Last Photographed: Tuesday 12th April 2011
Okehampton Castle dates back to the early Norman period, but precise historical records regarding its age and construction are non-existent. All that can be reliably said is that it appears in the Domesday book (1086AD) at which time it was in the possession of Baldwin de Brioni. The stone keep originates around this period, although it was substantially remodelled in the 14th Century. Most of the remaining buildings date from this period.
Very little is known about the life of Okehampton Castle. It appears to have served as a family home, and the lack of any recorded sieges or battles suggests a quiet history.
The castle was apparently abandoned in 1538 after its owner, Henry Courtenay, was executed by Henry VIII on charges of treason. At this time, the castle was partially dismantled, but evidence would seem to suggest some form of continued but limited occupancy up until the late 17th Century.
Okehampton Castle occupies a superb defensive position in the middle of a steeply-sloped valley. Additionally, the castle is defended on its northern side by the River Okement. Approaches on the other sides would have been kept waterlogged. An outer curtain wall surrounds a high motte on which the stone keep sits. For any attacker, the obstacles at Okehampton would have been formidable.
Today, Okehampton is one of my favourite ruins in Britain. The setting is dramatic and magical. Nestled in a thickly wooded valley, next to a picturesque river, this castle is straight out of the fairytale books. The ruins are dramatic, with the walls of the abandoned keep rising up like craggy, skeletal fingers clawing at the sky. Once inside, there's enough remaining to give you a real feel for what the castle and its occupants must have once been like. The surrounding land is lush and plentiful, and it's not difficult to imagine this being an abundant and prosperous community. Highly recommended for a visit.