When travelers close their eyes and conjure up an image of England, that image usually includes castles, green rolling fields, quaint villages, and Gothic cathedrals. Arundel, in West Sussex (70 km south of London), offers all of these wonders—and is still a living, breathing example of an old-fashioned market town.
The town of Arundel was founded almost a thousand years ago and has been continuously inhabited ever since. The most obvious attraction is the stunning Norman-style castle, which looms like a fairy tale over the rest of the town. Turrets, tall smooth walls, and pointed windows abound in this fortress, which has been the home of the Duke of Norfolk’s family since the late 16th century. Amazingly, the present-day Duke and his family still live in the castle for half of each year, and then leave it open to the public for the busy summer season.
Tours are offered daily during the summer, and are led by passionate volunteers that are just as in awe of the castle as the tourists are. Guests are led through the armory, chapel, and great hall, all of which have been impeccably preserved. There is a real sense of family history here, as if you were visiting the residence of a (very) wealthy great uncle. The portraits are chronologically-ordered and date all the way back to the 4th Duke of Norfolk. And each subsequent generation has etched their initials somewhere in the interior of the castle. These personal touches are endearing, and lend an unusual dose of humanity to the historical building.
The finale of the tour is a visit to the ‘old’ castle, accessed from the ‘new’ castle by a long stairway. This original structure was built by William the Conqueror in 1067, and includes a dungeon and look-out. The views from these ancient windows are truly marvelous, as the rolling green fields of the South Downs stretch for miles around. The meandering River Arun is also visible, as well as the rest of the town far below.
Before you exit the castle completely, be sure to tour the lovely grounds that include a botanical garden, artistic sculptures, and some fascinatingly morbid crypts. Take a peek inside the famous Arundel Cathedral, which is adjacent to the gardens and open to the public. Conceived in the Gothic Revival style, this Catholic cathedral was built in 1868 and is soaring in height and enormous in scale. The structure was commissioned by the Duke of Norfolk’s family in order to complement their castle, and it certainly fits the bill.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite descending back down the hill into town, do as the English do and enjoy a high tea service. This beloved tradition is alive and well in Arundel, and is available to order in most of the pubs and cafes. Tea, lumps of sugar, clotted cream, jam, and scones are the classic choices, but there is also an array of English pastries to try. ‘Spotted Dick’ is a traditional pudding (dessert) with a rather unfortunate name, and it features the flavors of brandy and raisins. Arundel town itself is also known for its antique shops and the monthly Arundel Farmers Market, so do leave some time for shopping.
On a sunny day, a stroll to the Arundel Wetlands Centre can’t be beat. Only a mile’s walk from town, these waterways provide a range of water-based activities. Guided tours are offered for those interested in bird-watching, and individual rowboats can also be rented by the hour at a nearby pond. If your arteries can handle it, another round of fresh scones with clotted cream are sold by the waterfront. The whole scene seems impossibly idyllic, especially when swans or other waterfowl slowly drift by.
Written by and photos by Amy Vasereno for EuropeUpClose.com