Offence chart at Beaumaris Gaol. Photo by Generalnoir (Flickr)Famous Jails


Clink! No, I haven't dropped my keys down the loo (again), I've been musing on prisons around the UK. Just because. It might surprise no-one to know this, but here in the UK we have quite the history of incarceration. Tethering poor writhing peasants to dungeon walls in the Middle Ages, locking up and beheading treacherous types in the Tower of London, or dodging roof tiles from riots in Wormwood Scrubs – it's all been somewhat of a pastime for at least the last millennium.

While you wouldn't aim to go on a visit to somewhere like Wormwood Scrubs today, there are several historic prisons and places of captivity around the country that are now visitor attractions. Like Marmite, this will be either something you're into or you're not, but while not the cheeriest thing you can do on a summer morning, visiting an old prison and musing on all the history there is properly goosebumpy. There but for the grace of my mum walloping me when I was caught nicking an ice lolly from the corner shop when I was seven go I, you might think. Or if I was a peasant in 1350. Here are five of the best prison breaks around the country.

York Castle Prison: York Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068, and written records show there was a prison here even then. The 18th century courthouse at the castle is still the site of York Crown Court, although presumably the dungeons are no longer in use. Accompanied kids get in free to the prison museum here. We're just saying.

Where to stay: We've over 50 sites within ten miles of York. Have a go on the on-site driving course or golf range at York Touring Caravan Site just five miles from York city centre, or stay at the comfy camping pods at The Alders Caravan Park on a working farm.

Yorkshire Law and Order Museums: While you're in York, take a detour to the Ripon Museums – the Workhouse Museum and Gardens, Police and Prison Museum and the Courthouse Museum. Gawk at a Victorian policeman and Victorian jail cell, wander around the workhouse kitchen garden or look in on one of the talks or arts and crafts sessions.

Where to stay: There are over 300 sites in North Yorkshire, with over 30 within a 20 mile radius of Ripon. Try Studfold Caravan and Camping Park, set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with a new camping pod for 2012 and with a nature trail designed especially for primary school age children.

Stirling Old Town Jail: Stirling's famous Victorian prison, in the city's Old Town. As anyone who's read Charles Dickens will know, the Victorians didn't have much of an enlightened attitude to criminals, and this jail shows it in all its mucky glory. Visitors here can take a prison tour and meet some of the jail's characters, from convicts to hangman.

Where to stay: There are plenty of sites in Stirlingshire to pick from, from over 500 in Scotland. Try the Balgair Castle Holiday Park in Fintry, where there are motorhomes, touring pitches, tent pitches and caravans for hire, on a site with a new swimming pool, bistro and salmon fishing nearby.

Beaumaris Gaol, Anglesey: Another Victorian prison where things are gorily hands-on for visitors. You can take a look at the cells and punishment areas, handle chains and fetters last worn a century ago, see the only original treadwheel in Britain still on site, and gape at the gibbet still fixed to the outer wall.

Where to stay: We've 360+ campsites in North Wales and over 60 sites in AngleseySt David's Park, on a headland overlooking the Red Wharf Estuary, has coastal pitches, a private beach and its own gastropub on site. 

Carisbrooke Castle: Not strictly a prison but famous for where Charles I was imprisoned for months before his execution – he fled to the Isle of Wight after escaping imprisonment at Hampton Court but was imprisoned again there by the governor Colonel Hammond. Have a game of bowls on the green Charles used, dress up in Norman and Civil War clothes, and wander around the Charles I museum.

Where to stay: Take your pick from over 50 sites on the Isle of Wight, with one, Grange Farm, just five miles away from Carisbrooke Castle and with resident water buffaloes and micro pigs. Or stay in a bell tent at Wight Bells, six miles away from the castle at Sandown. Each tent has electricity, a deck with outside seating, double bed and double futon.