Essex – one of the Home Counties in England’s southeast – is just a short journey away from London. Its reputation has been changed somewhat by the TV show The Only Way is Essex, but there’s much more to this beautiful part of England than reality TV.
Explore medieval villages hidden away in the rolling hills and a whole array of historic buildings, from Roman ruins to Victorian country estates. And of course, there are a number of impressive and historic castles. Here are the best castles to visit in Essex.
The Best 3 Castles to Visit in Essex
1. Colchester Castle
Situated in the town of Colchester is the largest Norman keep in Europe, which is even bigger than the Tower of London. Construction of Colchester Castle was started in 1076 atop the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius. Its first resident was Eudo Dapifer, who was granted the castle by Henry I.
In the Medieval period, the castle was in the care of the High Sheriff of Essex, and there is evidence that it was a permanent army garrison.
After ceasing to be a royal castle, the landmark has had various uses. It was a prison that doubled up as the home of the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins in the 17th century. Here, he imprisoned and interrogated those suspected of witchcraft.
Nowadays, the castle doubles up as a museum, which takes visitors on a journey through Colchester’s history, with exhibits such as Celtic coins, Roman mosaics, and Civil War armour.
When: 11th century
Open for visit: Yes. Check here for more information.
2. Hadleigh Castle
One of the most unique castles in Essex, Hadleigh Castle is the only known enclosure style castle in the county. This former Royal Castle overlooks the Essex marshes and the River Thames.
It was a residence of King Edward III, who fortified it during the Hundred Years War with a gateway and three round towers in addition to the initial five. In the 15th century, it was part of the property portfolio owned by the Queen of England.
The castle fell into ruin in the mid 16th century, with most of the stone being sold off for building materials. Hadleigh Castle doesn’t offer guided tours, but it’s a great place to explore and let your imagination run wild.
When: 13th century
Open for Visit: Yes, check here for more information.
3. Hedingham Castle
Described as the best-preserved Norman keep in the UK, Hedingham Castle is 900 years old and surrounded by spectacular woodlands and landscaped gardens. The keep dates back to 1140 and was initially an excellent vantage point across Essex.
The keep has five floors, including a Great Hall. During its long history, it has been visited by both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. In much more recent times, it has also been a set for films and TV shows, including The Reckoning.
Although the castle is an excellent day out, check the entry information before visiting. It’s frequently used for events and weddings, and the castle grounds are sometimes closed to the public.
When: 12th century
Open for Visit: Yes, for more information, check here.