It’s a warm afternoon in West Sussex, which seems just about the perfect time to visit that most fulfilling of national treasures, an English castle. Today’s subject is Arundel Castle, situated in the town of Arundel and overlooking the Arun River.
Arundel is readily accessible by car, a short drive along the A27 and midway between Chichester and Worthing. It is easy to find due to the tourist road signs (brown). What’s more, for those who don’t drive, it is easily reachable by rail, with direct trains running from London Victoria as well as stations all along the south coast such as Brighton, Worthing, Littlehampton, Bognor Regis, Chichester, and Portsmouth.
Upon arrival, Arundel seems a peculiar little town, more like a village, stacked full of shops and eateries on both sides stretching all the way to the top of the summit. It’s quite hilly so be prepared for some walking!
Stop for a spot of lunch in the Tudor Tea Room, a charming café near the bottom of the summit. Fine food and friendly service are found here in abundance and the locals certainly know their town’s history, with many more than happy to share an anecdote or two regarding the castle! Once you’ve recharged the batteries it’s time to head to the castle.
Sitting atop the hillside is Arundel Castle, glimmering like a mass of stone and silver in the sunshine. One imagines its flags sat high in the autumn breeze as the vastness of its grounds snake away into the West Sussex wilderness. The castle is over nine hundred years old, having been constructed in the 11th century by Roger de Montgomery, the Earl of Arundel, and considering this fact, it is still in remarkable condition.
It is worth noting that for years the castle was the home of the Howard family and their descendants, who were important members of Tudor history, particularly during the War of the Roses (between the Tudors and Stewarts). One of the Howard family descendants, Catherine, would go on to become the fifth wife of King Henry VIII. Today the castle is home to the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk and their children.
The castle is open from the beginning of April right through to the end of October. Most areas of the castle are open from 10 am (with all open by 12 pm), whilst closing times are between 16:30 and 17:30. Prices are very reasonable, ranging from £7.50, for limited “Bronze” access, up to £16 for Gold Plus access, which allows you to see the whole castle and its grounds. Family tickets are £39, whilst all child tickets stay at £7.50. Don’t worry about parking as there is plenty in the town car park opposite, and in the castle grounds.
The entrance is a steep stone staircase, with helmets decorating the stone walls on either side. In the first hall a coat of arms stands against the wall and wonderful tapestries hang around the room. The most striking of these is The Tree of Life by William Morris.
A small stone passageway leads to the Keep, the most ancient and preserved part of this magnificent castle. Steep steps lead to a circular courtyard, most likely used during conflict, as there are storage spaces, barrels, and a sizable dungeon. Above the courtyard is a circular stone walkway with turrets every few metres; no doubt soldiers would have occupied these. From here there is a view of the castle grounds and the surrounding countryside, useful if the castle was under attack.
Indeed, the castle was besieged twice during the Civil War (1642-45) and incurred a lot of damage, first from Royalist forces who took control and then by the Cromwell’s Parliamentarians who attempted to seize it back. Apparently no repairs were made until 1718!
It will come as no surprise then that the guard room lies just above the Keep, essential as the Keep itself would be used for training and holding prisoners. The guard room houses weaponry, provisions, and fuel. It is probable the guards would live here for months at a time, maybe even years, sleeping, eating, and training together everyday. The top of the portcullis is accessible from here and would be lowered in times of battle; for speed the catch would be struck with a sledgehammer. The portcullis itself is breathtaking, standing as a majestic ironclad marvel that is even bigger than one could imagine.
For a more in-depth study of the castle and its history, it is possible to book guided tours for groups of 20 or more, but be sure to book in advance as they are highly popular. Access for disabled people is provided, and there is a number to call for details.
From the guards quarters a passage leads to the tower summit, with an even bigger and more expansive view than the Keep offers. Arundel Cathedral is visible from here, as is the Town hall and below is the huge, drained moat, threatening to engulf the castle. On the horizon the River Arun snakes away into the distance like the centrepiece to a breathtaking painting.
Descending the summit into the centre of the castle you will come to the private chapel, much larger than most people would imagine. At the far end of it sits a beautiful altar, decorated with a wine-red cloth and a statue of the Virgin Mary. Surrounding the chapel are beautiful, ornate stain glass windows. However, picture taking is prohibited in the castle so you must refrain from capturing the view; you will need to try to take a mental picture instead.
Next it’s on to the Great Hall, also known as Baron’s Hall, which is, as one would expect, enormous. With huge windows and grandiose fireplaces as well as a monumental ceiling, the hall seems to sum up the castle itself, overwhelming!
The final place of note to visit, and a certifiable highlight, must surely be the castle library, one of the largest in England. The library holds over 10,000 books, with another 4,000 archived in the castle. Metal grates lock them away, preserving them from time and decay. There is also an extensive collection of newspaper and journal cuttings, spanning decades and taking up two whole floors of the library!
Closing time varies between 16:30 and 17:30, so make sure you get round the important areas in time. There are plenty of places on site to stop for lunch, or you can bring a picnic. Whatever you decide, this is an invaluable day trip for the family, so enjoy the experience and let Arundel cast its spell on you.
This article on Arundel Castle in Sussex, England was supplied by M.J. Biggin from Constant Content.