Sandwiched between the bustling heartlands of Staffordshire, the M6 and sprawling countryside is a small piece of history in idyllic surroundings atop a perch that gave it a strategic hold over the local area; Stafford Castle once marked the hold the normans held over the area, but is now a local attraction for wanderers, history lovers and school trips alike! The castle retains a considerable amount of its original form but what really impressed us on our visit was the wealth of information boards that drew a wonderful picture of Stafford Castle throughout the ages. It is a beautiful place to explore and one that should be seen if you find yourself in the area - so let us paint you a picture of a day filled with history in Staffordshire.
Given Stafford Castle's proximity to the town of the same name and in turn the strong A-road links plus the M6, this is an easily accessible day out that could be dropped in on at a moment's notice. The main entrance sits off of the Newport Road A518, with a short run down to a small car park and visitors centre; we visited on a cold spring Thursday morning and the car park by the time we left was a third full, still nice and quiet but I can imagine this being absolutely heaving during peak summer. Otherwise, there isn't too much to say, this is the perfect quick stop off that you can easily drop into when you find yourself in the area. As you would expect with something so central to a town there are plenty of public transportation options - in fact, the castle is barely a 2-mile walk from the centre of Stafford. The train station is on the same side of town as the castle and busses can drop you off right at the castle church just a stones-throw from the entrance to the car park.
At the car park for Stafford Castle, there are a couple of buildings directly at the front of the car park including a visitors centre and a toilet building. The visitors centre has plenty of information on the history of the castle as well as the option for hands-on interaction with arms and costumes. It is a great little bit of education, especially for the little ones, and the shop offers a great selection of gifts and souvenirs as well as a few snacks. Behind the visitors centre, there is a small garden that is worth a quick walk before heading into the castle grounds proper - this handful of herb patches linked together by a picturesque set of arches is well worth a quick explore, especially at the right time of year when the beds are in full bloom. This garden is representative of the stock of herbs kept for medicinal purposes in the castle based on an inventory taken in 1537, each planter has a label to indicate what the herbs would have been used to treat and it is an excellent little glimpse into normal life for the citizens of the castle at the time.
You enter the castle either through the kissing gate or by going around the fence - there is an opening to the left that we went to first as it took us straight to the woodland walk. The walk is circular with a few branching paths off into the trees that make a nice start to your visit, it allows you some nice views beyond the castle (depending on where you are and which season you visit in - with the plants in full bloom some views may be obstructed) before circling around and bringing you to the castle up a short hill. The woodlands are tranquil and full of birdsong, but they are also absolutely littered with information boards; I would go as far as to say that the number of information boards around the castle and grounds is actually pretty impressive, they are well detailed and offer one of the better experiences for learning, in my opinion. A lot of castles opt to have a room somewhere with all of the information dumped out onto massive boards, which is fine but it can be a little dry and you may brush over it in favour of actually exploring. The beauty of Stafford Castle's method is you get to explore while being drip-fed bite-sized chunks of info, a much nicer way to blend the history with the fun part of the exploration. As you walk expect to find some dirt and mud pathways but nothing that a good pair of shoes can't get by, towards the end the route up the hill just turns to grass but just follow the information boards and you will soon be downhill from the castle.
Our final stop is the castle, if you didn't want to follow the woodlands walk or need a more accessible route then you can follow the direct lane to the castle - this lane goes straight from the original kissing gate up the hill (if you need disability access you can speak to the staff in the information centre), before curving around the castle to the right to help smooth out the gradient. From here you will be right at the side of Stafford Castle, before heading to the top if you head a little way out from the path onto a little grass mound you can get a great vantage point to admire the castle from. Generally, the keep will be open within the same hours as the visitors centre but it is always worth checking before you travel to ensure you will be able to get in. Otherwise, you can do a quick lap of the keep to check out what remains and the views beyond - a lot of the castle's outer structures would have been wood so between your imagination, and the plentiful information boards, you can draw up a pretty good picture of what the world beyond the castle walls would have looked like at the time as well as get some great views out over modern-day Stafford.
Let's wrap up your visit to Stafford Castle with a touch of history, and the history here begins far before the modern castle. There is evidence of a wooden castle and fortified town constructed by the Saxon warrior-princess Æthelflæd, ruler of the Mercians; the exact site of the original castle is unknown but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a collection of historical records, notes the construction of a castle at Stafford in the year 913. It would be by the 1070s, with the Saxons driven out and the Normans taking their place, that a Norman by the name of Robert de Stafford would be assigned lord over the future Staffordshire by William the Conqueror. The initial keep would have been a wooden motte and bailey from which Robert could collect taxes from the native Anglo-Saxons which would stand until the 14th century when Ralph de Stafford would commission a stone keep to replace the original fort. Its early history was fairly quiet, the Stafford family playing their part in history, at least until the castle was seized by the crown under the instruction of Henry VIII, who executed Edward Stafford to eliminate his potential claim to the throne. The castle would later be returned to the Staffords but would fall into disrepair by the 17th century, but the castle would finally see action as part of the Civil War, where Lady Isabel Stafford, a Royalist, would hold the castle after the Parliamentarians captured the town of Stafford. The castle would hold for a little over a month before the threat of a massive Parliamentarian force approaching caused the castle to fall - to prevent reuse as a defensive structure the castle was slighted.
The slighting wouldn't be the end of Stafford Castle, as it gradually became more unstable there became a need to reinforce what little remained of the walls. The work was carried out in the 1790s, but the workers discovered substantial parts of the basements remained with their contents undisturbed since the abandonment of the castle. Sir William Jerningham ordered the clearing of the basements as well as the overgrowth on the castle mound, which then led to a partial reconstruction as a Gothic Revival building from 1813 - the construction didn't make it far and by the 20th century, the castle was once again in a state of disrepair with sections of masonry falling from the towers and vandalism leaving its marks. To prevent potential injury the towers were demolished and the castle would eventually be given to the local authorities for maintenance.
That just about wraps up Stafford Castle, it is a great option for a quick stop off to soak up some history or a bit of a wander in beautiful surroundings. Its convenient location means it is an option for almost anyone and is another perfect place to visit as part of a grander day's adventure as you pass through. Just a little way beyond Stafford is some of my favourite haunts dotted around Cannock Chase - including the stunning Shugborough Hall and the chase itself, consider coupling your day of history with a bit of a deer hunt. The castle itself is a great remnant of British history, even if you don't have a love of history I think everyone can appreciate a good castle, especially one with views like this.