As part of a summer holiday staycation I visited Oxford Castle Unlocked for a day out with my sister and two nieces, both aged 8. We were keen to make the most of a day in Oxford and this opportunity to explore the history of the castle.
Built in 1071 by Richard d’Orilly, a Norman baron and close ally of William the Conqueror, Oxford Castle has had a constant presence in key historic moments of Oxford’s evolution. Most of the castle was destroyed in the English Civil War and by the 18th century the remaining buildings had become Oxford’s local prison. This later became HM Prison Oxford, which closed in 1996.
We enjoyed a very entertaining and informative tour with our tour guide who made our visit a lot of fun. Guides are all dressed in costume to represent one of the many characters historically associated with the castle. As well as the castle tour, we had planned to join Knight School, however this was unfortunately cancelled on the day of our visit.
Our tour started at 2pm; visitors are asked to gather in the shop to start the tour, which takes place in groups of around 15-20 people.
Our guide started the tour by explaining that we would uncover 1,000 fascinating years of Oxford’s history.
We climbed a steep and narrow staircase of 101 steps to the top of the Saxon stone-built St. George’s Tower. Here, we enjoyed 360° panoramic views across Oxford (although there was a downpour of rain as we reached the top). The tower is not only one of the oldest parts of the castle, but also believed to be the oldest building in Oxford.
We then descended from the tower to continue the tour, exploring the Prison D-wing and the atmospheric 900 year old underground Crypt.
The Crypt represents the only surviving remains of St. George’s Chapel where it is said, the education for which Oxford is famed, began.
After almost one millennia filled with episodes of violence, executions, great escapes, betrayal and even romance, the tour of Oxford Castle reveals its stories about the ordinary people who roamed the site.
There’s plenty of memorabilia and extraordinary tales that unlock the Castle, making this a really enjoyable day out for adults and children alike.
My nieces were really intrigued by the history of the castle, enjoying every aspect from the prison cells to the Crypt and St. George’s Tower.
The tour guide interacted well with the group and followed a good pace; it was easy for my family and I to follow the history and enjoy the experience of exploring the castle.
After the tour there’s an extended option for visitors to climb the 11th century old Mound to enjoy views of Oxford. Thankfully the weather had brightened up by this stage and we enjoyed a clear view of the bustling town below.
The tour lasts for around one hour. Visitors are then free to visit the shop or cafe, although we chose to also have a wander around the town centre before heading home.
If you happen to be stuck for things to do this summer then I highly recommend a trip to Oxford Castle. It’s a fun and engaging way to learn about the castle and the city of Oxford, from its beginnings as a Saxon settlement through to the world-famous city that it is today.
In my opinion the tour isn’t suitable for younger children (under 5), and access is restricted for wheelchair and pushchair users. Members of our group had babies with them and were asked to stay at the foot of St. George’s Tower due to health and safety reasons. Parking is available in a nearby multi-storey where I paid around £10 to park for 5 hours; the castle can then be accessed on foot.
The cost of the tour is reasonably priced. Adult tickets cost £10.95 and child tickets are priced at £7.75. Concession rates are available. Visitors can view opening times and book a tour of the castle online. Plan your visit today.
Many thanks to Oxford Castle Unlocked for providing complimentary access for my family and I to visit.