We are just slightly obsessed with castles. I have a vision that one day we will build our own. Just a small one mind. Nothing too greedy.
By far the most impressive castles we’ve visited in the South East is Arundel Castle
in Sussex which is less than an hour from Brighton. A really lovely day out that we recently enjoyed with my sister and niece who were visiting from Australia. My niece is also now very keen in joining the aristocracy and one day living in her own castle.
Home for almost 1000 years to the Dukes of Norfolk and their families, Arundel Castle in one of the longest inhabited country houses in the UK. As well as the fabulous castle, the grounds are a wonderful place to discover in their own right. The kids spent at least an hour running wild outside and relaxing in these tranquil gardens was probably my favourite part of the day.
After chatting with one of the charming gardeners we were stunned to hear that the entire castle grounds are maintained by just 7 gardeners and a hand full of dedicated volunteers. Remarkable when you hear that there used to be around 50 gardeners working at the castle at one time in days gone past.
We headed straight to the toilets (as you usually do with kids), entering a tropical paradise through a huge wooden gate. Wow! I The gardens are truly breathtaking and before I knew it the kids were off. Turns and tunnels, gold crescents and antlers, a maze of pathways and secret doors, water features and the most spectacular flowers. We almost forgot the desperate call of nature!
Slightly relieved, we checked out the organic kitchen gardens which serve the castle residents and restaurant guests.
The stumpery was my favourite area. A haven for fairy folk. Filled with gnarly old tree stumps covered in poppies and all sorts of beautiful flowers.
Throughout the site, there are several areas of ecological conservation including wildflower banks and the wildflower garden with its cute thatched roundhouse. It’s a lovely touch to see insects and wildlife encouraged without the use of pesticides like so many properties open to the public.
The Castle itself doesn’t open until midday but there are plenty of grounds to discover for a couple of hours from 10am. We were very lucky with the weather and enjoyed a picnic in the grounds before the sky turned grey. A quick stop to admire a magnificent ancient cork oak tree and we headed to the castle before the rain.
Owned today by the current Duke of Norfolk and his 5 children, it’s lovely to visit a castle that is actually lived in. There’s plenty to discover indoors if the weather is bad and as you walk round the rooms, it’s clear to see that the castle is well-loved and a real home rather than just a showroom. We visited on the day of a family party and there was a real buzz in the air as the bedrooms were ready for the lucky guests of one of the Duke’s grown up kids. Lucky guests! Speaking to the castle staff they explained that the reason for the shampoo, hand soap and fresh flowers in each room meant that they would be used that evening. The family themselves actually live in a separate part of the castle not accessible to the public. Well, everyone needs a little privacy I suppose!
Wandering the castle with the kids, we imagined what live would be like living it such a wonderfully historic place. The endless hidden corridors to place hide and seek, the huge stretching staircases to slide down, and the fascinating spirits and ghosts that may visit your chambers at night. We all picked out our favourite rooms and discussed who we would invite to the party if it were ours. We can all dream!
From the top of The Keep we could just about peak down on the party that was being organised for the evening. A huge marquee on the lawn and some music being tested made the kids very keen to get an invite. We talked to one of the staff who said the owners had regular parties and sometimes the staff got an invite. They also told us all about the different events that take place at the castle including jousting and medieval events, classic car gatherings and living history days.
The kids were exhausted by the end of the day. We skipped the restaurant and cafe as there wasn’t any outdoor seating and they were at that twisty tired stage where a meltdown was imminent. Instead, we grabbed an ice cream from the village shop just round the corner then went and sat by the river.
We had a great day at Arundel Castle
and will certainly go back for one of the events and to check it out again. In fact, we totally missed the Fitzalan Chapel and White Garden and only realised this when we got home and looked at the map.