Lowther Castle sits on the eastern edge of the Lake District National Park, in the gently rolling countryside beside the River Lowther. What you see today is just the outer shell of the mansion built for the first Earl of Lonsdale, William Lowther, in 1814 – largely with a fortune derived from the West Cumberland coal mines. The family’s wealth, however, was squandered by the fifth earl and his ostentatious lifestyle in the first few decades of the twentieth century, and the Lowthers were forced to dismantle the castle in 1957.
Today though, the site is so much more than just these outer walls; it’s a place for lovers of gardens and woods to wander, it’s part of a larger estate for cyclists and walkers to explore and, for children, it’s a huge adventure playground.
Visitors enter the grounds through an exhibition explaining the history of the castle and the family who own it, and then step out into the informal garden that’s been planted within the walls of the mansion. The best view of the ruin is from the massive lawns and landscaped grounds that lie to the south of it. First laid out in the seventeenth century, these have only recently been restored and work continues on returning them to their former glory.
Paths criss-cross the grounds, providing vantage points from which to admire the ruins, the gardens and the surrounding countryside. The Western Terrace, in particular, provides superb views across the valley to the fells of the eastern Lake District. Should the weather turn bad, there are restored summerhouses scattered about; grab a hot drink from the ‘into the woods’ refreshment hut, and wait for the rain to pass.
Younger visitors will find lots to do, whatever the weather. There are tree swings, a willow den and balance beams. But best of all, there’s the Lost Castle. Hidden away in the woods, this is a wooden representation of the real castle – a massive maze of walkways and turrets big enough for the whole family to explore. There are slides and zip wires and climbing walls… some of it designed for older children, some intended specifically for toddlers.
As well as the ‘into the woods’ refreshment hut, Lowther Castle also has an indoor café that serves hot and cold meals. This is located in the entrance courtyard where you’ll also find a souvenir shop and bike hire. Bikes aren’t allowed within the castle grounds, but there are many miles of trails across the 3,500-acre Lowther Park and out into the surrounding countryside. For walkers, there is a waymarked route that leads down to the banks of the River Lowther and then up on to the low moorland above the pretty village of Askham. Known as the Lowther Castle Loop, this is a seven-mile extension to the 20-mile Ullswater Way.