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Arundel Castle – West Sussex

Arundel Castle in West Sussex, stands proudly on a hill above the town, with fine views towards the Sussex coast and over the River Arun.  A majestic and powerful castle, its history goes back around 1,000 years.  It was built towards the end of the 11th Century by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel, surviving wars, battles and attacks.

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The castle is everything you would expect a perfect castle to be and is truly a wonderful day out for all ages.   There is something for everyone, and you cannot help but be enchanted by this wonderful place.  There’s a sense of magic about this castle and as you enter the grounds and stand at the base of the tower you feels it enormity immediately.  As you walk around the town, the towering walls line the footpaths and it feels like from every angle you can see the castle.

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There are gorgeous gardens, not least the Italianate Gardens, organic vegetable garden and glasshouses which are truly spectacular.  You feel like you have been transported to a magical Mediterranean paradise.

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The background of Arundel cathedral is wonderful and looms in the background.  On a sunny day it adds a magnificent feature to photographs, and on a gloomy day it stands ominous and tall, almost as if its watching you.

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At this time of the year, the gardens are filled with Salvia, Alliums, Ladies Mantle and roses.  In the spring there are thousands of tulips adoring the borders and meadow area.

But the rest of the grounds are beautiful as well, with plenty of wild flowers mixed with planted flowers.  Take a walk around the dry moat and you are surrounded by beautiful Cow Parsely and wild flowers as well.   There is also a beautiful Rose Garden and you can sit and relax in the shade of the cork tree on the American Lawn.

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The oldest part of the castle is the motte – for those history buffs amongst us or those who are studying Medieval History at school, this is the area flattened at the top of the mound, where the keep was and surrounded by the high walls.  This was built around 1068.  Henry I settled the castle to his 2nd wife and Henry II, built much of the oldest part of the stone castle.

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However, apart from occasional times where the castle was owned by the Crown, it has remained in only a few families.  The d’Albinis to the Fitzlans during the 13th century, then to the Howard family in the 16th century.  It has been home to the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for over 850 years, which is quite some feat.

The Howard family have been at the forefront of a number of historical events and played key roles in their lives. From the Wars of The Roses, to the Spanish Armada, to escaping execution because Henry VIII died overnight, to being executed for plotting to marry Mary Queen of Scots.  (You can see some of the Earl of Arundels writing on the wall in the Tower of London) Family members have been Cardinals imprisoned in the tower of London  and the castle was badly damaged during the English Civil War when both the Royalists and the Parliamentarians tried to take the castle.   The damage was not rectified until around 1718.

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One of the Earls, the 14th Earl was a renowned collector and collected many of the beautiful treasures which are found throughout the castle.  There are so many stunning items – furniture, tapestries, portraits, personal items of Mary, Queen of Scots, and clocks.    Every room is adorned with so many wonderful things and you need almost more than a day here to see absolutely everything and take it all in.   There is so much to take in and one of the things I loved with the vast array of different styles and periods captured within the rooms and the treasures in there.

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What also really struck me was the size of the castle – the enormity of the rooms, especially the Chapel and the main hall, which felt like mini castles in themselves.  Although it is clearly well renovated, you still get a sense in parts of what it must have felt like hundreds of years ago,  you can almost feel the cold as well before central heating was installed.  On a stormy day, the wind must have whipped around this stone walls but the view across the Sussex countryside must also have been fantastic too!

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There are different categories of entry tickets which enables you to see what you want to see.  The Gold Plus ticket is the most expensive and gives you an all areas access pass and includes the main rooms, as well as the bedrooms. We went to the Keep first – up winding stone stairs, along narrow corridors, past the portcullis and you enter rooms laid out for the Civil War.   Across the walk way, look to your right and see just how enormous this castle actually is.  The Keep is at the highest point and there are incredible views across the calm, green English countryside.  But you can see why they chose this spot – you’d be able to spot the enemies approaching!

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Around the main castle, you move through an armoury room (Great for kids with the axes and suites of armour), the chapel, a great hall, the long gallery and dining room.  If you have the Gold Plus tickets then you can also visit the castle bedrooms and see where Queen Victoria stayed.

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited from their home on the Isle of Wight in 1846, and the furniture in the bedroom and library was especially commissioned for her visit.  By contrast to the enormous castle, her bedroom was really rather modest! Many of the bedrooms are still used today when the Duke has guests staying.

A huge restoration project was undertaken by the 15th Duke of Norfolk, and this was completed in 1900.  Therefore much of what you see today is thanks to him.  It was one of the first country houses in England, to be fitted with electric lights, lifts and central heating.  Two of great great aunts worked there around the end of the 19th century at a time which must have been incredibly busy with all the renovations happening.  I’m sure they would have been incredibly excited to see.

The Fitzalan Chapel is in the grounds, and holds many of the memorial tombs to the Dukes of Norfolk.  It is also one of the very few churches to be split and have both the Catholic and Anglican worship areas.  It was very badly damaged during the Civil War and was neglected until the 19th century.  Many of the noses were cut off during the civil war.  This was widely recognised in the classical world as well as Medieval Europe, as a powerfully symbolic gesture that was associated with disempowerment, humiliation, exclusion, lost of identity and pain.

There is something for everyone and they also run a number of special events throughout the year which are worthwhile going to as well.  We recently went to their Medieval Seige on Bank Holiday weekend – with a 4 year old who is obsessed with castles, knights, swords and cannons this was perfect.

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There was a medieval village, where you could see the knights betting ready for their battle, as well as traditional crafts, cooking, an armourer and lather maker.

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Everyone was so willing to share their knowledge and you can wander around the medieval village and chat to everyone from craftsmen to Knights to those dressing the knights.

You could even try on parts of armour – I thought it looked heavy  and I was right!  How those knights ever managed to battle and win anything dressed in all that metal is beyond me.  One happy little boy who got to try on some armour for real!  The weight of the helmet (probably not the technical name!) is incredible.  These reenactment historians have an incredible knowledge of the time period and their craft and the cost of buying a suit of armour for these reenactment battles is often between £25,000-50,000.

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There were three main events in the day, two battles and a gun demonstration.  The French were fighting the English – there were swords and there were arrows and knights were getting hit!  This is a kids dream.  The gun demonstration was fascinating and we got to see guns and cannons firing – sadly they had to cut it short as after a beautiful sunny day the heavens opened and the lightening started.  Not good when you’re playing with gunpowder!

But the final battle took place and England beat France – hooray!! Despite the heavens pouring down, the thunder rumbling, the lightning flashing, these knights kept fighting to the death.  Despite most people taking shelter in the castle, about 10 of us huddled together under a medieval tent and watched and supported.  William would not have missed it for the world and fair play to the knights who kept going to entertain.

DSC_3829 We’re going back for the jousting week at the end of July.

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The castle is open from March to the end of October and further details can be found on their website Arundel Castle They are generally not open on Mondays apart from bank Holidays.

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And should you have time left in your day after visiting the castle then there are plenty of other things to do in Arundel.  The town is wonderful and has lots of fascinating antique and book shops as well as a good range of cafes and restaurants.  You can take a peaceful walk along the River Arun or visit the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust as well.

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