Exploring Arundel Castle, West Sussex

by Jan

Exploring Arundel Castle in West Sussex, England has been high on our agenda for some time.  So with the promise of some late summer sunshine, we packed our bags and set off for Arundel.

Arundel is a quintessential market town in the South of England.  And, overlooking the town, from its grandiose position on the hill is a splendid medieval fortress, Arundel Castle.

Find out how we got on exploring the historic town of Arundel and its fabulous pride and joy, the castle.

Arundel Cathedral

view of Arundel Cathedral with red flowers from castle gardens

To get to Arundel, we parked at the top of the town by the cricket grounds.  We then walked down past the outer walls of the castle.  This route led us past Arundel’s impressive gothic cathedral, so we took a few moments to stop and admire the exterior.

In 1868, England’s most prominent Catholic family, the Howards, commissioned Arundel Cathedral.  Henry Fitzalan-Howard wanted a cathedral that would complement his family ancestral home, Arundel Castle.

It’s an impressive building with stunning architecture.  Look out for the sculptures of the 12 disciples which adorn the front.  See if you can spot which one is Judas!

Arundel

View of Arundel High Street with three piece band playing

Continuing down the hill to Arundel High Street is like stepping back in time.  The town is just brimming with old-world charm and history.  Half-timbered houses, quaint tea rooms and antique shops all add to its endearing character.  The town has a warm, friendly atmosphere and a (socially distanced) crowd had gathered at the memorial to watch a live band playing in the street.

The castle’s entrance at the gate house is at the lower end of Arundel and is impossible to miss.  We had pre-booked our tickets online and arrived at 1.30, after a morning visit to WWT Arundel Wetlife Centre.

We arrived slightly early so had a quick look in the ruins of the Blackfriars Dominican Priory at the farmers’ market.  There was also time for a quick ice cream from Lulamae’s Tea Rooms.

Arundel Castle

History of Arundel Castle

Fully refreshed, we headed back to the castle.  From the minute we entered the gates we were in awe.   As we ascended the path, Arundel Castle loomed over us and was truly magnificent.   Even more so when you consider that it is nearly a thousand years old.

Originating from Norman times, the Earl of Arundel built Arundel Castle in 1067 as a Motte and Bailey Castle.  Today it is one of the most complete and inhabited castles in England.  However, the architecture we see now is the result of major repair and restoration works in the 18th Century.

Arundel Castle has been passed down the ancestral line for over 850 years and has always been the seat of the Duke of Norfolks.

Looking up at Arundel Castle Turrets

Arundel Castle Gardens

Before exploring the interior of Arundel Castle, we decided to make a tour of the gardens.  And what a joy that was!  The gardens at Arundel Castle are truly amazing and probably some of the finest and most original gardens in Sussex.

Arudel Castle Garden Maze with Cathedral in background

The highlight is the Collector Earl’s Garden, a memorial to Thomas Howard, the 14th Earl of Arundel.  Following an original design by Isobel and Julian Bannerman, a loyal team of horticulturists now lovingly maintain this unique garden.

Whether or not you’re a garden expert, you’ll appreciate the design details.  With wooden doorways, pergolas, and fountains, there was something to catch our eye at every turn.

Plus, we loved the abundance of vivid colours and interesting shapes and features.  There were also secret pathways, peep holes in box hedges and a grass maze to amuse the children.

Arundel Castle Garden view

The kids were also bemused by the rather unusual recreation of “Oberon’s Palace”.  The sculpture stands in a folly with shell encrusted walls.

The rather unique centrepiece has a golden crown spinning in mid-air above the water jet from its stalagmite fountain.  The unconventional art piece was inspired by the designs of Inigo jones for Prince Henry’s Masque on New Year’s Day in 1611.

However, my favourite garden feature was the Arun Fountain(see above).  This impressive piece is symbolic of the River Arun, which runs through the town.  It has a row of fountain jets spraying from urns into a central canal pool, then leading to a waterfall at one end.

Green shrubs with a background of aged treestumps

Another of the wonderful quirky features in the Collectors Earl’s Garden is the Stumpery Garden.  Upturned tree stumps serve as a base for luscious ferns and flowers, with the lovely cathedral as a backdrop.

Although some areas of the garden have a tropical vibe, the kitchen garden has a distinctive classic English feel.  For years, they grew organic vegetables and herbs here to feed the inhabitants of the castle.  The fragrant rose garden and the wildflower section also have a familiar English quality.

Inside Arundel Castle

From the outside, Arundel Castle is one of the finest castles in Sussex.  And the interior is rather magnificent too.  The richly decorated rooms are full to the brim with souvenirs and treasures from the castle’s past.  There are significant art collections and each room has its own style of opulent furnishings.

Arundel Castle is not dissimilar to Windsor Castle, which we visited at the end of last year.  Apparently, it has been the filming location for several tv programmes, including “The Young Victoria”.  And, on a few occasions, such as “The Madness of King George”,  it has doubled for Windsor Castle in films.

Ornate valulted wooden ceiling in Grand Hall at Arundel Castle

We started our tour of the castle’s interior by crossing the moat to the inner gatehouse.  From here we could see the hill with the old keep, which is the oldest part of the castle.

As you enter, check out the portcullis doors of the gatehouse.  These no longer meet the ground, leaving a space big enough for any enemies to roll under. Apparently, this was a deliberate redesign, rather than an oversight on the part of the original builders!

The entrance hall had carved wooden panels and an impressive high vaulted ceiling.  Stuffed animals on the walls and taxidermy elude to the castle’s former days of hunting and old chairs lining the corridors look like they are waiting for the party guests to arrive.

The private chapel is a small, but beautiful room with dark wood seats and a beautiful stained-glass window.  Significantly larger and grander is the Baron Hall.  This spacious, main hall has a giant stone fireplace at each end and enormous paintings and portraits adorn the walls.

One of the most impressive rooms is the castle’s library.  It has wall-to-wall, ceiling to ceiling books in ornate mahogany cabinets.  This gothic room is one of the survivors of the 11th Duke of Norfolk’s work.

Look out on the walls for the death penalty warrant for the unfortunate 4th Duke of Norfolk, who was hung, drawn, and quartered for treason.

View of Ornate Arundel Castle Library

Once we reached the drawing room, the castle felt more like a stately home than a castle.  It has a more homely ambience and modern photos of the Duke of Norfolk and his family are on display.

What’s surprising when exploring Arundel Castle is that it’s still a private family home.  This magnificent historic castle is currently home to the 18th Duke of Norfolk, the Earl Marshal of England.

Although the family have their own private quarters and gardens, they open the castle’s rooms to visitors when entertaining.  Over its history, Arundel Castle has had many prominent visitors, including Queen Victoria who stayed for 3 days in 1846.

Water Garden Project

Looking into the Arundel Castle boat house

Returning to the grounds of the castle, we headed to the other side where the Water Garden Project is underway.  This area was the site of the Stew Ponds.  Originally, these 3 ponds produced fish for the priory and castle.  However, a new conservation project is now underway to transform the area into a wild water garden.

It’s a pleasant area to walk round and you already see waterfowl, lily pads and wildflowers.  There is also a cute boat house at one end.

Practicalities:

How to get to Arundel by car

Arundel is in the South Downs, just off the A27.  Its nearest cities are Portsmouth and Brighton, which are on the South Coast of England.  Arundel is less than 2 hours’ drive from London, so is ideal for a day trip from the capital.

There is parking on Mill Road or several pay and display car parks.  We parked at the top of the town, which was near to Arundel Cathedral and a short walk to the castle.

How to get to Arundel by train:

If you are coming by train, Arundel has its own mainline rail station.  The quickest route from London is via London Victoria.  Arundel also has frequent services to Gatwick Airport, Portsmouth, Brighton, Chichester, and other local towns.

Have you tried exploring Arundel Castle yet?  Please feel free to comment below.

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