Last Photographed: Saturday 1st April 2006
Corfe Castle derives its name from the Saxon word for 'gap' - referring to the gap in the Purbeck hills that it strategically dominates.
Corfe is predominantly a Norman structure, with work on the curtain wall and hall beginning in the 1080s. The castle was a favourite of King John who was personally responsible for much of the subsequent work carried out to improve the castle's fortifications. By the 13th century, its royal favour was confirmed by its status as a treasure store and prison.
The castle saw action on two occasions during the English civil war - once in 1643, when it held out for six weeks, and finally in 1646, when the castle fell to parliamentarian forces. At this time, the fortress was destroyed with gunpowder to prevent its re-fortification by Royalists - this destruction being responsible for the strikingly ruinous state of the outer walls, which in places lean out at apparently impossible angles.
Today, the ruins of Corfe Castle perch up on a hill, a slender and skeletal structure, rising above the village below with a grace and elegance in seeming contradiction to its military purpose. The views that can be enjoyed from within its boundaries are typically English - fields unfolding gently below over the Dorset countryside, with a steam railway winding its way gently towards the village that sits sleepily at the foot of the castle's slopes.
From the moment you begin the approach up from the village below, it's obvious that there's something special and slightly different about Corfe. The damage inflicted by the parliamentarians seems only to have added to the derelict beauty of the place. Ruins have a way of inspiring the imagination in a way that pristine structures somehow fail to do.
If you only ever visit one castle, make it Corfe. This is certainly the most imposing and dramatic castle that I've seen, and despite it's ruinous state, it rises far above the competition.And when you come to leave the castle grounds, be sure to stop at The Greyhound Inn. It has a beer garden directly overlooking the castle, and the view is fabulous.