This medieval castle has guarded Carlisle for over nine centuries. Its location close to the Anglo-Scottish border has ensured it has been at the centre of many military and political conflicts such as the English Civil War and the Jacobite Uprising.
Over the years castle has also functioned as a prison. Mary Queen of Scots was briefly imprisoned here in 1568 and parched Jacobite prisoners famously licked its walls to keep themselves hydrated.
Today the castle is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public seven days a week. Visitors can explore a maze of vaulted passages, staircases and chambers, and climb the ramparts for great views of historic Carlisle.
The inner ward is home to the museum of the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment. It contains an extensive collection of uniforms, medals, military equipment and weapons.
Carlisle Castle is open 7 days a week. Opening times are 9.30 am to 5 pm between April and September, and 10 am and 4 pm between November and March.
Tickets cost £5 for adults and £3 for children. Members of English Heritage enjoy free entry.
Themed guided tours are also available for a small additional fee. Tours cover subjects such as imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots, ghosts, and the Border Reivers.
See the official English Heritage website for times, prices, and further visitor information.
Carlisle Castle occupies a 4 acre site at the northern end of the city centre. Satellite navigation owners can use the postcode CA3 8UR.
There is a long-stay pay-and-display car park, operated by Carlisle City Council, on Devonshire Walk, right next to the castle.
A pedestrian subway links the castle to Tullie House and the city centre.
In 1092 William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, took control of Carlisle from the Scots and built Carlisle Castle on the site of an old Roman fort. The first structure was probably built with just timber and earth.
In 1122, fearing an invasion by the Scottish, Henry I of England ordered that the castle be fortified with stone walls and a keep.
David I of Scotland took the castle in 1135 before the stone fortifications had been finished. He completed the work, only for the castle to be lost to Henry II of England in 1157.
Between 1173 and 1461 the Scottish laid siege to the castle on multiple occasions. One of the most famous attempts was made by Robert the Bruce in 1315 after his victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn. The siege was unsuccessful and saw only a handful of English soldiers lose their lives.
In 1541 Henry VIII ordered his engineer, Stefan von Haschenperg, to convert the castle for use by artillery. The walls of the inner ward were strengthened and the keep was lowered and an artillery platform built on its roof.
In 1568 Mary Queen of Scots was briefly imprisoned here after fleeing Scotland. She was housed in the inner ward in what was then called the Warden’s Tower. It was later renamed Queen Mary’s Tower but was demolished in 1834.
During the English Civil War the castle was besieged by Scottish allies of the Parliamentarians from October 1644 to June of the following year. The siege only ended after the Royalist garrison ran out of supplies and had started on a diet of horses, dogs, and even rats. When the conflict was over the Scottish demolished the nave at Carlisle Cathedral and used the stone to repair the damaged defences.
During the Second Jacobite Uprising of 1745 Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) led his forces south, capturing Carlisle in November. His army then marched to Derby, but retreated back into Scotland leaving a regiment at Carlisle Castle.
Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, then laid siege to the castle and retook it in December 1745. The Jacobite survivors were held in the dungeons and were forced to lick the walls to get water. Hollows in the dungeon walls, known as the licking stones, can still be seen today.
The action by Prince William marked the end of the castle’s fighting life.
Until recently the castle was used as barracks for the British Army. Cumbria County Council’s Archive Centre was also here before moving to a new location on Petteril Bank Road in 2011.