Bolsover Castle lies just off the M1. It’s actually two castles in one. The older Norman castle and the more modern little castle.
The History of Bolsover Castle
The original castle was a Norman castle; building started in the 1100s by the Peverel family. When William Peverel died, the castle became crown property in 1155. Passing through several hands, the castle fell into disrepair. Battles caused damage, although significant amounts of money were spent on repairs.
In 1553, the castle fell into the ownership of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. The Earl was the husband of Bess of Hardwick, one of the most important and prominent of Tudor women. He also has the dubious infamy of being the jailer of Mary Queen of Scots. On his death, his son sold the castle to his stepbrother (also his brother-in-law), and so the castle fell into the hands Sir Charles Cavendish in the 1600s. He decided to start work on the tower now known as the little castle. Interesting fact, the castle actually had female labourers recorded as working with the builders. Very unusual for the time.
The Cavendish line eventually became the Dukes of Devonshire. The country estate of the Dukes is Chatsworth House, about 40 minutes from Bolsover Castle. The magnificent Hardwick Hall, largely designed by Bess of Hardwick, ancestor of the Cavendish line is also about 40 minutes away, right next to old Hardwick Hall. Mary Queen of Scots was housed at both at some point during her incarceration.
Through the years the castle passed through the Duchess of Portland to the Earls and Dukes of Portland. In 1945, the 7th Duke gifted the castle to the nation and the scheduled ancient monument is now in the care of English Heritage.
Bolsover Castle Information
The castle is a “must see” if you are passing through the area. The little castle was used as a pleasure palace, and still looks the part. The first thing that you should know is that there is limited parking. The town is built around the castle, so there are town centre carparks that you can use. It’s quite tricky to find parking on days when they hold events. The staff are very helpful about directing you to alternatives if you pull up and there’s no space.
The visitor centre is large and holds a shop and large cafe. A picnic area and very impressive children’s playground are just outside. The first part of the castle you come to is the stables and riding school. The ruins of the original castle form the terrace range running along the side. It must have been an impressive building. Children will love running around and exploring.
The star attraction, though, is the little castle. Surrounding the fountain garden is the wall walk, giving a remarkable view of the old castle to one side and the little castle to the other, with the Peak District in the distance. Entry to the little castle can be gained via the wall walk.
Expect to get a stiff neck when you explore the little castle. The paintings on the ceilings in some rooms have some very rare and beautiful paintings. The carved fireplaces are beautiful too. You can tell that the children of Bess of Hardwick must have inherited her flair for architecture and design. Some of the rooms have been left bare, others have been furnished in period style.
Bolsover Castle often has events on and its worth keeping an eye on these if you want a quiet visit, but they’re great fun if you want something more. The riding school often does horsemanship displays. They’re happy to answer questions on the technique and the horses enjoy meeting people. Other events include haunted house Halloween events, medieval mayhem, concerts and the reason for the visit we did this time – Jousting. The grounds were set up as a camp, with plenty to see while having a wander. The jousting is fun entertainment for any age. The knights really do try to win. They’re happy to answer questions on their weaponry in downtime and the life they re-enact. It feels a bit like you’ve stepped back in time.
This is a visit suitable for young and old alike. There’s something for everyone. Although those with mobility problems may struggle with seeing all the floors in little castle, the grounds still have plenty to offer and the riding school is accessible.