When it comes to international travel, it’s hard to not experience some sort of culture shock. So when I traveled to the United Kingdom last year–my first international trip since I was 8 or 9–I knew it wasn’t a matter whether I would experience it…it was just a matter of what the extent of it would be. Would I be more surprised by the food or the accents? Driving on the left side of the road or the different currency? Would it be seeing a different map when I watched the weather forecast, or would it be spending the holidays in a different culture?
But in the end, it wasn’t even something I had expected: The history.
Yes, I knew England was old; that goes without saying. I just hadn’t expected how often I would be seeing that history. It seemed like everywhere I turned, there would be a relic just sitting on the side of the road like it was no big deal. And when they told me that there were castle ruins everywhere that we were free to explore? You better believe I didn’t believe them at first.
During my three weeks in England, I visited 4 castles, 2 of which were sets of unattended ruins. It was only when I was visiting these ruins that the depth of England’s history was really put into perspective for me. After all, everything back home (in America) was so much newer in comparison.
Needless to say, the sheer experience of exploring castle ruins is one to be rivaled with, as it can hardly compare to just learning about them online, through a documentary, or even by taking a tour. This guide gives you a history on 2 of the castle ruins I explored during my time in England, as well as how to see them (or some like them) during your visit.
Location: Moreten Corbet, Shawbury, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY4 4DW
Built: 13th Century
Sitting on the edge of Shrewsbury, near the border of Wales, is Moreton-Corbet Castle. Free parking is available next to the church and graveyard that borders the castle’s property, with a gated path leads up to the ruins.
Once past the gate, be sure to read the sign next to the path, as it will give you some important instructions for visiting the ruins, such as to be cautious of the uneven ground and that bringing metal detectors onto the property to search for ancient treasure is prohibited.
But even with its uneven ground and treasure hunting ban, Moreton-Corbet castle is without a doubt my favorite set of castle ruins. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful, intricate, and fun to explore, but it truly is “abandoned” in the sense that you could have the entire place (which is quite a huge property) to yourself during your visit, as there aren’t many visitors to this castle.
According to the English Heritage website, the castle began it’s construction in the 13th century, which lasted over 500 years. Between the length of it’s construction and renovation period, as well as it’s different architectural styles, it makes exploring and learning about the castle even more fun.
Different panels are scattered around the site, providing information about the castle and it’s history in reference to the sections they are closest to. Additional plaques are mounted on the actual castle walls, identifying where certain rooms would have been located.
For example, the picture above shows the ruins of the kitchen, which is not only identified by the plaque on the wall (look on the right-hand side of the photo), but is also explained in depth in a panel nearby. The fireplace is quite easy to identify, but can you guess what those other small archways are on the left? No?
The coolest part of the castle ruins? The cellar. It seemed to be perfectly preserved, but you’ll need a flashlight if you really want to walk into it.
When visiting, I would advise to wear a good pair of shoes. Like the sign warns, the ground can be quite uneven and especially muddy after a good rainfall. (I can testify to that.) It’s also important to note that there is no modern paving.
In terms of exploring castle ruins, Moreton-Corbet is a must-do. So much of it has been preserved that it still feels alive everywhere you go, which makes it the best for learning about history and for exploring. For more information about Moreton-Corbet, click here to go to the English Heritage website.
Acton Burnell Castle
Address: Acton Burnell, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY5 7PE
Built: 13th Century
Not too far away from Moreton-Corbet Castle is Acton Burnell Castle, another set of unattended castle ruins that I visited on my trip. Although Acton Burnell is much smaller than Moreten-Corbet, it holds just as much magic, which starts from the moment you arrive. After parking in a gravel parking lot (okay, maybe that part is not so magical), you go through a gate into a dense set of woods and walk along a path for about a minute. Then, as you round a corner and walk out of the trees, a castle suddenly appears.
Sounds straight out of a fairy tale, right?
What makes Acton Burnell so different from Moreton-Corbet (besides the smaller size) is the fact that the “shell” (i.e. outer walls) of the castle is still intact, making it easy to see how the exterior would have looked even in 13th century, when it was first built. (According to the English Heritage website.) Because of this, a lot of the rooms (? Storage closets? Guard outposts?) along the outer walls are still intact, and you can walk through them in and out of the castle.
When visiting Acton Burnell, wear a good pair of waterproof shoes or boots. The area in and around the castle is almost entirely grass and dirt patches, which means that it can be EXTREMELY muddy if you go during/after a rainy day.
When I visited, it was an impromptu trip after the mall, so I was wearing boots that weren’t meant for mud, which made exploring the ruins hard due to the number of puddles and amount of mud that surrounded the ruins that day.
Similar to Moreton-Corbet, Acton Burnell also had informational signs posted around the grounds, which gives you a ton of information on the history of the castle. However, Acton Burnell did not have plaques on the walls labeling the different areas, which made it more difficult to figure out what parts of the castle may have been used for. For more information about Acton Burnell, click here.
How to Find Castle Ruins
During my free time in England, I often scoured the internet for cool places to visit during my trip. My best friend? Google Maps! All I had to do was type “castles near me” in the search bar, and plenty of recommendations would pull up, complete with ratings, pictures, and their locations on a map. That’s how I found all of the castles I went to!
Of course, if I try to do that now in America, it just pulls up White Castle locations. Go figure.
Another way to find not only castle ruins, but other historic landmarks around England, is to use the English Heritage website. Not only does it provide the histories and locations of the landmarks, but it also gives info on whether entry is free or not (they provide memberships if you need them), parking information, and more. After pinpointing different landmarks on Google Maps that I was interested in visiting, I always checked the English Heritage website next to see if it would be worth it.
Although I’ve always loved visiting historic landmarks, exploring castle ruins was something I never even know was possible, and makes me itch to go back to Europe so I can explore more! If you’re interested in learning more about my trip to Europe, be sure to check out my guide on how to see London in under 24 hours.
Have you visited any castles or castle ruins? Or do you plan to? Let me know!