This weekend, we decided to take the children to Arundel Castle in the heart of the Sussex Weald. There are a few lessons you can learn from this experience, and to save you time and trouble when you go, I’ll list the pitfalls and advantages below for you in order of importance. I’m helpful like that.
Visiting Arundel Castle with Children
Firstly, if you tell a small girl that you’re going to Arundel Castle, for God’s sake enunciate and pronounce it clearly, otherwise what a three-year-old girl will hear is “Arendelle Castle”, home of Elsa and Anna from the ubiquitous Disney film “Frozen”.
You will then have to spend the rest of the day explaining patiently that the Princesses aren’t at home, there isn’t any snow because it’s actually May, and no, Prince Hans isn’t going to turn up and seize the Kingdom at a moment’s notice.
But … thinking about it … they totally should. Think of the visitors you’d get from an Arendelle Castle-themed Arundel Castle.
Sure, you’d have to pretend to ignore some pretty significant copyright issues to avoid the anvil hammer of highly paid lawyers that Mr Walt Disney would unleash upon you, but I’ve seen enough badly drawn unofficial Peppa Pigs on cheap bouncy castles to know that copyright violation isn’t always a matter of *checks dictionary* copying things right.
Secondly, as a parent, you will be bright enough to realise that, as one of the most magnificent castles in Sussex, Arundel Castle will undoubtedly contain some priceless works of art, items of significant historical value or are otherwise somehow priceless and irreplaceable and these will be protected by the childproof method of putting them behind … velvet rope.
You should also realise that small boys respect neither history, financial value or sturdy velvet ropes and will attempt to sit on priceless thrones, push over ancient suits of armour or bite Tour Guides who attempt to restrain them.
You will secretly hope this will result in small boys being placed in either the Castle Stocks or the Dungeon; neither of these things will regretfully happen due to the staff’s insistence on adhering to the stupid Health and Safety laws we must abide by in 2023. You will at this stage secretly hope you’ve packed a hip flask in the picnic basket, but you haven’t.
Thirdly, British History, as proud and as wonderful as it is, is inherently confusing. For example, if you are the Duke of Devonshire, under no circumstances should you live anywhere near Devon but should make your ancestral home in the stunning Chatsworth House, which is in, erm, Derbyshire.
If you are an ancient English nobleman (or indeed, noblewoman), you should most definitely build the impressive and magnificent Leeds Castle, but in a bit to confuse the French, you should absolutely site it somewhere in Kent. The lack of Yorkshire accents, puddings and tea will be enough to confuse the most dedicated of foreign invaders to our shores.
And finally, in a similar vein, if you are the Duke of Norfolk, you should absolutely live in Sussex, ideally in Arundel Castle because (a) this is actually your home, but (b) this will ensure you confuse generations of German tourists as they try and work out why, with the added advantage of as confirming the superiority of Sussex over Norfolk.
Lastly, there are a number of special events throughout the year. Handily, these are posted on the castle’s website and while most of the special events can be accessed with a standard ticket, you might need to pay extra for events like the Jousting Festival and the open-air theatre nights. Apart from that, a standard ticket will be all you’ll need!
If this all sounds like a terribly trying and confusing day out, I’m not going to lie, it absolutely is. There are, however, several things in favour of a family visit to a castle such as Arundel.
A Family Day Out to Arundel Castle
First up: Castles are cool. End of. On this point, I will brook no argument. Everyone loves castles! Every true Englishman secretly likes castles as in his mind’s eye he sees piles of dead Frenchmen at the base of the walls and this is enough to cheer him up a bit.
Equally, every true Englishwoman likes castles because in their mind’s eye, they see Princesses and Queens and all the things they think they should be – and quite righty are. Parents of both genders also like castles as they wistfully look at how errant children could be sent up chimneys or clasped in irons and finally, children love Castles because of point one – castles are cool.
Travelling to Arundel Castle
Secondly, it’s literally a piece of cake to get to. Arundel Castle is a stone’s throw from Arundel Railway Station and is just a short 10-minute stroll from the station forecourt.
Arundel is about a 90-minute train journey from London Bridge and London Victoria Railway Stations, though please do check your particular train times as there are also slow local services that run, and slow for Southern Trains might mean sometime this millennia.
If you’re driving, Arundel has one council-run pay-and-display car park and one council-owned pay-and-display car park near the town centre, and no, I don’t know the difference between a council-run or council-operated car park either.
However, they are teeny tiny and if you want a chance to park on a busy, day, the Mill Road Car Park is the most central and reasonable, at a fiver for anything over 4 hours of parking, although if the overflow parking is in operation on a wet day, bring your wellies, because overflow in this case means “you get to park in a field”.
Tickets for Arundel Castle
Arundel Castle and its wonderful Gardens are open between the start of April to the end of October each year, and that’s probably understandable as the Duke of Norfolk (who still lives in the castle) probably wants a bit of a break from crowds of people trampling over his flowerbeds and guest bedrooms every now and then.
The Gardens are open between 10.00 am to 5.00 pm and, if you’ve paid for a nose around the Castle rooms, these are open from 12.00 pm to 5.00 pm.
Tickets are available either at the door or in advance online. For a peek at the Castle, the Gardens and the Bedrooms, Adult tickets are £27, Children (Under 16) are £11 and a Family Ticket is £65, although this will cover 2 Adults and up to 3 Children.
If you’re not fussed about the Bedrooms, prices are £25, £11 and £61 respectively and if you just want to stroll around the impressive Gardens, it’s £14/£6.50, as there’s no family ticket option for the Gardens.
This means if you’re keen to see the Castle, the Gardens and the Bedrooms, the right way to do this is to have a gander around the Castle first, then arrive at the bedrooms when they open at 12.
Things to see in Arundel Castle
We arrived and made a beeline for The Keep, getting to the highest and most difficult part of the Castle first. Still, you are rewarded with some quite stunning views of the local area, giving you an amazing panoramic view of the coast right back to the heart of the Sussex weald.
You’re rewarded at various points on the journey with little interactive displays along the way with dressing-up boxes for the little ones – and not-so-little ones – to dress up as knights, princesses and nobles as you get to various rooms.
Having drunk in the views, we then made out way back down via the State Rooms, where the incredibly well-preserved Regency library is a must-see – a riot of colour and knowledge that would not be out of place on a Harry Potter film studio tour.
There’s also the impressive grandeur of the Barons’ Hall, a dining room of such huge proportions you might feel like an extra in Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and a main chapel so ornate it makes your local church look like it was constructed by your 8 year old with a new Lego set.
Food and Drink in Arundel Castle
The good news is that Arundel Castle has both a fantastic café and an equally fantastic full restaurant, which offers the chance for harassed parents to be harassed in a slightly different manner as they attempt to force all manner of delicious meals down their children’s necks, before giving up and allowing them to eat Pickled Onion flavoured Monster Munch for lunch.
To make this a bit easier for parents, the restaurant serves not only delicious-looking light meals – think pasties, quiches, and sandwiches – but also delicious wine and local beers for a reasonable price. Such is the need for wine after your child has actually attempted to trampoline on a bed slept in by Queen Victoria that they could probably charge a thousand pounds a bottle, you would still have brought two.
The smaller café does a good line of hot coffee and sweet-looking treats for a mid-morning power up and if you’re watching the pennies, you’re more than welcome to bring along a picnic to enjoy in the castle grounds. We opted for a mix-and-match option, surreptitiously passing the kids some pre-brought snacks while I attempted to get outside of a pretty decent Cornish Pasty.
The Arundel Castle Gardens
Look, right, cards on the table, I’m not a gardener. I have literally no talent when it comes to making things grow and I’m frankly quite impressed I’ve managed to keep my children alive this long.
God knows I’ve tried in the past – I’ve spent a fortune on plants, fertilizer, impressively overpriced gardening tools, water sprays, talking to flowers and God alone knows what else, but it all has the same result – a disappointing pile of brown, dead leaves, while I shout “Why won’t you grow, you bastards” at them, mostly.
So it’s a real testament to the dedication, knowledge and care of the gardeners at Arundel Castle that their gardens are nothing short of wonderful. It really is something special to see everything in full bloom.
We arrived during the tulip festival and while my low level of enthusiasm for tulips is only matched by my low level of enthusiasm for things like paying tax bills and working for a living, I was genuinely taken aback by the beauty of the display – a real testament to the efforts of the team.
Tulips aside, the rest of the Gardens are no less amazing, with an incredible garden layout complete with fountains and water features with the hidden gem of an original chapel located nearby where we sheltered from a sudden burst of rain.
Given the amount of Instagramming going on while we wandered around, it would appear I wasn’t alone in appreciating the stunning display. If you do come to Arundel and money’s a bit tight, just do the gardens. You won’t regret it, and that’s coming from someone who is basically a plant mass murderer.
So if you’re stuck for something to do one weekend, why not visit Arundel Castle? At least come to the gardens. It’s cool, it’s fun, and for maximum enjoyment, you can always borrow a velvet rope and tie your children up in the dungeon when the staff aren’t looking so you can enjoy a nice big slice of British History.