Bolsover Castle

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Review type

Things to do


Bolsover Castle

Date of travel

June, 2015

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Travelled with

Family including children under 16

Reasons for trip

For many people their first view of Bolsover Castle is from the M1, where it is seen built on top of a hill dominating the surrounding landscape. It is a display of wealth which was meant to be seen and to impress. Although it appears at first sight to be a medieval castle, it is in fact a C17th rich man’s extravagance, built for show rather than defence.

Entry through the grand gateway takes you into a grassy area with a massive old copper beech tree in the centre. To the left is the Riding School, with the Terrace Range including the State Apartments, overlooking the Vale of Scarsdale, with the Little Castle on a mound ahead. As this review is rather long, I have split it into three parts. This first part covers the history of the castle. The second part covers the “Riding House and the Terrace Range.”: The final part covers the “Little Casle and the Fountain Garden”:

The present castle was built on the ruins of an earlier motte and bailey castle, by the Peveril family in the early C12th. A settlement grew up beyond the gate of the outer bailey. It was a splendid site on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Doe Lea valley. The Peveril’s didn’t hold the castle for long as it was forfeited and passed to the king in 1155. By the C14th, the castle was falling into a ruin and was rented out to tenants.

By the C16th the castle was a ruin and was bought by George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury who later married Bess of Hardwick. Charles Cavendish, Bess’s youngest son from an earlier marriage, lived at Welbeck Abbey and acquired the ruined castle in 1608. He employed the architect Robert Smythson to help rebuild the Castle, beginning with the mock Norman ‘Little Castle’ on the site of the old keep.

It was the height of fashion at the time to build mock castles. The medieval walls around the inner bailey were restored to enclose the Fountain Garden.

Charles died in 1617 and was succeeded by his son William, who was fond of fashion and was considered a playboy, courtier and poet. He finished building and furnishing the Little Castle and was responsible for the wall paintings. This was never lived in permanently, which may explain why there are no servants quarters

Once that was complete, William began building the Terrace Range which overlooked the Doe Lea valley and the Vale of Scarsdale and followed the line of the inner bailey.

William had ambitions at court and this building became a free standing State Apartments with a gallery and service rooms attached to it, ready for a visit by Charles I in 1634. This was a no expenses spared visit, including a lavish feast and a spectacular entertainment entitled “Love’s Welcome”. William was hoping for a position at court. He must have suitably impressed the king as he was appointed governor to his son, Charles.

William supported the King during the Civil War but after the disastrous Battle of Marston Moor he went into exile on the Continent and Bolsover Castle was surrendered to Parliamentary Troops. They stripped the lead from the roof of the State Apartments.

While in Antwerp William became interested in horses, established a riding school and became interested in the ‘art of manege’. This trained horses to circle, leap and kneel in carefully choreographed displays. When he returned to England on the restoration of the Monarchy, his lands were returned to him. He restored and extended the Terrace Range and built a Riding School to house and train his horses. It is one of the finest surviving indoor riding schools in the country.

After William’s death in 1676, his son only used Bolsover Castle occasionally. The gallery in the Terrace Range was used for stabling horses and was also a brewhouse. By the C18th it was in a poor state of repair. In the C19th, the castle was let out to the vicar of Bolsover but he was ‘miserably addicted to intemporate habits’ (alcohol) and was succeeded by his curate who carried out some repairs. It was left empty from the end of the C19th until it was given to the Ministry of Works which later became English Heritage. They stabilised and repaired the castle. Further work has been carried out over the last 18 months with tapestries being hung in the Star Chamber, rooms on the top floor of the Little Castle opened up and the wall walk restored.


We’ve always enjoyed visiting Bolsover Castle. Its setting on top of the cliff is stunning and there is a lot to see. The Riding Stable now seems to be shut to visitors unless it is being used for displays. The only views are from the viewing gallery on the first floor. There didn’t seem to be a lot of in depth information in the exhibition area. In fact there is little information around the site. There are reproduction cabinets in some of the rooms with some information on the inside of the doors. As this is gold on wood, it isn’t always easy to read. There is a good audio guide which we didn’t use this visit. There are a few staff around the site. Some are knowledgeable and willing to answer questions.


The shop is more geared up for children than adults with a range of children’s toys and books. There is the usual selection of preserves and jewellery as well as medieval helmets and swords – at a price.

Service in the “tea room”: is very slow. There is a limited range of food and we felt it was expensive. The “Pillar of Rock”: the Wetherspoons pub by the castle entrance is probably a better bet if you want food.


There is limited parking for the castle as well as a small public car park opposite which has disabled parking. There is level entry into the visitor centre and cafe as well as the castle grounds, including the Fountain Garden. The exhibition in the stables next to the Riding House is accessible as is the ground floor of the Terrace Range. The Little Tower is reached up a steep flight of stairs and there are over 100 stairs to contend with inside.


There is more information and pictures “here.”:


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