From cliff-top ruins to subterranean tunnels, our shoreline fortifications reveal the chequered history of the British coast. Words: Alex Reece

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, by Kyle of Lochalsh, Highlands

If the silhouette of Eilean Donan Castle looks familiar, that might be due to its starring roles in movies such as Highlander and Entrapment. Standing on an island overlooking the Isle of Skye, its setting alone is enough to warrant a visit. The first version of the castle was built in the 13th century to repel the Vikings. Then, following a Jacobite uprising in 1719, it stood ruined for 200 years, before being restored as a family home in the early 20th century. Most of the interior rooms are now open to the public. Traditional music fans should check out the live sessions here in July. Open daily, 10am-6pm. Admission: adults £10;  child £6; family ticket £29 under-6 free (

Caernarfon Castle, near Bangor, Gwynedd

Photo: Crown copyright (2015) Cadw
Caernarfon’s imposing architecture was a statement of Edward I’s newly gained power in the region. Climb up the Queen’s Gate for views of Snowdonia, or look down on the Welsh slate dais built for Prince Charles’s investiture here as Prince of Wales in 1969. Events taking place range from recreated battles to theatrical productions. Open daily 9:30-5pm. Admission: adults £9.25;  family ticket £31; under-fives free (

Corfe Castle, Wareham, Dorset

Photo: National Trust Images, David Levenson
Enid Blyton visited the castle in 1940, and it’s thought the towering ruins gave her the idea for Kirrin Castle, which appears in her Famous Five books. Stones from the wrecked castle were re-used for some of the buildings in the outlying village. See the website for the castle’s lively events programme. Open daily, 10am-5pm. Admission: adults £10; children £5; family £25. (

Carisbrooke Castle, outside Newport, Isle of Wight

Charles I was imprisoned here prior to his execution. Latterly, the castle was home to the governors of the Isle of Wight, such as Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter. Her private garden has been brought back to life, and the Carisbrooke donkeys are another well-loved feature. 10am-4pm, daily thereafter. Admission: adults £12.50; children £7.50 (under-fives free); family ticket £32.50 (

Dunluce Castle, Bushmills, County Antrim

Dunluce Castle is one of Northern Ireland’s most iconic historic monuments, perched on the north Antrim coastline on a dramatic rocky promontory. Legend has it that the entire kitchen collapsed into the sea during a banquet held in 1639. The adjoining town of Dunluce was subsequently destroyed by fire during the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Open daily, 9:30am-5pm. Admission: adults £5.25; children £3.50 (under-fives free); concessions £3.95; family ticket £15.75 (

Dover Castle, Dover, Kent

Dover’s frontline role in 2000 years of European conflict is clearly visible at this elevated site, above the White Cliffs, where an Iron-Age hill fort was rebuilt first by William the Conqueror, and then Henry II, whose Great Tower still survives intact. The castle remained garrisoned until 1958, and its network of Secret Wartime Tunnels is a popular attraction, detailing how the Dunkirk rescue operation was masterminded here in 1940. Open 10am-4pm. Admission: adults £11.75; children £7.05; concessions £10.60; family ticket £30.55 (

Star Castle Hotel, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly

This 16th-century fortress, built in the shape of an eight-pointed star, was founded during the reign of Elizabeth I, following the Spanish Armada. It was converted into a hotel in 1933, but reminders of its bellicose past include military memorabilia and a dungeon, which now serves as the hotel bar. Food in the two award-winning restaurants is predominantly locally sourced. Dinner, bed & breakfast from £117 per person (

Hackness Martello Tower and Battery, Hoy, Orkney

Hackness is one of only three Martello towers built in Scotland. Along with its sister tower at Crockness, on the other side of Longhope Sound, it was established in the early 19th century to rebuff French and American privateers. Stand on the roof of this three-storey structure to take in the sea views towards Scapa Flow. The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre & Museum, also on Hoy, tells the story of Orkney’s role in both World Wars. Open Mon, Tue, Thurs, Fri, Sun in summer, 9.30am-5.30pm. Admission: adults £6; children £3.60; under-fives free, concessions £4.80 (

Discover more inspiration for places to visit along our coastline in our Coastal Guides section. Or keep up to date with the magazine for our latest finds.