Dating from the 12th century, and remarkably well preserved, Orford Castle is a must-see attraction when exploring the Suffolk coast. Its rooms offer a real sense of what day-to-day life must have been like in a castle in medieval England. Inside, there’s a maze of passages that lead to the kitchen, a small chapel and bed chambers built within the turrets. You can explore the lower and upper halls with their displays of medieval seals, coins and regalia, and climb right up to the roof where there are fabulous views seaward to Orford Ness. In the basement of the castle you can see a well, which would have been a vital source of water for its residents, including Henry II who had the castle built in 1165. As the story goes, when Henry II came to the throne in 1154 he inherited a troubled kingdom from King Stephen. The barons, keen to accrue personal power, had manipulated tensions between Stephen and his rival for the throne, Matilda (Henry’s mother). Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, was one such baron who had immense influence in East Anglia and owned most of its castles. In order to assert his authority, Henry II took castles belonging to Bigod and built Orford Castle to protect Orford’s prosperous harbour. Orford Castle was completed in two years, and comprised an unusual 21-sided keep surrounded by walls and defensive towers. Today, only the keep survives, but it is one of the most remarkable in England due to its design. It rises to some 90ft in height and has five storeys. If you stand outside and look up at its mighty creamy-grey walls, you can get a sense of how formidable this castle once was to potential invaders.
Facilities – at a glance
Assist dogs allowed
- Parking onsite
- Parking nearby
- Facilities: Audio tours (included in admission price), Braille signage
- Open all year
- Opening Times: Open all year, Apr-Sep, see website for details; Oct, daily 10-5; Nov-23 Dec and 2 Jan-29 Mar, Sat-Sun 10-4; 27 Dec-1 Jan, Mon and Wed-Fri 10-4, Sat-Sun 10-6. Closed 24-26 Dec
Also in the area
About the area
Suffolk is Constable country, where the county’s crumbling, time-ravaged coastline spreads itself under wide skies to convey a wonderful sense of remoteness and solitude. Highly evocative and atmospheric, this is where rivers wind lazily to the sea and notorious 18th-century smugglers hid from the excise men. John Constable immortalised these expansive flatlands in his paintings in the 18th century, and his artwork raises the region’s profile to this day.
Walking is one of Suffolk’s most popular recreational activities. It may be flat but the county has much to discover on foot – not least the isolated Heritage Coast, which can be accessed via the Suffolk Coast Path. Southwold, with its distinctive, white-walled lighthouse standing sentinel above the town and its colourful beach huts and attractive pier features on many a promotional brochure. Much of Suffolk’s coastal heathland is protected as a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and shelters several rare creatures including the adder, the heath butterfly and the nightjar. In addition to walking, there is a good choice of cycling routes but for something less demanding, visit some of Suffolk’s charming old towns, with streets of handsome, period buildings and picturesque, timber-framed houses.
Places to Stay
Restaurants and Pubs
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