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Penrith's Castle Park is situated just across the road from the town's railway station. The park as a whole is a municipal park and hardly different from most municipal parks in that it has a small play area for children, and sports facilities such as a bowling green, tennis courts and a putting green. In the summer a kiosk opens which serves refreshments such as hot and cold drinks and ice creams.
There are plenty of handsome mature trees, well tended flower beds and lawns and a few park benches where you can sit and enjoy the surroundings. As the park enjoys a slightly elevated position you’ll be able to take advantage of some good views of the countryside surrounding Penrith too.
What sets the park apart is that is also contains the ruins of Penrith Castle. Interestingly this is not the highest point round here so it is thought that this location was chosen because it was the site of a Roman fort and by building here the old ditches and other defences could be made use of.
Although the site is managed by English Heritage there are no admission charges. Although you can see the castle ruins quite well from the street. if you want to get up close you need to visit when the park is open. There are winter and summer opening hours which can be seen on the English Heritage website page for Penrith Castle and on the website for Penrith Council.
The castle dates originally from the end of the fourteenth century. It was built by Ralph Neville, an important figure in the defence of the northern part of England from the Scots; officially he was the ‘warden of the West March’. Later his son, Richard Earl of Salisbury (1400 – 1460) occupied the castle, improving it and adding the Red Tower. Following the death of his son in 1471 the castle fell into the ownership of Richard Duke Gloucester, later to become King Richard III. He lived there intermittently because he held of the post of Sheriff of Cumberland and during the years of his main occupation (1471 – 1485) he also made some improvements such as adding windows which would make the castle more suited to residential use. When Richard became King, Penrith Castle remained in the hands of the Crown but by the middle of 16th century it was listed as being in partial decay.
The municipal park around the ruins was laid out in 1920 and some remaining derelict farm buildings around the castle were knocked down in order to create the formal park. There are several entrances to the park; the one nearest the town centre is closest to the castle ruins and allows you to cross the old moat by way of a wooden footbridge. The more formal entrance to the municipal park section is opposite the train station. This entrance is known as the "War Memorial Gateway" because it incorporates a monument to those men of Penrith and the surrounding area who died during the Boer War. A memorial called the "Black Angel Memorial" which used to stand in the town centre was moved to this spot in 1964 because there were concerns that its condition was deteriorating due to traffic fumes.
Visitors to Penrith Castle can wander freely around what’s left though, admittedly there’s not a great deal. A couple of information boards flesh out what’s there and these prove very useful in imagining the scale and layout.
The ground is uneven off the paths and some people do walk dogs here so care should be taken. A visit need not occupy much time but the walk is pleasant and the views are good. There is enough of this striking red sandstone castle remaining to be able to picture how impressive this castle must once have been but this is not really an attraction to go out of ones way to see. Naturally when thinking about the outdoor attractions of this region, Penrith's Castle Park pales almost into insignificance compared with the dramatic scenery of the North Lakes.
If you happen to be in the town, however, or you have some time to kill while waiting for a train, it's worth taking a look at the ruins and going into the park to take in those wonderful views of the surrounding hills.
There are plenty of car parks within a couple of minutes walk of the park. Wheelchair access is possible through the War Memorial Gateway.