The ruins of Whorlton Castle sit on a small hill to the west of the abandoned village of Whorlton, in a dramatic location at the entrance to Scugdale, and overlooking the village of Swainby.
The castle sits on the very edge of the hilly ground coming down from the high moors to the south and east. To the north and west the ground drops away, while to the south a small beck separates the motte from Howe Hill. The ground rises gently to the east of the castle until it reaches Whorl Hill, a steep sided isolated hill half a mile away from the motte.
The motte measures 200ft by 170ft. The only significant remains are those of a 14th century rectangular gate house at the eastern side of the motte. This gatehouse is 58ft wide and 33ft deep. The ground floor was filled with the vaulted entrance passageway, flanked by guard rooms. Two more floors were above this. The vaulting survived until 1876.
Over the entrance are three shields showing the arms of the Meynell, Darcy and Greystock families. A fourth shield on the upper floor shows the Meynell arms impaling the Darcy arms.
Inside the castle very little remains. The foundations apparently survived until 1876 when they were dug up and reused in the new church at Swainby. All that now remains are some vaulted cellars. After this new church was completed the old church east of the castle was abandoned.
The castle was described in 1343 as being 'ruinous and without yearly value', but this was probably a temporary condition, and the gate house may have been built by Philip, last lord Darcy, who died in 1419.
Whorlton Castle was first mentioned in writing in 1214 when it was owned by the Meynell family, tenants of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The final Meynell, Nicholas, had an illegitimate son with Lucy de Thweng, the wife of William Latimer. This caused an almost inevitable feud, but eventually the son, Nicholas de Thweng, inherited the castle and barony.
Whortlon was held by two John Darcys, father and son, in the mid 14th century. It then went to the father's widow Elizabeth (daughter of Nicholas), and after her death to their son Philip. He was followed by his son John and grandson Philip, before the male line died out. A late date for the gate keep is suggested by the appearance of the Greystock arms, for only after this date did the Dacres of Greystock gain a claim to the castle and estate. A disputed inheritance eventually had to be decided by the Crown, which took Whorlton as the price of its judgement.
The castle would appear to have been in decline by the end of the sixteenth century, when a two story house was built against the north-west end of the gate-house. It was later used as a farm.
The remains of the original village church are to the east of the motte, as are earthworks that surround an acre of 2.5 acres. These might have been part of the bailey of the castle or possibly associated with the abandoned village, although that was probably a little further to the east, on the western slopes of Whorl Hill. The village of Whorlton suffered in the Black Death. By 1428 only ten householders were remaining.
Grid Reference: NZ 481 024