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North West Muncaster Castle and Gardens, Cumbria

The home of the Pennington Family for over 800 years.


Set high above the High above River Esk, it is a prominent land mark, and there are spectacular views across the fells.


The land was granted to Alan de Penitone of Pennington in Lancashire in 1208 by King John, although the family may have lived here since 1026. A castle was built here in the late C13th and enlarged in C14th when a pele tower was added. Henry VI sheltered here after the Battle of Hexham in 1464 and is reputed to have left his drinking bowl (known as the ‘Luck of Muncaster’) behind with the promise that if it remained intact, the lands would remain in the ownership of the Penningtons. The family still have the cup which is kept in the family vault.

The castle has been enlarged and modified over the years, particularly in 1780 for the Second Lord Muncaster and again in C19th for the fourth Lord Muncaster who asked Anthony Salvin to update the house. He added a new tower to mirror the original pele tower and converted the courtyard into the present drawing room.


When the 5th and last Lord Muncaster died in 1917, the estate passed to his nearest relation on his mother’s family, Sir John Ramsden, on condition he changed his name to Pennington. He carried out extensive works in the gardens and was responsible for planting the rhododendrons.

The Castle is surrounded by an extensive estate and is also home to a Hawk and Owl Centre.

A tour of the house takes about 30 minutes, covering the Great Hall, Library, Dining Room, Drawing Room and the Billiard Room, where there is a short video about the bedrooms, as these are not included in the tour at the moment.




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Entry to the house is through a doorway in a side tower beneath a Pennington crest.



This leads directly into the Great Hall, an impressive room with red walls and family portraits on the walls.



There is also a portrait of Henry I showing him holding his drinking bowl, the Luck of Muncaster.


In the oldest part of the castle, this would have been the main living area with a central fireplace, panelling around the walls and rushes and sweet smelling herbs on the floor. It was part of the Savin makeover in the C19th.

The massive central table has impressive carved legs.


At one end of the room is a heavy wooden buffet surrounded by different carved wood panels, including a carved Flemish panel of the birth of the Virgin Mary.



A stained glass of the family coat of arms is in the top of the window with the five blue diamonds on a yellow background. Above is a wild cat, symbol of the family.


The Ramsden coat of arms is above the fireplace. Below is a model of a wild cat.



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The Dining Room is off the Great Hall. A large window overlooks the lawn at the back of the house. The dining table will seat 34 people but is usually used for conservation work. When we visited one of the large tapestries was being restored.


The base of the walls are panelled. Above they are covered with Moroccan leather embossed with gold leaf. around 1800. It is in poor condition in places but apparently almost impossible to restore.


The furniture is heavy oak with a buffet and display cases with china.


The Library next to the dining room was the medieval kitchen but during the Savin modifications, the kitchens were moved and this room became the library. It is a stunning room, octagonal with a gallery round the first floor and a Gothic vaulted ceiling.


The ceiling is deep blue and decorated with stars as they would have appeared in the night sky in 1208.


The walls of the are painted yellow and covered with family portraits.


The library contains over 6000 books, with panelling where there are no bookshelves. It is a ‘busy room with comfortable armchairs around the fireplace, family photographs and belongings. The tiny carved chairs on a display table are ‘apprentice pieces’.



The long clock has a wonderful marquetry case with oriental scenes.




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The Drawing Room with its pale grey walls and grey and white domed plaster ceiling, on the opposite side of the great hall is completely different.


This used to be an outside courtyard but this was enclosed in the 1790 restoration. The present decoration is the work of Anthony Salvin in the C19th who employed Italian plasterers for the ceiling.


Panelling around the base of the walls is painted pale grey and it has a classical marble fireplace. Floor to ceiling archways lead to the gardens. The walls are covered with family portraits. The lady in the white dress above the mantle piece is Elizabeth Ramsden and was painted by Joshua Reynolds.


The tour finishes in the Billiard Room beyond the Drawing Room. This has panelled walls and an elaborate plaster ceiling with a windows above the position of a billiard table.




The room is now used to show a brief video of the bedrooms which are not visited during tours at the moment


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The Gardens

Muncaster Castle is surrounded by over 70 acres of gardens, with footpaths to explore.


Most of the grounds are covered with trees and ornamental shrubs. The estate managed for conservation with wildflower meadows, ponds and a stream. It is a haven for red squirrels.




There are no formal herbaceous borders. There is a a large grassed area at the back of the castle surrounded by bushes and hosta.



The grounds fall away at the front of the house, with views across the Esk Valley.



The Ghyll is a steep sided ravine dropping down from the wall of the stable block with ferns, trees and shrubs.


The Terrace stretches for half a mile to the north of the ghyll and was laid out in the 1780s under instructions from the first Lord Muncaster. It is a wide grassed area with trees on one side and box and yew, overlooking the Esk valley.



The summerhouse. was renovated in 1999.


St Michael and All Angels Parish Church by the coach park dates from the C15th but was extensively remodelled by Anthony Salvin in the late C19th and has recently been restored with a grant from English Heritage. It was locked when I visited.


There are a few Commonwealth war graves in the churchyard.



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Muncaster Castle Flying Displays

Muncaster Hawk and Owl Centre in the grounds of the castle houses a selection of birds of prey including eagles, owls, hawks and even vultures. As well as visiting the birds in their aviaries, the birds are the star attraction in the twice daily flying displays held in the old rose garden.

The birds are brought out individually by the handlers who talk about them and then demonstrate them flying between the various perches set around the gardens.

There was Pumpkin, a 14 week old eagle owl, who was still being trained.



Gaston, the 2 year old African Eagle Owl, was a lot more confident as he swooped silently over our heads.


Pegasus, a black chested buzzard soared high above us.


Shrew was a Lanner falcon and was wheeling and diving while she tried to catch the prey attacked to a lure being swung.

Mouse and Malarkey were African Hooded Vultures who sat and glowered from their post. Vultures are very important scavengers and very strong acids in their stomach can kill all bacteria.

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