Powderham Castle is one of Devon's best preserved historic castles. It is every schoolboy's dream of a “proper castle” with turrets and battlements, square towers, a chapel and an impressive gatehouse at the end of the narrow approach. Situated by the River Exe just 7 miles from Exeter, Powderham dates back to the 14th century with later additions showing Georgian, Victorian and Gothic styles. It is still the family home of the Earl of Devon but is open to the public for guided tours around the castle rooms and gardens.
Neighbouring Exeter Castle, also known as Rougemont, is right in the city centre in Northernhay Park. All that remains of this 11th century Norman ringwork fortress is the three-storey gatehouse with a gate-passage, defensive curtain wall and several towers.
A little better preserved is Tiverton Castle, which used the steep banks of the River Exe for additional protection. This 12th century motte and bailey fortress has a round tower, three sides of a court and the ruined remains of a large square tower.
Also built on top of a mound or “motte” is Okehampton Castle. This was the largest castle in Devon and the remains of the 11th century keep are surrounded by a deep ditch. The inner bailey is approached through the outer and inner gatehouses to reveal the lodgings, chapel, main hall, kitchen and solar. The castle was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 but in its long history it never saw action. It was abandoned in 1539 when the owner, the Marquis of Exeter, was executed for treason against Henry VIII.
Just eight miles away is Lydford Castle, built by Richard I in the 12th century. The square keep is three storeys high and was used as a courthouse and prison in the 18th century.
Dartmouth Castle is in a spectacular setting, guarding the mouth of the River Dart. Well restored, it has two towers with gun platforms at either side and open-air cannons that had ship-sinking capabilities. The square tower has gunports on the seaward side and the round tower has musket slits and a basement for using defensive weapons. The castle was held for three years by the Royalists during the Civil War and was used in both world wars before being placed in the hands of English Heritage.
Just across the river is Kingswear Castle which was built in 1491 as an artillery tower to support Dartmouth Castle. It is now owned by the Landmark Trust and is not open to the public. At one time a chain ran across the estuary between the castles and was raised each evening to prevent enemy ships from entering the harbour.
Other castles in Devon include Bottreaux Castle at Boscastle, Marisco Castle on Lundy Island, a few remains of Bampton Castle, Berry Pomeroy Castle with its haunted Tudor mansion, Bickleigh Castle on the River Exe, Hemyock Castle, Totnes Castle with its Norman shell keep, Bayard's Cove Fort at Dartmouth, Compton Castle and Salcombe Castle on North Sands Beach.