The Solway Gap for centuries has been one of the main routes between England and Scotland. This has been the debatable land with control changing hands regularly. The Romans built a fort here to control the border and movement. The castle has been continuously occupied since the C11th and has withstood more sieges than anywhere else in the British Isles.
The first wooden castle was built at the end of the C11th by William Rufus who had won back the area from the Scottish crown. Henry I began building a stone castle with a keep. The castle was originally built with grey Kirklinton sandstone from near St Bees. Later work used the local red sandstone.
The area was retaken by David I in 1136 after Henry’s death. David had a claim by marriage to the earldom of Northumberland which included Carlisle. After his death the castle reverted to the English king Henry II. Edward I used Carlisle as his base for his campaigns against the Scots.
In C16th was a time of perpetual lawlessness and raiding across the border. Families formed formed groups of ‘reivers’ who regularly robbed and pillaged their neighbours. In an attempt to control the problem the area was divided into Marches and Lord Wardens were appointed as the crown’s representatives to control and keep order along an unruly border. Carlisle was the base for the English Western March and prisoners were held in the castle. The Half Moon Battery was built and the inner ward adapted for the use of cannon.
Mary Queen of Scots was held here briefly after she left Scotland.
It wasn’t until the Union of the Crowns in the C17th that order was gradually imposed.
Carlisle was the main stronghold of the Royalists during the Civil War and the castle was sieged for nine months, only surrendering when food ran out.
Carlisle Castle was bombarded and taken by the Duke of Cumberland in 1745 as the Jacobites had left a small garrison there. Great holes were blasted in the walls by cannon fire. Jacobite prisoners were kept in the castle before being executed in public.
French prisoners of war were kept in the castle during the Napoleonic Revolution.
By the end of the C18th the castle was in a poor state of repair but underwent a prolonged building programme renovating old structures and building new ones after civic unrest in 1826.
At the end of the C19th and start of the C20th new barack blocks were erected in the outer bailey when castle became the base for the Border Regiment from 1873 to 1959. The blocks were named after battles they fought in. The Arnheim block was originally the military hospital and was described as the ‘worst army hospital’ in Britain.
Since 2000 most of the military functions have left the castle, although the “Cumbria Museum of Military Life”:http://www.cumbriasmuseumofmilitarylife.org/ is still in the Alma block.
The castle is now in the care of English heritage and open daily during the summer season but weekends only during the winter. The post code is CA3 8UR and the grid reference is NY 397562.
There are more pictures “here”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/castles/england/north/carlisle/index.html .
There is some disabled parking available in the outer ward. The grounds are wheelchair accessible but not the buildings as there are steps and spiral staircases to negotiate.