Situated at the edge of a cliff along the North Yorkshire coast, a naturally defended area and a perfect look out spot, Scarborough Castle still dominates the town and harbour some 300ft (91m) below. The roughly triangular piece of ground forming the headland of Castle Hill has been occupied for over 2500 years, but the first stone fortress on the site wasn't built until the early 12th century by William le Gros. Remains of his early building include a chapel, much altered in the 14th century, and the curtain walls which were strengthened by Henry II in the second half of the 12th century. Henry II was also responsible for destroying the original gate tower and erecting a more elaborate, three-storey square Keep, typical of that period, protected further by a traditional forebuilding.
Although the top of the keep has disappeared, some remaining walls provide a good indication of how splendid this structure was. Fireplaces at the first and second levels can still be seen in the walls. Nothing exists of the once mighty forebuilding except the foundations, which show clearly its size and estimated height of some 40ft (12m). From this date, Scaborough Castle became practically impregnable, although the outer defences were continually improved and reinforced over the years. Scarborough Castle was the strategically important Northern base of Kings and Queens for almost five centuries, and with each new reign came further additions and improvements to the original building.
During the 14th century the barbican was completed, although it has been much altered over time. Providing extra defence to Scarborough Castle's grounds, the barbican consisted of two half-cylindrical towers either side of a gateway, with the approach protected by a further two towers located on a flanking wall. Not surprisingly, Scarborough castle suffered serious damage only twice throughout its long and chequered past. During the Civil War it was subjected to prolonged cannon fire, causing severe destruction, and in 1914 the town and castle were attacked by German battle cruisers, resulting in demolition of much of the remaining structures.
Even among the ruins, Scarborough Castle's great strength is evident, and the surviving section of Henry II's great Keep reminds the visitor of the unsettled times and changing fortunes that most of these fortresses endured. Despite the lack of buildings to explore, this historically important site holds such a diverse and fascinating past that is not at all difficult to conjure up images of Bronze and Iron Age Man, Roman soldiers, Saxon monks, and burly Vikings living and working in these grounds.