The views from the keep are astounding: the town and cathedral, fields as far as the eye can see, the deep green rolling hills of the South Downs, the beautiful Sussex countryside. I can see why this was an excellent defensive position. Guards would have been able to see invading armies with enough time to prepare to repel them or to withstand a siege.
The history of Arundel Castle goes as far back as the Norman Conquest when a chain of defensive fortresses was built along the south coast. Roger de Montgomery, who had been granted land in Sussex, built an earth and timber fortification in 1068. Gradually, the timber was replaced by stone as the defenses (motte and baileys) were strengthened. The castle changed hands a few times throughout its history and its owners added and modified bits and pieces down to this day.
We came in through the Lower Lodge entrance, having parked the car in the public parking lot across the street. We bought our tickets (£18 for me to see everything and £9 for my husband, for the gardens and restaurant) and wound our way up to the castle.
The first impression, as we went round a corner, was magnificent. The Victorian addition loomed over us.
First things first, we headed to the restaurant for lunch. The food, a cheese ploughman’s and a chicken pie, was more than decent in quality and in price. Then, my husband settled comfortably in the garden and I started my exploration of the castle.
I went up to the keep first through a narrow staircase, barely wider than my shoulders. I wondered what would happen if someone wanted to descend, as it happens in other ancient buildings. No need to worry, though. There seemed to be a double circulation system: one set of stairs to go up and one to go down.
I was in the Gatehouse Tower, the oldest part of the castle, which dates back to 1070. This four story construction was used as living quarters by officials and senior servants. Some of the rooms are furnished as they would have been then. It gives you a very good idea of what it was like to live in the castle in the Middle Ages and the life-like characters looked too real, down to the matted hair of the Civil War soldiers! Even the body bag was too realistic.
The House was added in the 19th century with modern conveniences like electric light (Arundel was among the first houses in England to have it). My least favourite rooms were the Armoury because of all the weapons and the Library because it’s too dark. The private chapel is magnificent and so is the Baron’s Hall with its 50 foot (16 mts) ceiling. The dining room has a dramatic setting. It used to be a chapel in medieval times and the stained glass windows are gorgeous.
The Windsor Bedroom, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert slept when they visited Arundel Castle, is the most famous bedroom.
I maintain that there is nothing more beautiful than an English garden. My absolute favorites were the Classic English Herbaceous Borders and the Cut Flower Garden. Unfortunately, it was too late in the year to enjoy the Rose Garden.
The Fitzalan Chapel
The Fitzalan Chapel dates from the 14th century and is the resting place of the Dukes and Duchesses of Norfolk. In medieval times, there was a priory here which shared a church with the parish. The priory was dissolved in the 16th century and the Duke of Norfolk, who was Catholic, retained the priory’s half of the chapel. The other half became Protestant and a masonry wall was erected to separate both, which was replaced by a glass wall in the 20th century. One building, two faiths.
The Duke and his family still live in Arundel Castle. When the castle closes to visitors in late October, they reclaim their home and use some of the rooms I visited. Sometimes, the duke or the duchess wander in and out of rooms or take photos, which isn’t allowed, and new members of staff tell them off. I’d love to be a fly on the wall and see their reaction when they realize who they were telling off. I was told that the duke and duchess are very gracious and laugh it off.