Now that’s a castle!

The many wonderful attractions of the United Kingdom include some of the world’s most beautiful castles.

And, naturally, everyone seems to have a favourite.

From the grandeur and amazing history of Windsor Castle and the Tower of London, to the fairytale settings of Bodium Castle in East Sussex, Corfe Castle in Dorset and Leeds Castle in Kent, there are many stunners.

However, without hesitation, our vote goes to a lesser known but equally awe-inspiring structure.

Although it is set high on a hill, Arundel Castle, in West Sussex, seems to appear out of nowhere to literally take your breath away.

 

It caught us totally by surprise as we travelled from Brighton on England’s channel coast to the ancient settlement of Shaftesbury in Dorset’s Blackmore Vale.

Our road swung around a corner bringing us suddenly face-to-face with a commanding 11th century Norman Castle overlooking the River Arun.

The great castle totally dominates this section of the South Downs, perched above the historic market town of Arundel. We were in awe of its sheer size and majestic presence.

On investigation, we discovered that Arundel Castle was built at the end of the 11th century by Roger de Montgomery, a loyal baron in the days of William the Conqueror.

Arundel_Castle_-West_Sussex,_England-23June2011

The baron was awarded a third of Sussex with the stipulation that a new castle be built near the mouth of the Arun to protect the area from attack.

It was founded on Christmas Day in 1067.

Arundel Castle has been owned by the family of the Duke of Norfolk for more than 400 years and is one of the longest inhabited country houses in England.

Investigations have shown that there was possibly prehistoric earthworks on the site.

The castle was damaged in the English Civil War and was restored in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, many of the original features such as the Norman keep, gatehouse and barbican and the lower part of Bevis Tower survive.

The castle’s size and location also lends itself to regular jousting tournaments, occasionally on an international standard.

Grounds of Arundel Castle are also extensively landscaped to feature striking gardens, with particularly stunning displays of tulips each April and May.

14-11-2013-22-157.Tulips.7569e36fd30a3430d1054e10f726b19d

When we told English friends how Arundel castle had impressed us, they mentioned that – as well as its beauty and sensational location – the building was also well known for a collection of ghosts and a mysterious white owl said to warn of impending death.

How to get there

Arundel Castle is located in a steep vale of the South Downs of West Sussex.

It is open from Easter to the end of October each year. See exact times.

Only about  49 miles from London, the castle is also close to both Brighton and Chichester. Arundel can be reached via the A27 or by train direct from the capital’s London Bridge and Victoria stations.

Visit the cathedral too

There’s more than one magnificent public building worth inspecting in tiny Arundel.

In 1868, Henry, the 15th Duke of Norfolk, decided that he wanted a church to rival the imposing castle. The result was Arundel Cathedral, one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival style in England.

Arundel_Cathedral_-West_Sussex,_England-21Sept2012

Soaring high above its gardens, the Catholic cathedral features unmistakable Bath stone, clusters of pillars and awesome vaulted ceilings.

The western frontage of the cathedral is dominated by a huge rose stained-glass window, much like another sensational English church, the York Minster.

 Credits: main photo courtesy Brett Oliver; aerial and cathedral photos courtesy Flickr and snowmanradio; videos and garden photo courtesy Arundel Castle
UK UK surprises

Underground secrets proving a hit

More of London’s secret underground world has been revealed.

After visiting the Churchill war rooms on our last trip to the English capital, we were fascinated to hear about guided tours deep beneath the city.

clapham

The ‘Hidden London’ tour program has been organised by London Transport Museum and has proved a big hit.

According to the museum’s website, all but one of the tours has been sold out until September.

Apparently, the secret world beneath London has really caught the public imagination.

Some hints of this underground world can be seen at street level – the odd ventilation shaft or drain cover might lead to an abandoned military bunker or one of London’s 13 subterranean rivers.

Churchill secretly took refuge at Down Street station during the height of the Blitz bombing raids on London in World War II.
The station had operated as part of the Tube to 1932 before it became a bomb-proof bunker.

89219713_downstreethidden_tfl_321_original1

Located between Hyde Park Corner and Green Park stations, Down Street was covertly transformed into the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof bunker.

As well as a secret air raid shelter for the Prime Minister, the narrow tangle of tunnels also served as the nerve centre of England wartime railways.

P1010163

Photo: Memorable Destination

Additional photography tours of the dark and deserted passageways under Euston Station have also proved popular with Instagrammers.

120px-Down_street_map_1912

If the Hidden London tours are half as interesting as the Churchill War Rooms, it is a worthwhile venture indeed.

The program is yet another exciting initiative by London Transport Museum  and we are keen to review the tours and let you know the outcome.

Another prominent underground city exists beneath the countryside near the English city of Bath.

Photo credit: Photos courtesy London Transport Museum. Map courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Features Hidden London London, UK UK surprises

English villages: surprises in the garden

Travelling through the orchards and lush countryside of Kent, it’s easy to see why the county has long been known as the ‘Garden of England’.

And few towns epitomise this as well as Maidstone.

Although London is only one-and-a-half hours away, Maidstone is a springboard for superb countryside and the picture-postcard villages of the Kent North Downs, an official area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

image

Maidstone sits on the bank of the River Medway that historically served as a route for the area’s agricultural trade with the Thames Estuary.

There is evidence that some settlement existed in the Maidstone area before the Stone Age.

We came to see a gem

We visited the town partially to see the remarkable medieval church of All Saints, an historical marvel by the riverside.

When it was built in 1395, All Saints was one of the biggest and widest parish churches in England.

It was part of a complex that also included an Archbishop’s Palace and Tithe Barn.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

In 1648, Maidstone was the site of a battle in the Second English Civil War and defeated Royalist troops were held in the church.

We were able to see sword slashes in the stones, along with musket shot in the doors.

Despite this turbulent past, All Saints is now a peaceful building constructed of a hard, blue-grey limestone locally called ‘rag stone’

The distinctive church tower is 78 feet high and boasted a spire until it was hit by lightning in 1730.

How to get there

All Saints church is located at Maidstone, Kent – about 39 miles from London, via the M25 and M26/M20 motorways.

There are also direct train and bus links to and from the capital.

IMG_0364.jpg

While at Maidstone, we stayed at the Grange Moor hotel, a charming facility that provides centrally-located, modern and cosy accommodation.

Villages in the area that we recommend visiting include Lenham, Marden, Headcorn and Yalding.

UK UK surprises village life