If you are ever near the Basingstoke Canal in Hampshire it is worth visiting the ruins of ‘King John’s Castle’ (Odiham Castle) in Hampshire. It is one of only three fortresses built by King John during his reign and had surrounding defensive ditches. The reason why John probably chose this place was because he visited the area in 1204 and it happened to lay halfway between Winchester and Windsor.
It was built in 1207 – 1214 using flint, timber and mortar and was in use until the mid 16th century. It is up to 9 metres (30 feet). There are a few information boards around and inside the keep providing a brief history of the castle and give details of parts of its construction.
Shortly after construction was finished the castle suffered a two week siege by French knights who were sent to support the Barons in their rebellion against King John after the Magna Carta failed to achieve peace.
According to historical records, the site of the castle covered 20 acres and construction cost was around £1000 (£1,484,600 in modern value). The castle had a two storey keep standing in one of two contiguous moated enclosures and a third enclosure to the south east with the King’s house.
King Henry III gave the castle to John’s daughter, Eleanor in 1236 who, 2 years later, married Simon de Montfort, a powerful nobleman. Simon took a leading part in the rebellion against Henry III and eventually stripped the King of power, taking on the rule of England himself. De Montfort was killed by supporters of the King at the Battle of Evesham after just over a year in power. Eleanor was exiled and the castle confiscated by the crown.
The castle became part of another rebellion when the Despenser family who held the title of Constable of Odiham Castle stood against Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella of France, wife of Edward II who was forced to abdicate in favour of his son Edward III.
The castle served as a prison from the mid 14th century when King David II of Scotland was imprisoned there for more than a decade.
In the15th century the castle lost its status as a royal residence and this is when it became a hunting lodge. Not much was spent on its upkeep, and so began its decline. It was in 1603 that it was classed as being a ruin.
The castle is open 24 hours and there is no on site parking but is accessible from the towpath and the Colt Hill park which is about a mile and half down the path. However, we managed to park on the roadside near Odiham Ford which is much closer to the castle. It is quite pleasant near the ford and a bench seat can be found near the canal, which make a nice place to sit and watch the world go by! This is a place children would enjoy and have fun. Upon reaching the castle ruins there is space for a picnic in the grounds. Ducks and fish can be seen in the canal and we were told of a family of swans to be found just a short distance the other side of the ruins.
A great place for a family outing as well just adults.