A Fleeting Visit to Sizergh Castle.
One of the great historic houses of the Lake District.
From ‘A Lake District Grand Tour’ – a cycle tour of the Lake District:
In medieval times, while the fells and valleys of Lakeland were sprouting sheep walks, dairy farms and granges under the ownership of the abbeys, the rim of Lakeland was sprouting castles. Some were major castles, like those at Cockermouth, Penrith and Egremont. Others were defensive towers – pele towers. Many are still there, still lived in as part of a grander house or a farm house, while others are crumbling remains.
They were needed. Devastating Scottish raids came not just into border areas, but right down the coast of Lakeland and around to Furness and beyond. Abbeys, villages and farms around the edge of the mountains were attacked and burned, as Scotland fought for its independence from England in the 14th century.
Sizergh Castle had been one of those pele towers, and grew by additions with Tudor, Elizabethan and later extensions.
I had been before, many years before in fact, and had only the vaguest memories of the pele tower and of a café. The café was to be our first call.
We cycled through a gateway and up a long drive through open grassland, until we came to an elongated log cabin of a café with a balcony and picnic tables. Perfect.
It was busy there, and we queued for cappuccinos and scones, which were also really good.
We walked around the back of the café, heading for the castle, past several scarecrows as part of the castle’s Summer Celebration, and into the courtyard of the castle. Ahead of us was the pele tower and its additions, and on either side were later wings forming three sides of a square.
Two bare legs belonging to a youngster were emerging from a window in one of the wings. In all, three children in shorts and t-shirts climbed out, peered at us, and then climbed in again. It seemed a little odd for a National Trust house, but we went on inside (the main entrance, rather than a window) and all became clear. The Strickland family, having owned the castle since 1239, gave it to the National Trust in 1950, but with the proviso that they could live in the wings. They still do.
As we dodged quickly from room to room, I overheard someone I had taken for a guide, pointing at a portrait, saying, “And this was my great grandfather.”
A Strickland was showing friends around. We tagged along in the background. There was the mediaeval thick-walled pele tower, then the Elizabethan section with wonderful oak carved panelling, and much more. We went round too fast really, partly because our Strickland guide was setting a pace, and partly because we still had a lot of miles to go.
But it was good; I recommend Sizergh Castle.
And the scones.