THE journey itself is worth the effort: along the winding, wildflower-rich roads of the Yorkshire Dales, past lush meadows, burbling rivers and pretty villages, the route to Middleham is a delight, particularly under cloudless skies.

We stopped on the way for a bite to eat at Masham, wandering around its cobbled square and having a peek in St Mary’s Church, whose elegant steeple can be seen for miles. Then on to our destination, the small market town set in beautiful countryside where the valleys of Coverdale and Wensleydale meet.

Dominating the skyline, stands the object of our trip - the dramatic, well-preserved ruins of Middleham Castle, the childhood home of King Richard III.

It is a fascinating place to explore, with towering outer walls - surviving at almost full height - and numerous lofty chambers to gaze into. There is no shortage of doorways and cubby holes, which excited children were exploring as we walked around.

The oldest part of the structure is the rectangular Great Tower, or keep, with a chapel on its east side. One of the largest in the country, it once rose to a height of 66 feet, with 12ft-thick walls. It contained a great chamber, large kitchen, chapel, dovecote, cellars and the living rooms of the lords of Middleham.

Stone stairs would have accessed a magnificent Great Hall, the most important room in the castle, used for feasting and entertainment, and occasionally a local courtroom. Now lacking its floor and roof, the stairs are also gone, with a wooden flight taking visitors up to a landing, beyond which a further stairwell climbs up to a corner turret.

It’s an easy climb, with breathtaking views across the town and countryside. Among the points of interest are numerous stables, a common sight in a town that is home to a thriving racehorse training industry.

If you don’t want to buy a guide book, information boards will help, explaining the history of the castle and its ownership.

There’s a small gift shop at the English Heritage attraction, where drinks are available from a vending machine. We found Steph, the assistant on duty that day, a mine of information, knowledgeably answering every question. She had, she told us, a lifelong interest in Richard III.

The 12th century castle was built by Robert Fitzrandolph, the third Lord of Middleham and Spennithorne. It was built near the site of an earlier motte and bailey castle - a fortification with a wooden or stone keep built on a raised earthwork – called William’s Hill, constructed early in the reign of William Rufus.

In 1270 the new Middleham Castle came into the hands of the Neville family, the most notable member of which was Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, known to history as the ‘Kingmaker’, a leading figure in the Wars of the Roses.

After his death at the Battle of Barnet, the castle passed to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, through his marriage to Warwick’s daughter Anne Neville. He ascended to the throne in 1483, but spent little time at Middleham during his reign.

After Richard’s death in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth, the castle remained in royal hands until the reign of James I. It later fell into disuse and disrepair. Richard’s older brother King Edward IV was imprisoned at Middleham for a short while, having been captured by Warwick in 1469, when the latter led an uprising against him.

Every room brings evidence of how the castle’s occupants lived. There are the large fireplaces and stone cupboards in the basement kitchens, along with wells, and features believed to support cauldrons. Sixteenth century ovens can be seen, as well as the remains of a stone wash basin and pantry.

After leaving the castle, we walked along the track beside the ruin, across fields of buttercups, to William’s Hill. For any keen photographer, the views from the top of this historic mound towards the castle are glorious. We could see a cricket match in progress, and the nearby ‘gallops’ where racehorses are exercised. Racehorses have been trained at Middleham for more than 200 years and there are several hundred horses stabled here. It is a common sight to spot them around galloping through the surrounding countryside.

Middleham is elegantly arranged around two market squares surrounded by Georgian buildings, interesting shops, pubs, galleries and cafés.

To end the day we had a drink in the cosy atmosphere of the Richard III Hotel in the Market Place, where you can admire the many prints of racehorses, old and modern, and chat to friendly locals and visitors. On July 7 and 8 special celebrations honouring Richard III will be held in Middleham town and castle, including reenactments and medieval market stalls.

*Middleham Castle, Castle Hill, Middleham, North Yorkshire. For details of prices and opening times visit or call 0370 333 1181.