Henry VII’s birthplace sits on – almost seems to grow out of – an impressive slab of sheer rock above a substantial body of water. It wasn’t going to be scaled by anyone less agile than Spider-Man. This was a castle that meant business. It was and is huge.
It’s also enormous fun and you can do a surprising amount of unsupervised exploring – up narrow staircases, out on to ramparts and up the five-storey keep. Looking down from there you get a clear impression of what a rabbit warren the castle must have been – rooms, staircases and towers appear to sprout all over the place.
There’s a dungeon tower where one unfortunate was kept for seven years in such poor light that he went blind; and – don’t miss this – a vast underground cavern that was used as a shelter in Palaeolithic times. It’s not every castle that can boast that part of its site has been occupied on and off for the last 12,000 years.
It was Charles II who established horseracing as we know it, even riding in races himself. He held the first race meeting at Newmarket at Easter 1666 and was so taken with the area that he rebuilt the dilapidated palace and moved his court there twice a year, instituting the idea of a spring and an autumn ‘meeting’.
On the site of the royal stables today is the National Horseracing Museum, which pays tribute to all the sport’s royal enthusiasts, from Henry VIII to Elizabeth II. A slightly surprising inclusion is Queen Anne, who founded Ascot racecourse in 1711. The first race ever run there was Her Majesty’s Plate, and Ascot still has a Queen Anne Enclosure.
The Newmarket museum also, of course, pays tribute to the non-regal greats of the sport, both equine and human, and shows you how to choose your own colours should you ever find yourself the proud possessor of a racehorse.