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Adults: £8.50
Children 5-17 Years: £4.50
Families (2 adults, up to 3 Children): £21.50
Families (1 adult, up to 3 Children): £13

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Visiting Orford Castle

Orford Castle still dominates its original site over 850 years of vigil over the Orford Ness in Suffolk, England. The unusual polygonal medieval keep remains remarkably intact despite dating back to 1165. Today, visitors may access the fascinating keep interior that still stands 30 metres (98.42 ft) high.

Parking

There’s a small parking area near Orford Castle where English Heritage members may park for free. The parking area is approximately 50 metres (164.04 ft) from the castle site, and there are no designated disabled parking bays. Alternatively, visitors may park in the pay and display parking area located at the quay.

 

Price

Visitors may visit the castle Monday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. unless otherwise directed by the English Heritage website, which updates weekly visiting hours. English Heritage requires a prior booking on their website, with an allocated time slot, and visitors may arrange guided tours for the castle.

 

Opening

English Heritage members may visit Orford Castle for free but ensure that they make a prior booking through the English Heritage portal. Otherwise, the current fees are as follows:

  • Adult: £8.70 with donation, £7.90 without donation
  • Child: 5-17 Years: £5.20 with donation, £4.70 without donation
  • Family (2 Adults and up to 3 Children): £22.60 with donation, £20.50 without donation

Family (1 Adult and up to Three Children): £13.90 with donation, £12.60 without donation

Location and Access

Visitors can locate Orford Castle in the town of the same name in Woodbridge Suffolk on the B104 20 miles (32.18 km) northeast of Ipswitch at the following address:

Orford castle

Orford

Woodbridge

Suffolk

IP12 2ND.

The Castle is surprisingly intact, considering it has stood over Orford Ness for over 800 years. Visitors may explore the basement, move through the lower and upper halls to the top of the keep for stunning views over Orford Ness. The lower levels are wheelchair accessible, but the mobility impaired visitors should be aware of the 91 steps that lead up to the top of the keep.

There’s an informative display on the upper floors offered by the Orford Museum Trust with local archaeological finds from the area. Exhibits include Roman brooches and medieval seals and coins. Graphic displays reveal the history of the castle, and audio tour facilities are also an option. 

Know Before You Go

  • English Heritage requires visitors to book their castle time slot on their website before visiting the castle. Even English Heritage members are included in the pre-booking requirements. 
  • Visitors will find a shop on the castle site that sells food, hot and cold drinks, and ice cream. 
  • There’s a gift shop at the entrance of the keep for visitors who wish to buy souvenirs of their castle visit.
  • Some of the castle levels offer puzzles and games for younger visitors.
  • English Heritage welcomes Dogs on a leash on the castle site.
  • Informative and engaging audio tours are included in the ticket price.
  • The castle site doesn’t offer public toilet facilities. 
  • Visitors are welcome to picnic on the grass around the castle, although only two seating areas are provided on the site.

Places To Stay Nearby

The Crown and Castle

The Crown and Castle rest on the picturesque Suffolk coast, a stone's throw from Orford Castle. The hotel offers 22 rooms with free high-speed wifi, tastefully decorated decor, and an award-winning on-site restaurant. 

Guests can enjoy the river walks and nearby forests or use the hotel as a base for further exploring the area's rich history. The hotel also offers dog firefly garden rooms for those who travel with their canine companions. Rates per room start at £114 for their Good House Room, to £250 for a suite per night.

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The King's Head Orford

The King's Head inn is a historic 13th-century pub that has been lovingly restored and offers an excellent base for exploring the area's history. The hotel is set on the beautiful Suffolk coastline and provides several activities for nature lovers. 

They have a wide selection of ales and beverages and a restaurant that sells tasty local fare. The rooms have free wifi, TV and en suite bathroom facilities. The inn offers pet-friendly suites, and the average rate per room per night is competitively priced at £110.

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Premier Inn Ipswich South East

Located in the city centre, Premier Inn Ipswich South East offers access to all the major routes to discover the history of the surrounding areas. The inn provides competitively priced accommodation with wifi, TV, and comfy Hypnos beds. 

The inn is near Ravenswood park and a short stroll to the waterfront. They offer a full English breakfast for £9.50 and accommodate single travellers to families—rates per night range from £53 to £89, depending on which package you choose.

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History of Orford Castle 

King Henry built the castle in 1165 as a show of power and a tactical move to dominate the powerful barons who rivalled his power. Henry also placed the castle on Thomas Beckett forfeited lands to prevent returning from exile in force. Prince Louis of France captured the castle briefly in 1662, but the castle saw little military activity. 

Time Line


-1154

When Henry II came to power after the Anarchy, the time was politically volatile. The East Anglian Barons had developed into powerful political figures while internecine battles plagued the Crown. To counter the power of these Barons, King Henry set about to strengthen his castles and build a new fortification at Orford in Suffolk.

Henry forced one of these Barons, Hugh Bigod, to surrender his castles and granted the lands, including Orford, to Thomas Becket, his then ally and friend.

-1164

Once appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury, Becket, and King Henry fell afoul, and Beckett fled into exile. King Henry seized his lands and decided to build a castle to display his royal might and power. 

-1165

Orford was a busy port at the time and an important trading centre in Suffolk. As there was no royal castle in Suffolk, it made sense that Henry would choose the busy harbour close to his rival Hugh Bigod. Henry commenced construction of the castle, and the building lasted between 1165-1167, although construction continued for several years after. 

-1173

Henry II's sons rebelled against him, and the country fell into civil war. The King made Orford ready to repel an attack, but the rebellion ran its course, ending the following year.

-1189

Henry II died in 1189, and the castle passed to Richard I. 

-1216

Prince Louis of France invaded England, aided by the English Barons who rebelled against the King. Louis captures several castles, including Orford, after he landed in East Anglia.

John Fitz-Robert took control of the castle under the young Henry III, and then the poverty passed to Hubert de Burgh.

-1272

Prince Edward visited Orford castle in 1272 and spent the night. Although the castle was under Crown control, a series of Çonstables occupied the site when the Sheriff or the Royals were not present. 

-The Mid-1300s

The Uffords extensively modernised the castle adding new hoods to the fireplaces and glass to the castle windows and replacing the wooden floors. It’s unlikely that Orford was the primary Ufford residence at the time. The castle passed through the Ufford line until 1419.

-1419

The castle passed hands into the Willoughby family through marriage.

-The 1590s

Michael stanhope purchased Orford Castle, and historians believe he began dismantling Orfords outer walls to build Sudbourne hall nearby. 

-The Late 1500s

Orford began to decline as the port began to fill with silt, and trading moved the port at Ipswich.  

-1754

The Seymour-Conway family bought Orford Castle, but by the 18th century, only the north wall of the bailey remained, and the roofs and upper levels were in a state of decay.

The family attempted to demolish the site, but luckily, the government refused permission because the castle was a landmark for ships approaching from Holland. 

-1831

Francis Seymour-Conway, the son of  Francis Seymour-Conway, the 2nd Marquess of Hertford, began conservation of the castle, replaced the upper floor, and laid a flat lead roof to protect the interior from the elements. However, by the 1840s, all the bailey walls and murals had been plundered to their foundations. 

-1872 

Richard Wallace bought the castle and estates and hosted shooting parties and lunches at the castle.

-1928

After passing through several owners, Sir Arthur Churchman granted the castle to the Orford Town Trust. The ministry of works took guardianship of the site in 1962.

-Today

Orford Castle is a heritage site protected by law. English heritage has custodianship of the site and offers visitors access for a nominal fee

Orford Castle Occupants

  • 1216: John Fitz Robert occupied the castle and, after him, Hubert de Burgh.
  • 1270: Hugh Dennington, constable of Orford Castle, occupied the castle, using it to wield his power and imprisoned and abused several people who fell into his disfavour, including a man who died of his injuries in the castle.
  • 1330: Robert Ufford occupied the castle and later became Earl of Suffolk. 
  • Mid 1300s: The Uffords occupied the castle, although it’s unlikely the castle was their primary residence. The castle then passed through the Ufford family until 1419.
  • 1419: The Willoughby family occupied the castle.
  • In the 1590s-Michael stanhope took ownership of the castle but is unlikely to have stayed in the site.
  • 1831: Francis Seymour-Conway housed his guests on the upper floors of the castle.

Images of Orford Castle

Orford Castle Orford Castle
Orford Castle Orford Castle

Images Supplied and licensed from Shutterstock Standard Licence Package

Orford Castle Facts

  • The legend of the Wild Man of Orford began in the castle when a local fisherman caught a naked and hairy man in their fishing nets in 1167. The man was imprisoned in the castle and tortured for several months before escaping to the sea. 
  • The townsfolk at the time believed the wild man to be a merman, and visitors will find his image in several church fonts built at the time.
  • Several of the castle rooms were draught-proofed and designed to catch the morning sun.  
  • The Orford Castle design was unique in its time and mirrored the proportion of churches. 
  • The rounded towers were novel at the time and eliminated the weakness of the square keep structures at the time.
  • Historians believe that the Byzantine castles of the time may have influenced the unusual Orford castle design. 
  • The castle was almost demolished and only escaped ruin by its essential role as a navigation point for seafarers who needed to avoid treacherous sandbanks. 

Orford Castle Q&A

What Kind of Castle Is Orford Castle?

Orford Castle is one of five medieval royal castles in Norfolk and Suffolk and one of the complete examples of its kind with only minor alterations from its original construction. What makes Orford Castle unique is its polygonal design and its use of mural or flanking towers, the first in the country.

The keep remains in a well-preserved state, stands almost 30 metres (98.42 ft) high, and an early mason built it out of 4 different kinds of stone. The unique structure of the castle reflects the multiple roles that its construction entailed, such as administrative, military, and a symbolic display of power. 

How Old Is Orford Castle?

Henry II commissioned the building of Orford Castle in 1165 as a show of power in an area controlled by powerful barons. Although subsequent occupants extensively modified the castle's interior during its lengthy lifespan, they made very few alterations to the iconic site in its 850 years of history.

Restoration to the roof and upper floors in the 1800s protected the castle interior from further damage and is to thank for its well-preserved state. 

Who Built Orford Castle?

Henry II commissioned Orford Castle in 1165 for a considerable sum of £1414 9s 2d. The castle was a strategic move to counter the growing power of the East Anglian Barons, whose powers had flourished during the Anarchy.

Another reason he chose the site to build Orford castle was to prevent the return of exiled Thomas Becket, and whose forfeited land was Orford Castle's castle site.

Orford was a bustling port town at the time and was the hub of thriving transport and trade. Henry saw the advantage of a castle close to the major trade routes at the time. The castle was also close to Farlinglam Castle, where one of the most powerful barons, Hugh Bigod, had his centre of power. For these multiple reasons, Henry built the unique Orford Castle we see today. 

Location of Orford Castle

Orford Castle lies on the western edge of the village of Orford in the English county of Suffolk, overlooking the Orford Ness. The location was a strategic choice for King Henry II, who rose to power in a time of political upheaval. In an area dominated by east Anglian Barons, Henry had to show his power. 

The area was a bustling port town at the time and a vital trading area and afforded Henry not only a trading centre but close proximity to one of his main rivals Hugh Bigod.

The castle is remarkable in that very little changed in terms of extensions or alterations of the polygonal keep, despite the pondering and removal of most of the surrounding defensive wall and murals. 

Other Places To Visit Near Orford Castle

Framlingham Castle 

Framlingham Castle dates back to 1148 but was rebuilt after slighting in the Revolt of 1173-1174. It was the seat of the powerful Roger Bigod, and his son Hugh Bigod built the first stone castle. The castle is unusual in that it has no central keep. Instead, Bigod chose thirteen mural towers embedded in the curtain walls for defence.

English heritage allows visitors to explore the castle ruins for a fee which they use to upkeep this fascinating scheduled monument. The castle site also offers fun activities for kids, such as ''Hats Through the Ages, where they can try on various hats, from a Norman helmet to a workhouse cap.  

St. Bartholomew's Church

St. Bartholomew's Church stands on a market hill a stroll away from Orford Castle. The church's history is closely intertwined with that of the Castle. The castle made the area an essential royal centre that required a church as the village population grew.

The church dates back 1165 and 1163, and the site offers Norman Pillars and carved capital remains in the nave and a 15th century carved font. The church also has fine examples of later Victorian furnishings, including a colourful screen that stretches the entire width of the church. 

Leiston Abbey

The impressive ruins of Leiston Abbey were once a powerful monastery built in 1182. The original site was near the marshes, and the church chose another location to build the church in 1363. A fire ravaged the unlucky site in 1397, and the church rebuilt the abbey once more.

The remains of the Abbey church boasts a sizable north transept arch which gives visitors a glimpse of how impressive the church must have been in its day. Near the transept is the thatched lady chapel which is still used for worship. English heritage allows visitors to explore the grounds for free. 

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