For long time Immortal Wordsmith readers, you will know that there is nothing we like to do better than explore. Whether it be abandoned places, museums or castles, we are always keen to find out what mysteries await us around the corner. Our anticipation of Framlingham Castle was no different and it had been on our ‘to visit’ list for a long while.
Now the summer holidays are upon us, we decided to book and check it out. The website promised exploration, events and plenty to do for people of all ages, and Ryan was perhaps the most excited of the three of us to look around.
Getting to Framlingham Castle
If you’re looking to get to Framlingham (the town situated around the castle), it is without doubt best to drive. While there are bus services that pass through the market town, they are few and far between.
The drive though is an extremely pleasant one, sweeping through country roads flanked with vast open fields and farmland and passing through quaint villages and towns. Alternatively, you can opt to take the A12 and approach from the opposite direction which may be a little faster, but less scenic.
The Market Town of Framlingham
The town itself is not large and is a bit overcrowded on warmer days because it is a popular spot for tourists and locals to relax, walk the dogs and take in the beautiful countryside. It has all of the usual amenities you would expect of a small town, except parking.
I instinctively followed the signs for the castle and expected a car park for visitors and I was left a little perplexed by the parking arrangements. The car park is operated by the castle owners English Heritage and has all of their branded signs. Yet, it wasn’t designated for guests of the castle only and instead English Heritage had set up a side hustle operating a pay and display car park for anyone who wanted to park.
I don’t have an issue with pay and display car parks as such, but I do have an issue with booking tickets to a venue to find that the operators had neglected to provide a parking space for guests. Instead, we were directed to alternate parking which was actually a country road some 5 minutes away that we had to park on because the car park was full.
First down marks for Framlingham Castle. But regardless, we were all still excited to get to the castle and look around at the exhibits and take in the history.
Izzy had pre-booked our tickets which had a set window of arrival (between 11 and 11:30 for admittance) at a cost of just over £30. We also opted to buy the guidebook which was an additional £4. The entry window would have been a nightmare if the castle had tried to enforce it due to the lack of parking mentioned above, but thankfully they didn’t have an issue with us being a few minutes late to the entrance.
At the gate we were given a brief sales pitch about how we could refund our tickets if we purchased an annual pass with English Heritage – but not wanting to commit because so far, our experience hadn’t been amazing, we opted not to. Besides, the lady kindly told us we could go back at any point during our visit to upgrade to an annual pass, and I felt if the castle presented good value, we might well do that.
The castle sadly was a monumental let down.
- The ‘exhibits’ mentioned on the website turned out to be two glass cases with a couple of historic outfits inside. Aside from these two small cabinets there wasn’t anything else on display and it took us all of two minutes to look at them and move on.
- The courtyard of the castle was empty except for a few benches where guests could picnic. There were no events or activities that were promised on the website.
- The only castle related thing we could do was walk around the top of the castle wall which didn’t feel entirely safe because the wooden bridges between broken sections seemed to be worn down and the wood aging.
- The only other attractions in the castle and taking up all of the physical building space within the castle was a café and gift shop. English Heritage clearly feel people want to pay a fee to sit in their overpriced café and look around their exorbitant gift shop.
- We trailed a tour guide for a minute or two, but it was apparent he had lost all enthusiasm for his job and was simply reciting a monotonous script.
Outside the castle, you can walk around the exterior where the moat had been which was actually the most enjoyable part of the trip for me and Ryan. Izzy seemed most keen on the views from the top of the castle wall.
Framlingham Castle is Depressing and Not Worth the Cost
I will do a separate blogpost about the actual history of the castle, but needless to say, English Heritage have managed to strip the building of its history, install shameless commercialism in the form of the café and gift shop and not give visitors any value for money whatsoever.
I don’t mind companies making profit from historical buildings and I actually encourage it when it contributes to keeping the history alive. English Heritage clearly don’t care about the history of Framlingham Castle and for them, it is about profit margins.
What amazed me was that there were so many staff employed to simply stand about. No one was doing anything except the tour guide who was doing the bare minimum. There were at least 10 members of staff who were overseeing something that was little more than a glorified shell.
It begs the question, what are English Heritage actually doing? A tiny bit of common sense and a bit of passion could restore Framlingham to a top-class attraction, but like the ruined walls and fading walkways, English Heritage appear to have given up. Content to rip off countless families who will undoubtedly go in with high expectations and leave disappointed and disenchanted.