Orford Castle – A visit to an ancient Suffolk stronghold

Orford Castle is the perfect place to spend an afternoon in Suffolk, and brush up on your history at the same time!

Just a short drive from our luxury accommodation at Mollet’s Farm you’ll find the distinct and unusual Orford Castle. Despite Framlingham having exploded in popularity thanks to Ed Sheeran’s Castle on the Hill, this castle, which is actually situated on Castle Hill, has an even more fascinating story.

External shot of Orford Castle

The Castle was built by Henry II in 1165. There is no record of Henry himself having visited the castle, although this is less surprising when you consider that he ruled the then Angevin Empire, which stretched from Scotland to the North of Spain and included most of France.

It was strategically built on the east coast, in order to deter foreign invaders and provide a harbour for supplies, as well as being a vital stronghold against the Bigard family at Framlingham Castle.

Orford Castle is also pretty special in that the records of its construction still exist. This means that we know the castle cost £1,413 to build, almost 8% of the yearly Royal income at the time; we also know it was totally cutting edge in terms of Medieval design, and included a cistern system on the roof which collected rainwater to distribute to rooms around the castle.

Despite there being no trace of any of the other buildings on this site, the castle keep is remarkably intact, allowing visitors to explore the maze of passages leading to the chapel, kitchen and other chambers in the turrets of the polygon tower.

Well in the basement of  Orford Castle

Take your time to explore the turrets. The basement is accessed by its own stairway and is where the castle’s supplies would have been held.

Follow another external staircase into the reception hall before entering the lower hall, which would have been used for court sessions were the walls are almost 3 metres thick.

The passages lead out into smaller rooms, a mini kitchen, a double seater lavatory and a small room accessed via trap door which would likely have been a prison cell.

On the next floor up is the constable’s chamber. Here in the passage, you will find a urinal, purely to save the constable from being caught short, a most thoughtful feature!

External stairway at Orford Castle

There is decorative stonework still stands in the chapel on the next floor, with some of the original decoration still visible if you look closely enough. This floor houses a chaplain’s room and storage for religious items.

Next, you will continue your ascent to the Upper Hall. This houses the king’s chambers and would have been a far more luxurious area used for visiting dignitaries. Today, it houses the Orford Castle Museum. The museum holds Roman and Medieval Artefacts and is packed full of information about the history of the castle and the local area.

Finally, you will climb up to the roof, which used to house the castle bakery, here you can admire the beautiful view of Orford itself (if you visit, The Butley Orford Oysterage is the place for seafood!) and Orford Ness, a 10-mile long shingle spit with a fascinating history.

View from Orford Castle roof

Interestingly, in 1207, a local Cistern Monk, Ralph, who was the Abbott at Coggeshall, wrote this:

“It happened that some fishermen who were fishing in the sea caught a wild man in their nets. At this, the castellan of Orford was lost in wonder. The wild man was completely naked and all his limbs were formed like those of a man. He was hairy and his beard was long and pointed. Around the chest, he was very rough and shaggy.

The castellan placed him under guard, day and night, and would not allow him to return to the sea. He eagerly ate anything that was brought to him. He devoured fish raw rather than cooked, squeezing the raw fishes in his hands until all of the moisture was removed and then eating them.

He did not wish to talk, or rather did not have the power to talk, even when suspended by his feet and tortured. On being led into the church, he showed no sign of belief or of reverence and he did not genuflect or bow his head when he saw anything holy.

He always sought out his bed at sunset and always lay there until sunrise. He was allowed to go into the sea, strongly guarded with three lines of nets, but he dived under the nets and came up again and again.

Eventually he came back of his own free will. But later on he escaped and was never seen again.”

The ’merman’ as he was dubbed was captured by the then custodian of Orford Castle, Bartholomew de Glanville, so as you admire the view from the roof of the keep, make sure you keep your eyes peeled for more mermen in the bobbing among the waves.

Butley Orford Oysterage

There really is so much to do in our little part of Suffolk, and our beautiful self-catering cottages and accessible stables studios are the perfect base from which to start. If Orford Castle has given you a taste for history why not head over to Framlingham Castle or the historic industrial town of Leiston with its ancient abbey or the archaeological treasure trove that is the Sutton Hoo.

Want to find out more about some of the wonderful things Suffolk has to offer? Be sure to check out our blog.