Ruined UK castles spring back to life
There’s something unforgettable about a ruined castle — the way nature’s seeped through the stone and rendered the structure a skeleton of its former self, haunted by history.
Exploring one of the UK’s many abandoned castles, you might find yourself imagining what the fortress looked like back when its turrets were intact and its moat was filled with water.
Recreating the past
There’s been a castle in this spectacular spot since the 13th century. The present castle was built in roughly 1500.
Its imposing location had its downside: legend has it that the castle’s kitchen collapsed over the cliff edge and into the crashing waves below.
Later, it was seized by the Scottish MacDonnell clan and now lies in disrepair. Its otherworldly look is said to have inspired CS Lewis, author of the “Chronicles of Narnia” series. Apparently, the ruins formed the basis for the Narnian castle of Cair Paravel.
More recently, it played a role in hit TV series “Game of Thrones.”
Another highlight is Caerlaverock Castle in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. It lays claim to being the UK’s only triangular castle. Built in the 13th century, during Robert the Bruce’s famous rebellion, the castle was part destroyed by the Scots to stop it falling into English hands.
It was later rebuilt twice, but fell into disrepair in the 16th century and became the atmospheric ruin tourists can visit today.
Jelena Popovic, the architect and researcher who chose the six castles that NeoMam digitally recreated, explained to CNN Travel that the team picked the fortresses based on a number of key criteria.
They chose castles that hadn’t really been restored for tourist purposes, were pretty dilapidated and weather beaten, in an array of styles and with plenty of archeological research available to recreate the structures accurately.
Take Goodrich Castle, which dates back to the 1100s. It’s owned by British public charity English Heritage and has a tea room on site, but it remains a ruin.
“Once we had shortlisted the final castles, I dug deeper to find archeological research and reconstructions available on different sources,” explained Popovic.
Sources included Caithness.Org, a collaborative project by Robert Richmond, Andrew Spratt — the custodian of Scotland’s Dirleton Castle — and historian Bill Fernie. The NeoMam team also consulted MedievalHeritage.eu, a collaborative website dedicated to ancient and medieval architecture.
Past to present
So how did the team go about rebuilding the past?
First, they analyzed all the images Popovic had collated.
“If there is the tiniest window or element which allows to determine a historical size and that one is still present today, it is used as a general reference to scale up the entire location,” Laurentiu Stanciu, the architect and 3D artist, tells CNN Travel.
Dunstanburgh Castle is a huge castle in the North of England that was built as a show of might by powerful baron Earl Thomas of Lancaster in the 14th century. It formed the backdrop to some intense fighting during the Wars of the Roses, but was later abandoned.
Digitally restoring Dunstanburgh to its original height was a big task.
The team paid close attention to the materials found on the castles today and the different types of stone — although matching the materials like for like wasn’t always easy.
The last step in the process was combining the original image and the architectural drawings with the 3D recreations into an animated gif, which takes the fortress from dilapidated to reconstructed.
Also on the list is Bothwell Castle, a 13th century castle near Glasgow that was the backdrop of several battles in Scotland’s Wars of Independence, changing hands several times.
It’s also supposedly haunted by the ghost of Bonnie Jean, a noblewoman who drowned in the River Clyde while en route to elope with her lover.
The Norman castle of Kidwelly in Wales, which dates back to the 1100s, was among those recreated.
The result of these digital restorations is an incredible glimpse at the past, the viewer can watch these decrepit medieval structures restored to their former glory.
It’s suddenly easy to imagine the UK’s hundreds of castles not as crumbling relics, but important fortresses, determining battles won and lost and forming the backdrop to some of history’s most important events.