Close to the small town of Lostwithiel stands the ancient castle of Restormel. This majestic ring of stone is one of Cornwall’s most visited and best loved fortifications because of its peaceful setting and atmospheric ruins.
Today the elegant remains of the castle still crown the steep hill that rises up from the banks of the River Fowey, looking as if it has always been there, but its early years are in fact something of a mystery. It is thought that a Norman nobleman called Baldwin FitzTurstin may have constructed a fort here more than 900 years ago, in around 1100, to guard an important crossing point in the river.
Lostwithiel was a Stannary town, the centre of the tin trade and an important commercial hub throughout the Middle Ages and beyond so this first castle, which was probably just a wooden fort, was soon converted to stone and later further improved by FitzTurstin’s descendants who held the castle for the next 200 years.
Restormel Castle is one of the most remarkable Cornish Castles
With substantial circular walls nearly three metres thick it really is one of the most remarkable castles in Cornwall and the views from its well preserved battlements of the surrounding countryside are breath-taking.
In 1225 Edmund, the younger brother of King Henry III, became Earl of Cornwall and much of interior that we see today was added by him in the 13th century. Restormel was less of a defensive structure and more as a homely retreat for the prince. Elegant rooms with large fireplaces surrounded a central courtyard, there was a great hall for entertaining guests, a chapel and large windows, very uncastle-like, to take in those expansive views.
Despite these comforts the castle was also constructed with warfare somewhat in mind, thick walls, crossbow slit windows in the gatehouse, an emergency water supply in case of siege and a deep defensive moat, but it saw very little fighting.
Edward, the Black Princes is said to have stayed at Restormal
Edward, the Black Prince, is said to have spent time here, as the first of Cornwall’s Dukes (the latest being Prince William) from 1337 he is said to have taken a keen interest in the administration of Duchy lands using Restormel as his base. Edward was said to have been “the last truly chivalrous prince in England” and was well known for his extravagant behaviour, fine black silk clothing and lavish entertaining – it was said that the storerooms in the castle were always filled with wine and meat and the large fires always lit. However, there is only actually written evidence for him making two visits to the castle in 1354 and 1362 when he spent Christmas in Cornwall.
Restormel began to fall into disrepair in the late 14th century and by the time of the Civil War it was in a poor state. During the war it was briefly held by the Parliamentarians but retaken by Cornwall’s Royalists after a short siege. The old castle’s defences were apparently no match for 17th century artillery! And Restormel was never been lived again after that time.
Interestingly, during an excavation of the moat in the 18th century it is said that two large skeletons were uncovered, locked in each other arms, giving rise to all kinds of romantic notions as to how they came to be there, although it is generally assumed that they date from the time of the Civil War. According to records they were reburied where they lay, so we can assume that they are still there in this peaceful place to this day.
Restormel makes a wonderful place to visit and is now cared for by English Heritage.