings. Regardless of your creative tendencies, the castle makes for a pretty backdrop in any photo and it's lovely to just sit/stand and gaze upon for a while.


The castle has a wealth of history (including a shunned son and a visit from a notorious king) which dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, but arguably begins with the people that had the stone castle built.


The de Warennes of Normandy were awarded the Conisbrough estates following the Norman Conquest. (Later, the Second Earl Warenne was also given Wakefield and built Sandal Castle there.) The second earl's heir died on crusade, so his daughter became a prized heiress feted to be married off by kings to their relatives, first by King Stephen to his son William of Blois, then (following William's death) to Henry II's half-brother Hamelin.


It's here that the notorious king I mentioned comes in. Hamelin's nephew John, son of King Henry II, stayed at Conisbrough as Hamelin's guest. History, of course, despite some historians' efforts, remembers John as Bad King John and this reputation has been cemented in our minds through numerous works of fiction and entertainment, including Shakespeare's King John and a personal favourite from my childhood, Maid Marian and Her Merry Men:




'So that's the notorious king, but what of that shunned son?' I hear you say. Well, here's where the connection with the House of York comes in (regular readers will no doubt have been expecting me to sneak the House of York into this post somewhere!) So, let me introduce you to Richard of Conisbrough.


Richard was the younger son of Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, one of the sons of Edward III. Or was he? Historian G L Harris suggested in his 2004 paper that Richard may have been fathered by a different man, and English Heritage even reference this speculation in their history of the castle. If he were fathered by another man, it would explain why Edmund left him nothing, leaving his estates to his eldest son Edward (2nd Duke of York). Imagine being left nothing and relying on the generosity of your brother. That's got to sting. Not surprising, then, that Richard went on to be a conspirator doomed to be executed. Yes, Richard plotted with other prominent figures of Yorkshire, at Conisbrough Castle, to kill King Henry V.


Not long after Richard's execution, his brother Edward died fighting alongside Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. As Edward had no heirs, the Dukedom passed to Richard's son, also called Richard. Richard, 3rd Duke of York, is the Duke of York famous for the Wars of the Roses, who descended from Edward III via two lines (or one, if Richard of Conisbrough were truly illegitimate), and was father to two kings. Not bad for descendants of a boy shunned by his father.


Yet Conisbrough, despite proving useful to its owners and inhabitants over the years, was abandoned at some point in the fifteenth century (my guess would be following the defeat of the House of York by Henry Tudor), and it was in ruins by the time Sir Walter Scott visited it.


Since that time it has seen repairs under the care of the Ministry of Works, the Ivanhoe Trust and its current guardians, English Heritage.



Top Tips


  • If you have accessibility needs, contact English Heritage ahead of your visit on 01709 863329. English Heritage is keen to accommodate all visitors as much as possible within the limitations of each site. At Conisbrough Castle, visitors who are unable to access the keep can view a tour of it on an iPad. Where possible, they will also arrange for volunteers to be on shift on the day of your visit to offer enrichment activities and discussion


  • Approach the disabled-visitor car park via Castle Street as the entrance to the car park will be in front of you for easy, head-on entry


  • Conisbrough Castle has an admission charge unless you have a membership card


For More on the History


Historian Sharon Bennett Connolly has written some excellent articles on the de Warennes:

Read about William de Warenne, the Conqueror's Man, here: https://historytheinterestingbits.com/2016/10/09/william-de-warenne-the-conquerors-man/


And about that prized heiress, Isabel de Warenne, here: https://historytheinterestingbits.com/2020/07/13/isabel-de-warenne/


English Heritage provide a history of the castle: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/conisbrough-castle/history/



For More on the Site


For public transport, cycle route info, and car park recommendations for visitors not requiring the disabled car park: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/conisbrough-castle/plan-your-visit/directions/





Final Note


John is most famous as the king that signed the Magna Carta, and I'll be visiting historical sites connected to John and the great charter in the coming months and reporting on their accessibility here.


Until then, happy travels!



*Disclaimer: This blog is written as a travel blog with a disability focus and history theme. It is intended to entertain and inform but is in no way a comprehensive guide and I do not attempt to provide a full accessibility guide for any site. Readers planning to visit any sites should check site websites or contact sites directly for up-to-date information on opening times, facilities, accessibility and other required information.





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