Arundel (Note: not Arendelle, that’s the kingdom in Frozen) is a small (look how small!) market town in West Sussex, an hour and a half’s train ride from London, and home to the medieval Arundel Castle.
Established by Roger de Montgomery in 1067 on Christmas Day, Arundel Castle is a lot older than it looks, since it’s been regularly refurbished and updated by the family, whose ancestors have lived there since the 11th century.
Arundel Castle is open to visitors from the end of March to the end of October, with tickets available on the gate and on the website from prices between £13 and £22 depending on which areas you want to see. We chose the Gold tickets which gave us access to the FitzAlan Chapel, the gardens, the keep and the main castle rooms.
Since the family actually live in the castle, the rooms themselves don’t open until noon, but the gardens and grounds open at 10 so we pottered around in them before heading inside.
The FitzAlan Chapel
This church is actually divided in two – the Anglican Church of Saint Nicholas Arundel, and the Catholic FitzAlan Chapel. The chapel is a Grade I listed building and the private mausoleum of the Dukes of Norfolk.
Built by the tenth Earl of Arundel, the FitzAlan chapel has large clear glass windows that fill the chapel walls, making the inside a bright and uplifting space.
Why is it called the FitzAlan Chapel? The family tree of the Earl of Arundel starts with the Aubigny family in 1138, the last male of which dies in 1243 passing the castle to his sister who is married into the FitzAlan family. They pass the castle down through the generations until the daughter of the 19th earl marries Thomas Howard in 1555 and inherits the castle when her brother dies in 1580. The family now takes the name FitzAlan-Howard.
And if you like your history, yes that’s Howard as in Catherine Howard, beheaded wife of Henry VIII (incidentally, Anne Boleyn was also a Howard, and also beheaded).
The Arundel Castle Gardens
The beautiful gardens at Arundel castle are not what you would expect. Starting with the Collector Earl’s Garden (a car park since the 1970s but redeveloped in 2008) which is a memorial to the 14th Earl of Arundel, styled after the formal Jacobean garden at Arundel House in London (long since demolished). He was an avid art collector so his portion of the gardens is full of quirky features like the domed pergola, fountains, gateways and pavilions.
Just before the striking view of the Arundel Cathedral is a strange temple like structure built of green oak and lined with shells. This is meant to be a recreation of ‘Oberon’s Palace’, a fantastical sculpture built from the designs of Inigo Jones for Prince Henry’s Masque on New Year’s Day 1611. Inside is a stalagmite fountain with a golden crown, which seems to hover in the air on a jet of water.
The far end of the gardens hold the Kitchen gardens, where fruit and vegetables are grown to supply the castle. There are two connecting greenhouses – the Tropical Glass House featuring exotic Paw Paws, Passion Fruit, Bananas, Hot Chilli Collection, Coffee plants and Bird of Paradise plants, and the restored Victorian Vine House with grape vines and fan-trained Chinese flat peaches.
It took us just over half an hour to explore the chapel and all the gardens. Since we were there just after the grounds opened it was wonderfully quiet, and we were really lucky to have such perfect weather.
To get to the keep you can either retrace your steps back to the front entrance, or go through a gate in the hedge to follow the moat around the outside of the castle walls.
Your tickets will be checked as you enter the castle, and inside you’ll find a self-service restaurant and a little cafe. They’re very tastefully done in existing rooms of the castle, all the furniture in-keeping with the interior look and feel. If you chose to buy a gift aid ticket then you can redeem your voucher in the cafe for two coffees and a muffin!
On the way through the castle to reach the Keep there are lots of historical reconstructions and explanatory plaques, including a whole room with mannequins telling the story of a siege during the civil war.
Built in 1048, the Keep still shows many features from the original structure, my favourite being old fireplaces set into the stone wall. You can climb up the narrow staircase and walk all around the top of the walls for incredible views over the town of Arundel and the South Downs, but some of the openings are sealed to give the family privacy.
I don’t know about you but all this privacy was making me so curious about the FitzAlan-Howards who live in the castle. I did some googling and the main news story seems to be about the current Duke and Duchess who had a trial separation in 2011, both living in separate wings of the castle. Isn’t that handy? They reconciled in 2016 after coming together to plan their son’s wedding.
Inside Arundel Castle
I’d say it’s definitely worth paying extra to get into the castle itself. I think Matt was a bit miffed that so much modernisation had happened, but I thought it brought something completely different to the castle that I’ve never seen in other historic sights. It somehow felt at once grand and homely.
There are historical artefacts, paintings, weapons and armour in almost every room, but possibly the most were found in the Great Hall, where two massive stone fireplaces stood at each end and portraits lined the walls.
Every room was occupied by staff, who were eager to talk you through the features and history.
Since this part of the castle was closed before noon I couldn’t help imagining the family going about a normal morning, with the staff hurriedly tidying up after them and pulling across the velvet rope as they left. This feeling was especially strong in the study and drawing room, where modern family photos were scattered around on tables and mantlepieces.
In 1846, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert came to stay at Arundel Castle. They gave the Earl two years’ notice, which he used to remodel the castle and have furniture made for a royal bedroom and dressing room, and a new library (although every room she visited during her stay was also refurnished in “the finest Victorian furniture”). You can see all of this on display, including her bed, two armchairs and a pair of spades used by the royal couple to plant a tree in the castle grounds.
My favourite room was definitely the library, full of leather bound books focusing mainly on history, poetry and botany. The framework of the whole room was a dark polished mahogany, hung with antique Chinese lanterns and separated by red velvet curtains. Each sitting area was furnished with plush red velvet armchairs and sofas, all positioned around little fireplaces. It was so cosy and magical I could’ve stayed all day.
If you splash your cash on a Gold Plus ticket you can also go upstairs to the castle bedrooms.
As I mentioned before, the castle is only open from March to October, so no luck if you were hoping to visit this year (unless you can squeeze one in this weekend). I bet a visit in March or April would be beautiful though, imagine those gardens in Spring!
Arundel itself is so tiny we managed to lap it in about 20 minutes. You can tell its main industry is tourism from the over abundance of cafes – seriously every other shopfront is a cafe. Apart from the Knight’s Table which is a historic themed restaurant (Matt was very excited).
The main market street is where most of the action is, with a weekend market and lots of antique shops and, as I mentioned, cafes.
If you head down Tarrant Street you’ll find more cafes, some restaurants, pubs, lots of cute knick-knack shops and a vintage shopping arcade.
Where to eat
We actually stayed in Arundel overnight to celebrate our 4 year anniversary, which is why we were able to get to the castle so early in the morning. We had our anniversary dinner at a cute little cafe called Motte & Bailey, which hosts tapas nights on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Our meal was delicious – sea salted padron peppers, grilled chorizo, jamon croquettas, crispy calamari, lamb meatballs with roasted aubergine, patatas bravas, and salted caramel churros for dessert.
Where to stay
Our night in Arundel was curtesy of Matt’s old company, who gave him a Virgin Experiences voucher as a leaving present. We decided to redeem it on a night in a hotel and chose the Norfolk Arms in Arundel. We had a wonderful stay and I’d definitely recommend it.
We weren’t sure what to expect when we chose Arundel for our anniversary celebration. I knew it would be pretty from the photos I found online, but I was not ready for just how pretty it was. The beautiful castle was so striking against the blue sky, and the inside was just as gorgeous as the outside. Go if you like history, views and fairytales.