Are you looking for things to do in the Lake District with children? Twenty five years ago when I last went to Lowther Castle (as a child) it looked a lot different. Back then it was a derelict ruin; it had statue and prowess but really it was just a crumbling mass of stones in the middle of a lot of grass (120 acres to be precise). If you’re visiting the Lake District with kids, this is why you should definitely go to Lowther Castle.
The Castle’s History & Its Famous Visitors
It has a rather grand but confusing and sad history, one that incorporates abandonment, death, family feuds and bankruptcy.
The story is rather convoluted and it appears that the castle has stood since the 14th century when Sir Hugh de Lowther was granted a charter to enclose a 200 acre tract of land for a deer park beside the River Lowther. Sir Hugh built a Motte & Bailey fortification beside the river but later in the 14th century this was replaced by a Pele tower to defend against Scottish raids. Another tower was added in the 16th century and by the 17th century a central block joined the two towers. The medieval building was torn down in the late 1600’s and replaced with a Jacobean residence.
A huge fire in 1718 ruined the house until 1806 when it was re-built in the style of a medieval castle. The Lowthers who are titled with names such as the Earl of Lonsdale and 1st viscount of Lonsdale and have held the castle in their names since the 1400’s. Effectively it seems that the castle was in use until the 1930’s but then closed due to the extravagance of the 5th Earl of Lonsdale and the second world war. In order to avoid paying a death duty bill, the contents of the castle were removed in the 1940’s and the roof in 1957.
Aside from the Queen and Prince Philip, another famous and frequent visitor to the castle was William Wordsworth who wrote this poem about it.
“Lowther! in thy majestic Pile are seen
Cathedral pomp and grace in apt accord
With the baronial castle’s sterner mien”
Where Does It Stand Currently?
It seems to me that the castle is currently owned by a mix of Trusts & Estates. I cannot seem to work out which does what, however it does appear that this has been done to extract as much money as possible from the EU and various other money giving agencies. Excuse my cynicism.
The castle was abandoned for 70 years and the Lowther’s seem to have done everything possible in that time to avoid paying their fair share of tax. I guess what erks me the most is that they’ve blocked up all the verge access within the park (meaning you cannot park for free) and have forbidden picnicking and various other things. As a kid we used to park wherever we wanted and go for long dog walks, have picnics and generally just really enjoyed being there.
Anyway… after 70 years of neglect, the castle has found some of its former glory and magic and we were delighted to visit.
Opening Hours & Location
We visited mid-November and whilst the gardens are a little sparse in winter, the grounds are still spectacular and if you don’t mind the cold and wind, there’s still much to see and do. Just wrap up warm and expect every weather inside ten minutes!
There are at least twenty different areas to explore. If you intend to do them all, you will need to allow an absolute minimum of two hours. If you have children, I can guarantee they’ll want to spend AGES in the castle play area.
The map at the entrance is far easier to understand than the paper map you’re given. We got lost a number of times around the east side of the castle. This might have been because the gardens have few flowers in them (as it’s winter) and we had no real visual clue as to where we were. However, I suggest taking a copy of this map as it’s far more comprehensive.
We followed the map in the opposite direction; starting at 18 and working our way around to 4. I found it a much better route for us than the other way.
The courtyard contains a cafe, shops, gallery and stables. We had a look in the cafe and a hot chocolate was £2.95. I have no idea how this compares to other tourist attractions or cafes. They had some nice looking cakes on display however as sugar free vegans, it was always going to be a tough one for us! We decided that as we were only staying five minutes away, we would go home. Phew!
We arrived just before 2pm and left just after 4pm and all afternoon we had a constant mix of sunshine, black clouds, rain and wind. Which is to be expected for November in Cumbria.
The Castle’s Entrance
This is where you’ll be relieved of your money. Enter the gate and the gate house is to your left. They accept payment through cash and card. We paid £29 (I think) for one adult and three children. They also offer annual and lifetime subscriptions.
The South Lawns
The south lawns are directly facing the entrance and castle. They are relatively nondescript however as an expanse of near perfect grass goes, it is an enormous feat of success.
There Are Tree Swings
The tree swings are a great idea for kids and there are two in the same area as well as tree stumps and rope walks.
Jack Croft’s Pond
The pond was once used for ice and water by Jack, an employed crofter. It now houses a summer-house which gives lovely views over the pond.
Explore The Hidden Castle Adventure Playground
I am not sure which is better, Lowther Castle or The hidden castle? I know which my kids would say. I had to prize them away! I didn’t take a watch so I have no idea how long we spent here but I guestimate it was about 30 minutes. At least.
You reach the start of the children’s area with a zig-zag selection of wooden bridges, walk ways, a walking seesaw and stepping stone trunks which leads you to the entrance of the playground. So, where do I start describing just how BRILLIANT the castle is? The zip wire? The crawling tunnel? The fireman’s pole? The toddler section? It is just amazing and yes, it deserves all TWELVE photos I am about to upload.
The kids could have happily spent all afternoon there, despite the pouring rain!
The Escarpment walk
I wasn’t in charge of map reading when we were here, instead I left it to the kids. Originally they told me this was called ‘The Enchanted Walk’ and that kind of stuck with me. This was MY favourite part of the gardens and I could have quite happily just spent all my time walking up the leaf covered pathways and admiring the view over the valley.
Escarpment actually means a long, steep slope, especially one at the edge of a plateau or separating areas of land at different heights.
The walk contained squirrel hides, the jubilee summer-house and views over the valley and river.
Steps up to Patte d’Oie
This is an area not listed on the map but it is worthy of some words as it is picturesque in its own right.
Countess Garden & The Orchard
I suspect these areas are a bit nicer during the summer months when flowers and plants are blooming. For now, the orchard was a little sparse.
Inside The Castle Ruins
The ruins themselves are spectacular and have been renovated to a high standard. It’s a beautiful building and to be inside its walls is a great feeling. A lot of care has been taken on the inside gardens and they are flourishing well.
There are a few areas that are still under development; one of the outside turrets/gate houses, a section to the west of the castle and a section of tiled garden. I am not sure when these will be finished.
Final Words On Lowther Castle
So, what do I make of the Lowther castle now? I am in awe of the work that has been completed. Yes, it has cost 9 MILLION POUNDS to date with another million pounds worth of work needed! It is absolutely no small sum of money however bringing the castle back to life is fantastic. This castle shaped our history and without it The Lake District may have succumbed to Scottish rule. It is a critical part of The Lake District and I am really pleased that it has been resurrected.
My only criticism of the project is the entrance fee. I can understand charging that amount for tourists as a one off fee however local residents don’t get any reduction in entrance. Local wages aren’t very high and to deprive many locals of the opportunity to see the castle is, in my opinion, wrong.
A yearly entrance fee for our family works out at £140 which is a big chunk of a budget if you’re subjected to minimum wage.
What Else Could You Do In The Lake District With Kids?