Set in the stunning landscape of the English Lake District, Lowther Castle and Gardens is a beautiful attraction with an intriguing history. The site of the castle has been occupied by the same family since 1150, with numerous buildings preceding the existence of the current castle. Built at the turn of the 19th century, Lowther Castle was an impressive architectural feat on a grand scale, with opulent gardens. Commissioned by William, 1st Earl of Lonsdale in 1806, the castle was designed by the architect Robert Smirke. Housing a grand art collection and a room for every day of the year, the house was an enviable jewel of the north.
130 years after it was built however, the castle was abandoned for good. The 5th Earl of Lonsdale, known as the ‘Yellow Earl’, had spent his fortune and could no longer afford to keep the castle. It lay dormant, until wartime requisition by an army tank regiment. In 1957, facing further financial burdens, James Lonsdale, the 7th Earl decided to demolish the castle, leaving only the outer walls and facade standing. For over 50 years, the ruined castle was empty, inhabited only by pigs and chickens. The gardens became hugely overgrown and wild, lost to the passage of time.
CAP.CO’s involvement in the regeneration of Lowther came in the form of the Lost Castle, conceived within the redeveloped masterplan of the castle grounds. The grounds of Lowther Castle are vast, with many lovely overgrown spots and sweeping vistas back to the castle. Our first challenge was in choosing a site for the play. Rather than working with an area close to the castle ruins or the courtyard, we took a strategic view of the overall estate. A real opportunity for this project - and for adventurers’ experiences of Lowther - came in the form of remapping how visitors explore the grounds. Exploration and discovery were key, and CAP.CO worked closely alongside the fantastic team of gardeners at Lowther.
With the redeveloped masterplan integral to the flow of play through the woods, our designers then turned to creating a series of bespoke play elements which raised visitors’ journey through the grounds up into the trees! Ground play was important in continuing the forest trail, enhancing the moment of encounter with the Lost Castle itself. Given the significance of the ups and downs of the buildings dramatic history, another vital design principle was to hint at the architecture of the ruined castle.
Echoing the architectural features of the ruined castle, the Lost Castle’s design has turrets and towers stretching up into the tree canopy. Different perspectives, endless possible routes through, up, inside and around the castle, see through floors and dizzying heights - this castle is fit for the majesty of its location! The Lost Castle invites visitors to explore the beautiful grounds and discover their own adventure at Lowther.
The adventure play at Lowther Castle was an immediate success and consequently Lowther Castle saw a huge increase in both visitor numbers and turnover. According to Jim Lowther, it gave him the confidence to go forward and invest further in the family play. The second phase of the project had been planned from the outset but wasn’t due to be started until later in 2017, but CAP.CO was back on site soon after the first summer period ended.
Our build team took delivery of a huge new 14m slide, which was quite a feat for them to install by hand. They also built more ground play, an amazing Faraway Party treehouse, which can be booked out for private parties throughout the year. We also expanded the family seating spaces, creating the new “Into the woods” area, which includes a new cafe and toilet block hidden away amongst the trees, where visitors can relax and take a break. We wrote about the initial work on site here with images of the play coming to life.
The fortunes of Lowther Castle have been transformed again, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the castle and gardens are now thriving. Indeed, Lowther was voted Large Visitor Attraction of the Year 2018 in the Cumbria Tourism Awards. The incredible regeneration of the Castle and Grounds is down to determination on the part of the present owners, the creation of Lowther Castle and Gardens Trust, and the tireless efforts of many staff and volunteers. The ruined castle now houses numerous contemporary gardens, and the grounds have been carefully tended to bring back their beauty, with some new features for present-day visitors.
The Lost Castle is believed to be one of the biggest wooden adventure play structures in the world. The transformation of the wider Lowther Estate is ongoing, with the design and planting of a rose garden by renowned British garden designer Dan Pearson.
For more information about visiting the Lost Castle, see Lowther Castle’s website.