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East Sussex, England

Camber Castle

Henry VIII's forgotten castle was built by the gunpowder-obsessed king to be defended solely by canons. 

Camber Castle should have been one of Henry VIII’s most celebrated and innovative defensive structures, but, due to the whims of nature, it lies derelict and almost unheard of.

The castle is between Rye and Winchelsea, in England. Construction began in 1512 under the orders of Henry VIII and, because of his obsession with gun powder, is one of the first castles in England to have been built solely to be defended by cannon. It and other Henrician Castles (Device Forts) that defend the ports of England’s south coast are the precursors to later star forts. Camber, however, differs from other Device Forts due to its Italian influences, implemented by its engineer Stefan Von Haschenperg.

The name Camber, which was derived from the French word for “bedroom,” means “safe haven.” It was chosen because the English fleet could, theoretically, safely anchor behind the castle. However, the ships never had a chance to seek sanctuary behind the once-impressive structure.

The castle’s advanced design was obsolete by the time of its completion in 1544. Although the castle was manned and serviced until 1637, its value as a military installation ended in the 1550s as the River Rye began to silt up, rendering its position militarily ineffective. The sea had receded so far that cannons fired from the fort would no longer be able to reach any invading ships.

The abandoned fort was a popular picnic spot in the 18th and 19th centuries. During World War II, the British Army used it as a warning site.

Today, the landlocked castle is just a shell of its former greatness. However, it’s still a wonderful example of the Renaissance ingenuity of marrying new technology with medieval-style defense work. It’s also evidence of the serendipity and wildness of nature. The castle lies within a nature reserve and is an excellent place to see maritime birds, marsh flowers, and butterflies. It is also home to the rare bittern.

Know Before You Go

Parking can be a problem. There are two car parks, one at Rye Harbour, which is 2.7 miles from the castle, and one Gibbett Marsh, 1.6 miles away. Take Winchelsea Road out of Rye and turn left onto the Rye Harbour road. The turn for the castle is the first right on Harbour Road, just over the River Brede. Follow the track across the marsh and the castle is on your left.

Alternatively, park at the Rye Harbour car park and take the Rye nature reserve trails across the marsh. The castle is best visited during the summer or autumn when the weather is very atmospheric. Bring rubber boots, as the area is often wet and has several herds of sheep.