Welcome to Pendragon Castle - Yorkshire’s most mysterious ruin

Robert Louis Stevenson might have been describing a little secret of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNP) in his children’s poem, From a railway carriage.

In it he writes: “And here is a castle and there is a river each a glimpse and gone forever.”

Pendragon Castle might indeed have “gone forever” had not good fortune intervened. Many of those who first glimpse Pendragon’s romantic silhouette from a railway carriage on the Settle-Carlisle railway are no doubt intrigued by the story behind it.

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Motorists driving through Mallerstang, the lovely sequestered dale near Hawes, are also likely to have their curiosity piqued by the remnants of this 12th century castle standing in a field.

Date:18th January 2019. Picture James Hardisty. YP Magazine......Pendragon Castle a Grade I Anient Monument, situated four miles south of Kirkby Stephen in the Mallerstang dale. Pictured A view looking out of the bedroom of Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke, Dorest and Montgomery, a well-preserved room on the first floor with a vaulted ceiling a window to the west and an area of orginal plaster, along with John Bucknall, 69, owner of Pendragon Castle admiring remains of his castle.

And it’s easy to see why. Above is Wild Boar Fell, that soaring satellite of Penyghent, Ingleborough and Whernside, which lie just a few miles distant as the curlew flies; the iconic Three Peaks of the Yorkshire Dales.

Like them, this is limestone country, the colour of crumbly white Wensleydale cheese where the summits are visible from each other.

The YDNP took Mallerstang, officially in Cumbria, under its wing following the sweeping county boundary changes of 2016.

Present owner John Bucknall, a retired architect from Sedbergh, is in no doubt on two things. Not only is the YDNP fortunate in having acquired such a historic gem as Pendragon Castle, but it is also a miracle that it is still standing in the 21st century.

Date:18th January 2019. Picture James Hardisty. YP Magazine......Pendragon Castle a Grade I Anient Monument, situated four miles south of Kirkby Stephen in the Mallerstang dale. Pictured John Bucknall, 69, owner of Pendragon Castle.

I meet him at the castle with the early morning sun spotlighting its eastern ramparts. He tells me the mound on which the castle stands is a large drumlin above the River Eden that had survived the Ice Age. It stands on the footprint of a wooden fort said to be built by King Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon – hence the castle’s name.

“He even tried to divert the Eden so it would fill the moat,” says Bucknall, who asks me to call him John.

“Hence the ancient rhyme, ‘Let Uther Pendragon do what he can, Eden will run where Eden ran,’” he says.

John also tells me another owner was the infamous Norman knight Sir Hugh de Morville. He was one of the four knights who took part in slaying Archbishop Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral as directed by Henry II (“who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”).

Date:18th January 2019. Picture James Hardisty. YP Magazine......Pendragon Castle a Grade I Anient Monument, situated four miles south of Kirkby Stephen in the Mallerstang dale.

As a result he had Pendragon Castle confiscated in 1170 for this brutal slaughter. In 1341 and 1542 the wooden interior was destroyed by fire – by Scots marauders. Fate subsequently intervened to save Mallerstang’s historic landmark.

Not once, not twice. But three times lucky.

The first of Providence’s trio of interventions to save the castle, John tells me, dates back to the 17th century.

Born in Skipton Castle in 1590, Lady Anne Clifford, a Yorkshire landowner, became Pendragon’s keeper after 40 years of legal wrangling.

Date:18th January 2019. Picture James Hardisty. YP Magazine......Pendragon Castle a Grade I Anient Monument, situated four miles south of Kirkby Stephen in the Mallerstang dale.

She brought it up to spec in line with other fortifications which she had also repaired: including her birthplace Skipton Castle; plus Brougham, Brough and Appleby castles.

Today, Lady Anne’s Way is a long-distance walk commemorating the 100 miles linking the castles from Skipton Castle to Brougham Castle near Penrith.

It threads its way through Wharfedale and Wensleydale en route, arriving at Pendragon, Lady Anne’s favourite castle, where she would stay for several months at a time.

Many were the trips she made along this route in her late 80s while traversing the rugged ground between her castles.

Her transport? A horse-drawn litter, rather like a Sedan chair supported on poles.

“Such was her popularity as the first great repairer and restorer of ancient castles and churches following the Civil War, she made an immense impact,” says John. Only for calamity to strike Pendragon again.

Following her death in 1676, the subsequent owners of Lady Anne’s vast estate made it clear they thought considerably less of her beloved castle.

In 1685 the roof was stripped so the lead and timber could be transported to Skipton.

Here it was used for re-roofing the old Yorkshire market town’s flagship castle, where Lady Anne first saw light of day.

She would most likely have fought such a criminal notion. To leave Pendragon Castle, which previously she had made so comfortable with her bright furnishings and colourful tapestries, open to the sky – unthinkable.

Roofless and unprotected for 285 years, the castle walls rapidly disintegrated.

Fast forward to 1963 when Raven Frankland, purchased the castle for £525; less than the agricultural value of the land.

A skilled stonemason, farmer, landowner and county councillor, he was the ideal owner for the property according to John.

“The sale notice had described ‘three small pasture fields’ without even mentioning the castle.

“But Raven and his wife and a band of colleagues went to work working overtime to shift hundreds of tons of debris, so revealing the battlements once more.”

With advice from the Ministry of Works and later the Department of the Environment, and thanks in 1993 to an English Heritage grant, Pendragon once more is starting to look, in a manner of speaking, like a “phoenix rising”.

John points to the Norman barrel vaults, stone arches and fragments of the wall-walk that would have been patrolled by longbow archers above.

Directly below, Lady Anne’s bed chamber window commands an imperial view of Mallerstang and Wild Boar Fell above the Eden’s silvery skein.

The best preserved turret at the south-west corner is the Garderobe Tower where the loos are situated.

On every floor, explains John, there would be a chamber accommodating a wooden bench with holes. He points to where the castle’s occupants sat, their calls of nature then being despatched down the garderobe shaft to be flushed by storms into the moat.

To bring the story up to date, Raven Frankland died in 1998, followed by by his wife, Juliet, six years ago.

It was she who bequeathed the castle to John Bucknall, Raven’s cousin.

Though people do visit the castle, he hopes that it becomes more widely known in the years to come.

“All kinds visit Pendragon. Daily visitors, wedding photographers, film-makers. People hold parties here, too,” he says.

“That’s good. And we want the public to continue having good access. Yet we derive no income at all.

“We don’t want Pendragon to become a Longleat, but neither does the family wish to solely fund the castle’s upkeep.”

He says the plan is to charge a modest admission fee this year.

“Generating sufficient income to look after this iconic monument is our ultimate goal. In 20 years if someone returns and says, ‘Well, it all feels the same. And golly, it’s even nicer.’ Then great.

“Cups of tea, somewhere to buy postcards, safe parking and nice walk round, that’s the idea.”

The valley already attracts Yorkshire train-spotters whenever steam trains are running on the Settle-Carlisle line.

Their families and friends make a point of calling at the castle which literally stands out in the Mallerstang valley.

“Recently visitors called from Pendragon Terrace in Guiseley, Pendragon Lane in Bradford and Pendragon Way in Harrogate.”

Their verdict?

“They reckoned their home addresses were well-named.”