Recently my husband found a copy of The Sutton Companion to Castles by Stephen Friar. This is an encyclopedia of every aspect of a castle and related subjects. At 344 pages, it will be a long time before I read it all, but it’s a great reference work.
In the Introduction, Stephen Friar gives very good advice on visiting a castle. It’s a good companion to the post I wrote sometime ago on Why Visit a Castle?
Before visiting a castle, study its site on maps of various scales in relation to other castles, route-ways, river crossings and physical features. Is there evidence of former fortifications in street names (e.g. Barbican Street) or in the delineation of streets and house plots, perhaps within a town wall? Attempt to determine the function and type of the original fortification. When you arrive, always walk round the exterior first and study the defences (ignoring modern additions such as wooden catwalks, bridges and flights of steps which are almost invariably in the wrong place!). Notes each line of defence as you cross the moat and pass through the gate passage of a barbican or gatehouse into the middle or upper ward and the final refuge. Not all defences are as obvious as the drawbridge or portcullises: observe the relative angles of surrounding walls and flanking towers and the ‘killing grounds’ between. Look for ‘layers’ of development: how various parts of the castle have been remodelled to match the political circumstances of a particular age, the development of siege technology and the domestic and administrative needs of an increasingly complex household organisation. Only then should you buy the guide book.
Quite a lot of homework, then!