The Keep

The Keep was constructed during the 12th century, when the sum of £4 was paid to the Constable of Bamburgh. This does not appear a great sum but the estate tenants would have been obliged to provide materials and labour for free.

The KeepThe massive square structure is the oldest surviving part of the castle. Its mighty walls are 11 feet thick to the front and 9 feet wide elsewhere. The Keep sits on a massive plinth, designed to stop attackers digging underneath and setting fires to collapse the walls.

Stones quarried three miles away at North Sunderland were carried to Bamburgh on the backs of horses and men. Built by scaffolding to the first storey, the rest of the Keep was built by masons using "over-hand" work. This means the walls overhang a little at each side as they are wider at the top than the bottom. Built to withstand attack, the Keep's massive walls are between three and four metres thick. Its bottle-shaped doorway allowed soldiers on horseback to enter at a gallop without dismounting. The well, a reliable source of clean water, was critical in a defensive site. Now enclosed in the Keep it dates  back to Anglo Saxon times. Sunk through 48 metres of solid rock, the well is an incredible feat of early engineering. Workers at the time would have had only the simplest tools to help them cut through the resilient whinstone.

In the Laidley Wyrme fable, legend tells that Behoc, the evil step mother turned into a toad, is banished to live in the depths of the Gaitwell. She preys to this day on unsuspecting maidens.

Inside the Keep is the Armoury, a chilling collection of arms and armour bear the scars of battle. Pikes, halberds and muskets issued to local militia in anticipation of a Napoleonic invasion line the walls.

The Castle Stonework
The different periods of the castle's story over the last thousand years can be seen in its stonework. Look carefully from the Castle Green and you'll see a mix of pink and grey coloured stonework in its outer wall. Stones with a pinkish hue are the medieval remains of the original building. The grey/greenstones are those used by Lord Armstrong during his restoration. They were quarried at Cragside his country seat at Rothbury, 28 miles from Bamburgh and brought by great convoys of horse wagons.


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