From crumbling Gothic castles to majestic standing stones, England’s romantic ruins have long stirred the hearts of all who gaze upon them. Often set among stunning and rural landscapes, a trip to visit an abandoned site adds something extra special to any outdoor visit.
We’ve compiled a list of 10 of the best in all of their faded glory. Take a picnic and a sketchpad and feel inspired by what will surely be an unforgettable visit.
1. Fountains Abbey
Founded in 1132, Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire is emblematic of the power and wealth of medieval monastic communities in England before being dissolved by Henry VIII. Like many in the country, Fountains Abbey suffered during the 14th century as a result of economic hardship and the Black Death, and it began to slowly deteriorate.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries was the final nail in Fountains Abbey’s coffin, with its ornate stonework and towering archways being all that remains 900 years after it was built.
2. Kenilworth Castle
The property of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester from 1563, Kenilworth was something of an architectural token of love. Dudley, who is largely supposed to have been the queen’s one true love, made extensive changes to the castle to make it worthy of Elizabeth I and her entourage, doing everything from refitting and remodelling to adding new buildings on a lavish scale.
Kenilworth Castle fell into decline after the English Civil War. Having been under Parliamentarian rule since August 1642, it was slighted and condemned to ruin in 1649, before in later centuries becoming a romantic Victorian tourist destination, receiving visits from the likes of J. M. W. Turner, Charles Dickens, and even Queen Victoria. Now a magnificent ruin, Kenilworth Castle is open to the public to explore its fascinating history.
3. Whitby Abbey
13th century Benedictine church Whitby Abbey was once the centre of the medieval Northumbrian kingdom. Over time, Whitby Abbey suffered a series of destructive elements, having been ravaged by invaders and then dissolved by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1914 the German High Seas Fleet shelled Whitby, causing considerable damage to the west front.
The site has been the residence of poet Caedmon the cowherd as well as a royal final resting place. What’s more, Dracula author Bram Stoker used the site as inspiration for his dark novel.
4. Corfe Castle
11th century Corfe Castle in Dorset sits romantically atop its original ‘motte’. Built by William the Conqueror in around 1066, Corfe Castle would be expanded and altered over the coming centuries, especially in the 12th century by Edward I who built the imposing keep, and in the 13th century under King John. Not only did John further fortify the castle, he also used it as a prison and royal residence. Sold by Elizabeth I in 1572, Corfe Castle became a grand private home, first to Sir Christopher Hatton and later by Sir John Bankes in 1635.
The demise of Corfe Castle and the cause of its current ruined state came with the English Civil War. Having survived one siege in 1643, it would fall to another only 3 years later, before being slighted – or intentionally damaged – by the Parliamentarians.
Formerly the tribal capital of the native Catuvellauni tribe, Verulamium was a prominent Roman settlement near modern day St Albans in Hertfordshire, England. It was conquered by the Romans during their invasion of Britain in 43 AD, and by 50 AD, had become a major Roman town, and as such was a prime target during the revolt of Boudica in 61 AD, when it was burnt to the ground.
Never ones to be perturbed, the Romans crushed the revolt and re-built Verulamium, and it remained a central Roman town for the next 400 years. The Roman remains at Verulamium Park consist of a variety of buildings – a basilica, bathhouse, part of the city walls and an outline of the London Gate. The most impressive are the remains of the roman theatre which lie across the road.
6. Netley Abbey
Netley Abbey is the most complete surviving abbey built by the Cistercian monks in the south of England. It was founded in 1239 as a house for Cistercian monks. King Henry III took an interest in the abbey from the mid-1240s, at which point the fruits of royal patronage were demonstrated by the construction of a large church in the fashionable French-influenced Gothic style which was pioneered by Henry III‘s masons with Westminster Abbey.
It was later converted into a series of luxurious apartments for the Marquess of Winchester. In around 1700, the decision was made to demolish the unfashionable house, but was instead left to decay, later becoming a very fashionable ruin which attracted the attention of artists, dramatists, and poets such as Jane Austen.
7. Old Wardour Castle
Wardour Castle is a ruined 14th century castle which was destroyed during the English Civil War. It lies in south west Wiltshire, close to the Dorset border. It was confiscated in 1461 during the Wars of the Roses, since the owners fell from favour after they supported the Lancastrian cause.
The castle was besieged and blown up during the English Civil War, and the ruins of Wardour Castle were left as a kind of romantic ornamental feature. The ruins of the castle both inside and out are open to explore today, and are very evocative: it’s easy to imagine it as a seat of power and visualise the subsequent destruction it endured.
8. Wroxeter Roman City
Wroxeter Roman City is an impressive Ancient Roman site in Shropshire, about 5 miles east-south-east of Shrewsbury. It houses the remains of what was once known as Viroconium, at one time Roman Britain’s fourth largest city. Viroconium was initially a 1st century garrisoned fort for a Thracian legionary cohort, and evolved into a city which once spread over nearly 200 acres.
Surprisingly, the ruins include sites erected and rebuilt after the Romans had left, though in typical Roman architectural style. This has led archaeologists to believe that those who lived in Viroconium after the Romans abandoned it around the 7th century wanted to carry on living in the same way. Discovered in 1859 when workmen began excavating the baths complex, Wroxeter Roman city was one of the country’s first archaeological visitor attractions. Today, much of Viroconium still lies unexcavated, but what can be seen offers a glimpse into how this great city would have looked.
9. Goodrich Castle
Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire is one of the most picturesque medieval ruins in the UK. Standing at the peak of a scenic woodland hilltop, this Norman fortification has attracted tourists to view its ethereal remains since the 18th century.
An original wooden structure was replaced by a stone fort in the mid-12th century and the living quarters and fortifications of Goodrich Castle were extended over the next 100 years. Goodrich Castle is perhaps best known for the part it played during the English Civil War, when it became the focus of a bitter siege between Royalist and Parliamentarian forces. After the war, Goodrich Castle soon fell to ruin. By the late 18th century, it was seen as an idyllic ruined spot and was therefore never fully restored.
10. Fernworthy Forest Stone Circle
Fernworthy Forest Stone Circle, also known as Froggymead, is a Bronze Age stone circle which is one of many prehistoric sites located in Dartmoor National Park, Devon.
Made up of a circle of 27 granite slabs, it was excavated by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee in 1897 who reported a layer of charcoal within the circle, which suggests it served a ritualistic purpose. To the southeast of the circle through a clearing in the trees stands a further cairn that has the remains of a bank and around half a dozen kerb stones. In this cairn a bronze knife, flint knife, beaker, and shale button were found.