We were asked by the lovely team at English Heritage to visit Carlisle Castle for the ‘Carlisle Under Siege’ event at the weekend. I hadn’t visited the castle since I was a child and have been meaning to take O for a while, so this was the perfect opportunity! We parked at the nearby car park and walked up to the entrance to the castle. A’s parents and our two nieces joined us for our visit too, and we learned that A’s grandfather had been stationed at Carlisle Castle as part of the Border Regiment when he was serving in the Army!
The Carlisle Under Siege event centred around the Jacobite invasion, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, as they attempted to regain the British throne for the exiled House of Stuart. We missed the first attack on the castle, but arrived in time for the second.
The actors taking on the roles of the soldiers, grenadiers, Prince, etc. were excellent and created a believable re-enactment of how the battle would have played out. The weapons they used ranged from pistols and swords to grenades and even cannons! Of course, they were all replica pieces and weren’t intended to actually harm anyone, but the noise they made was quite something! O and my eldest niece found the ‘bangs’ a bit too loud so covered their ears, but my youngest niece (22 months) and Q were quite happy.
All of us really enjoyed the second battle. As the troops receded back to their camps, we took the opportunity to go and have a look in the Highland camp and ask the volunteer actors some questions. The children loved having a good nosey in some of the tents and asked why some had blankets on the floor and other had proper beds. We found out that the soldiers during battle would have eaten anything they could catch, like rabbits or squirrels, and if they couldn’t catch anything then they’d be stuck with porridge.
O is quite shy and wouldn’t approach the actors (even with a bribe of sweets!) but my niece was up for getting stuck in. She held one of the replica swords with one hand! I did too, and I must admit it was quite heavy so she did really well to hold it like this. She also had thumbscrews put on after being jokingly told it was a toy! She was rather unimpressed that I didn’t get a photo of that…
Shortly after that, the heavens opened. Half of us didn’t have coats… Cue: a mad dash into the Cumbria Museum of Military, based in one of the buildings in the grounds of Carlisle Castle. We were really impressed with the exhibitions on the first and second world wars, particularly how focussed on local involvement and the effect had on the county. The children enjoyed doing brass rubbings, finding out how much they could carry on the battlefield and listening to music from the war-times.
As the final battle started, the rain was just starting to subside. Hubs had bought a poncho from the shop so at least we were all dry. Bonnie Prince Charlie addressed his troops and attempted to scale the wall one last time. With no luck, they took a cannon to the main gate, which ended in the Carlisle defence waving the white flag and surrendering the castle to the Highland army.
We had an absolutely great time at Carlisle Castle and thought that the event was very well organised. There were tents with snacks and refreshments available, as well as the on-site cafe, toilets and shop. The children really enjoyed learning about the invasion at Carlisle, the way the soldiers lived and watching the dramatic re-enactment of the battle. The volunteers dedication to bringing history to life is incredible – those costumes and replica weaponry won’t come cheap, I’m sure.
The children enjoyed it all so much, that my niece and O asked if they could prepare a little project to take into school. We printed off some of the photographs I had taken and they each wrote about what they had seen and learned during our visit to Carlisle Castle. It was completely their idea and I was so proud of them both for their brilliant attitudes.
Thank you English Heritage for inviting us to Carlisle Castle. We look forward to our next visit! If you’d like to know about other events taking place at Carlisle Castle, find out here.