Rising some 500ft (151.5m) above the Cheshire plain is Beeston crag, a rocky outcrop forming part of a chain of hills. With a commanding view of the Welsh mountains and the Pennines, the 13th century ruins of Beeston Castle dominate the crag.
Over 2000 years ago it is known that this site was occupied by a Bronze Age community, and later during the Iron Age a hill fort was established to protect the settlers who farmed the area. But from that time until the early 1200s it is uncertain whether the site remained in use.
It was Ranulf, the 6th Earl of Chester, who incorporated the latest ideas in building to create an impregnable fortress. Not only was the steep hill a natural defence, but Beeston Castle was protected by both a strong outer gatehouse at the foot of the hill, and a massive inner gatehouse at the castle entrance. Deep cut ditches, sturdy towers, and a fighting platform at roof level provided some powerful devices to prevent an attack. But neither Ranulf, nor his successor, saw Beeston Castle completed, and by 1238 Henry III had taken the earldom and the castle. Using Beeston Castle merely as an assembly point for troops and supplies, the King had no need of permanent domestic arrangements at Beeston. As a result, no accommodation blocks, halls or kitchens were ever added, and Beeston Castle stood pretty much as it is seen today - a fortified enclosure.
In 1245 Prince Edward was given the title of Earl of Chester and he inherited Beeston Castle. Following his successful Welsh campaigns, the newly crowned King had little use for his Cheshire castles. Although Beeston Castle was well maintained throughout the 14th century, by the 16th century it had fallen into disrepair and the Crown sold it to a local landowner. With the outbreak of the Civil War, it was quickly repaired and garrisoned, and troops remained there until their surrender in 1645.
After the Civil War most of the defences were demolished, and the hill was used as grazing land. From the early 1700s stone and sand were quarried, the old outer gatehouse being virtually destroyed to provide better access to the quarries. By the mid 19th century the ruins of Beeston Castle were seen as a romantic image of the past that should be preserved, and the 1st Lord Tollemache put this in hand. As the new owner, he built a gatehouse at the entrance in 1846, and opened the site to visitors.
Today, some 150 years on, this picturesque hill still holds a fascination for many, whether it be to explore the history, take in the spectacular views from the 'Castle of the Rock', or simply to enjoy the challenge of climbing the steep, wooded slopes.