Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, built Penrith Castle to defend northwest England from Scottish raids. He was granted the manor of Penrith in 1396 and made the castle not long after that on what's believed to be the site of an old Roman fort. The Nevilles were one of the most powerful families in England.
Ralph's son Richard, 5th Earl of Salisbury, added the Red Tower and improved the castle's entrance, making the castle his headquarters. The castle would pass to his son, also Richard Neville, 6th Earl of Salisbury, and 16th Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker. The Kingmaker was killed at the Battle of Barnet on April 14th, 1471, and Penrith Castle reverted to the crown and granted to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, future King Richard III. Richard would use the castle as a base to hold off the Scots to the north and lived there between 1471 and 1485.
The castle fell into decay in the 16th century during the Tudor dynasty, and stonework was removed and used to construct other buildings in and around Penrith. Later, during the English Civil War, a detachment of Parliamentarian soldiers under General John Lambert would use Penrith Castle as their headquarters in 1648. The castle would be slighted and dismantled in the 1650s.
The castle ruins would pass between several Dukes in the 18th century before being sold to the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway Company, who built the nearby Penrith Railway station. Ownership of Penrith Castle passed to the Penrith Urban District Council, who converted the grounds where the castle stands into a public park. Today, Penrith Castle is under the guardianship of English Heritage.
Penrith Castle feels lost in time as it sits quietly on the edge of a park across the street from the train station and a McDonald's. Its location in the park is on lower ground and not at the highest point of the hill, which supports the likelihood it was built on the remains of a Roman fort.
The castle is made of red sandstone and retains a good portion of its curtain wall. Inside the castle's courtyard are the foundations for the apartments, hall, kitchen range, and a well. Fragments of the Red Tower also stand at the castle's north end. A dry ditch moat still surrounds the castle, as well as the remains of the outer gatehouse and bridge abutment.
Penrith Castle can be visited in about an hour or two. To make a full day of visiting castles, Brougham Castle is less than two miles away to the east.
Penrith Castle is also haunted.