Mystery of Pendragon Castle near Kirkby Stephen matched by its storied history

Picture: Marisa Cashill. Words: John Blow.

Pendragon Castle. Picture: Marisa Cashill.
Pendragon Castle. Picture: Marisa Cashill.

Of all the fascinating ruins in the North, Pendragon Castle can stake a claim to be among the more mysterious.

The Grade I-listed ancient monument near Kirkby Stephen, in the remote dale of Mallerstang, is named after Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur, who legend has it built the fortress.

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But that’s not quite the story, says Yorkshire Dales National Park says (though the ruin is actually in Cumrbia. The authority says there is no evidence to show there was a castle at the spot before the 12th century.

It is reported that at that time a nobleman called Ranulph de Meschines built the oldest part, a Norman keep, and there were later additions, including a 14th-century turret.

The castle has had several notable owners, though, including Sir Hugh de Morville, one of the knights who murdered Sir Thomas Beckett in 1170.

He was Lord of Westmorland and Hugh’s Seat – which is a peak on the Mallerstang ridge – is named after him.

The castle was left uninhabitable after attacks by Scottish raiders, but in 1660 it was restored by Lady Anne Clifford, who added a brew house, bake house, stables and coach house and was a frequent visitor until her death in 1676.

This followed 40 years of legal wrangling for her to become its keeper. She restored it in line with other fortifications which she had also repaired: including her birthplace Skipton Castle; plus Brougham, Brough and Appleby castles.

Unfortunately her successors did not revere the site quite so much and in 1685 the roof was stripped so the lead and timber could be transported to Skipton, where it was used for re-roofing the old market town’s flagship castle. In 1963, Raven Frankland – a skilled stonemason, farmer, landowner and county councillor – purchased the castle for £525, which was less than the agricultural value of the land.

He died in 1998, followed years later by his wife, Juliet, who bequeathed the castle close to the River Eden and under Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang Edge to John Bucknall, Raven’s cousin.

Technical details: Fujifilm X-T3 camera, 16-55mm lens, 1/125th second at f11, ISO 200.