Sunday, 14 September 2014

Exeat: Arundel Castle

arundel medieval castle stately homeAt last! We'd promised to meet Obscure Cousin Margaret for a tour of Arundel Castle ages ago, but the first free day in our crowded social schedules was today, well after the summer holidays were over.
We'd all gone to bed late last night so we were a bit slow off the mark in the morning and Jof wasn't ready in time. So we totally blew her out and went anyway, driving the wrong side of 80 to get there before 1115. We got to Arundel station absolutely the second Margaret stepped out of the station building so got away with it.
collector earl garden folly arundel castleFor some reason this well-known tourist attraction was popular today and we had to park miles away, the other side of Swanbourne Lake, nearly to the Wetlands Trust. Still, we got to eat free blackberries from the hedgerows.
The entry fee was steep, like the mound the castle is built on. We thought that for £45, we needed to see absolutely everything, so we got the Gold + tickets that let you in everywhere. But soon we found places we weren't allowed, like the fishpond.
arundel castle gatehouse defencesI took the map and led us all round the very extensive gardens first. It seems that when you're a Duke, you can have a garden as big as you like and he obviously liked. They have their own medieval chapel with tombs with marble sculptures of the dead people lying on top and a metal strongbox and a lot of stonework and the first of many uniformed volunteer helpers to make sure nobody did anything bad.
norman keep looking to bevis tower, arundel castleEverywhere you are gently reminded that photography is not allowed in the castle so we took as many pictures as we could, but when you get to the more interesting places, there are helpers all over the place.
In fact, Margaret has done this castle before, about 70 years ago. She remembers that you could roll down the slopes to the keep etc, but nowadays the Health and Safety Police have put up little signs telling you not to do anything.
After the Fitzalan Chapel, we did the 'Collector Earl Gardens' which had a willow tunnel and many wooden sculptures and follies and one with a crown suspended on a jet of water with the entire room made out of seashells, as you do.
The vegetable garden is huge and there's a staircase leading down, it says it's the Victorian central heating room to keep the greenhouses warm. It must work, because they grow chillies and peaches and lemons and passion fruits and all sorts in there.
old fashioned toilet arundel castleThe large walls surrounding the gardens give it shelter so it's like a jungle with exotic plants and triffids. You're never far from walls and arrow slits and moats and towers, the Norman keep and Barbican Gate are 11th century, a lot of building went on in the 14th century but the impressive and suspiciously clean stonework on the front is from the 1880s.
They clearly did it well, with huge rooms and little doors everywhere, in the olde style but with modern building materials and skills, leaving the ancient parts intact. Having done the grounds, we entered the castle and had lunch.
stone built fireplace arundel castleWe've done captive lunches before and you just know it's going to be expensive. But this time it was a mere £33 to feed the three of us, I couldn't even finish the coffee cake. When I went to the toilet it was right at the base of the biggest round tower!
The Norman Keep is up 131 steps but that troubled none of us. I found the portcullis mechanism and laughed at the displays in the lady-in-waiting chambers and guardrooms with little plastic rats dotted throughout.
The views are pretty good from up there and there's a dungeon and a mini-chapel and a garderobe and a small girl making pigeon noises. The spiral staircases are very narrow and steep.
But once you get inside the main stately home, that's when you see the expensive stuff and Volunteer Helpers abound. The first bit is the armoury. They've got loads of swords and halberds and armour and guns and knives and stabbing weapons of most inventive design. If you really want to make a mess of someone's throat, why not have a massive sword on the end of a pole with 3 or 4 sticky-out bits going in different directions.
mace and medieval swords Every item of furniture is labelled and it's always 'Ebony table with ivory inlay, 15th century' or 14th Century German iron strongbox' or similar, no price tags on anything. The inner chapel is impressive but dark, then the rest of the rooms have set-up displays like 'Breakfast for the Royals' and there's a cabinet full of gold items including Mary Queen of Scots' necklace that she took off just before her head was removed.
The family (Dukes of Norfolk) had portraits done of all of their family members, nicely named and dated and done by people like Van Dyck: Canaletto and Gainsborough have also done paintings for the castle. I can tell you that the first wife of one of the Dukes back in the 1400s was ... not a natural beauty. Perhaps that's why she was only the first wife.
The great hall is hilarious with its understated fireplaces 50 feet high, lots of 16th century silverware and irreplaceable furniture, some quite overdone with curlicues and frippery bits, but who's arguing.
You get to see some of the bedrooms with ensuite bathing palaces, and an old-fashioned toilet that looks out over the south Downs. The library has 2 levels and lots of snug areas for private contemplation.
arundel castle tourist busAt the end we had to do the Gifte Shoppe but I just couldn't find anything that I was allowed to have, they sell really expensive stuff and tourist tat but nothing in between for me. They do sell swords and a decent mace (double-balled Morningstar) but only to over-18s! Cheek. We bought Jof some choc chip cookies and I settled grumpily for a pencil. This brought on a sulk that only an ice cream could cure, from the freezer visible behind the swords.
My little legs were tired. Immediately outside the gatehouse, one of the nice helper ladies said did I want a lift down to the front gate in her golf buggy. This totally made my day and I rode out in style.
We sent Bud to the next town to get the car back and Margaret went home on the bus after about 5 hours in the castle. We only had to park for about 20 minutes on the Chichester by-pass (the Grim Reeperbahn of Despair) and we were home. I had an excellent day and can thoroughly recommend Arundel Castle if:
You have a lot of money
You have resilient feet
You have a camera with a manual flash so you can take pictures surreptitiously

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