The romantic castles of Sussex holiday cottages

The romantic castles of Sussex

Elianne Reed 04 March 2019

It's easy to picture Rapunzel at the top of one of these magnificent parapets calling down to one of her suitors or imagine lords and ladies who one made this castles' their homes strolling through the exquisite grounds. Sussex plays host to a range of spectacular castles, some that have been kept in excellent conditions so that when you walk through the halls you'll feel like you've travelled back in time, and others that have fallen to battles or disrepair and are now in ruins, yet still as grand as ever. 

These castles have seen kings, dukes and knights come and go, been privy to beheadings and home to murder. Thousands of years of history can be uncovered in the castles throughout Sussex so go and find out the fascinating stories of these magnificent structures. Climb the parapets, explore the gardens and stop for a bite in the tearooms at these excellent attractions. They have been adapted for visitors so make the most of these beautiful structures throughout the countryside. We have plenty of delightful properties where you could stay on a holiday discovering the castles' of Sussex, take a look and find you're own private cottage from which to discover this fantastic county.

Below we have listed a few of the must-see castles in the area. These elegant attractions have lots to offer including stories of intrigue that will ensure your holiday is a memorable one. Enjoy a trip to Sussex and uncover it's romantic yet deadly history. 

Arundel Castle

This family castle, built at the end of the 11th century, has been the seat of the Duke of Norfolk for over 850 years and continues to be to this day. It has been restored many times over the years and dominates the town of Arundel, shadowing everything in its path. It sits high on a hill with amazing views across the South Downs and the River Arun. Though the castle is only open for certain months of the year, it is such a huge part of Sussex life and so beautiful that it had to be included in our guide.

Can I have a little history before I go?

There are nearly 1000 years of fascinating history abound at this castle, built at the end of the 11th century by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel. The oldest part of the castle is the motte, constructed just after the Battle of Hastings in 1068, soon followed by the gatehouse. King Henry I settled the castle and lands in dower on his second wife, Adeliza of Louvain in his will; she then married William d’Albini II who was later made Earl of Arundel by King Henry II.

The castle has descended directly from 1138 to the present day, carried by both female and male heiresses. There has been the occasional reversion to the Crown but otherwise it has been straight succession. The castle has witnessed executions of its masters, including the 4th Duke who was beheaded for plotting to marry Mary Queen of Scots.

The various owners over the years have been religious or well-known and this can be seen in the many beautiful items you can see today, including furniture from the 16th century and wonderful tapestries and portraits. Personal possessions of Mary, Queen of Scots are also on show. Sadly, the castle was later badly damaged when besieged by Royalists and then again by Cromwell’s Parliamentarian force.

The pure grandeur of the castle is evident when you find out that it was visited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1846 – the visit was only for three days but a special bedroom and library were commissioned for them which is fascinating to look around. The castle as it is today was mainly restored by the 15th Duke and was one of the first country houses to have electric light and central heating.

Should I take a tour or do it alone?

The best way is to do a guided tour – these can be arranged during the morning before the main castle rooms are opened to visitors. The tour lasts for one and a quarter hours and is £20 per person – you will be in a group of about twenty but you must book this in advance. If you prefer to go alone, you can look around the main rooms of the castle in a free flow manner - there are guides in most rooms who will answer questions and give you lots of interesting information about the castle and its history.

What else can I do there?

There are wonderful grounds and gardens to explore – along with the keep and gatehouse, they have been open to visitors since the early 19th century. The beautiful walled gardens include the Herbaceous Borders, the Stumpery, the renowned Collector Earl’s Garden and the Organic Kitchen Garden which supplies the castle with fresh fruit and vegetables. The unusual peach house and vinery brings an exotic feel to Sussex and is home to a selection of tropical fruits and vegetables. The Fitzalan Chapel offers a charming white garden and for a little touch of the traditional, visit the Rose Garden which has a plethora of English roses just bursting out of every corner. There is a coffee shop on site as well as a shop to buy souvenirs.

Is my dog allowed?

Unfortunately, dogs are not permitted.

What is the entry price?

Prices start at £11 per adult/concession and £10 per child which offers entry to the gardens and grounds, The Collector Earl’s Garden, the Fitzalan Chapel and the shop, café and restaurant. To visit the above and the castle, prices for adults are £20, concessions £17.50 and children £10. Guided tours are £20 per person.

Bodiam Castle

The impossibly romantic 14th-century medieval castle of Bodiam sits in the heart of centuries of historic landscape. It is an example of one of our most beautiful buildings and is known for its huge sturdy towers which rise up out of its beautiful moat against a backdrop of spectacular Sussex sky.

There is no better experience than crossing the drawbridge to the castle where you immediately get a taste of what it would have been like to thunder across by horse and carriage to a feast in the great hall. The towers offer the most amazing sweeping views across the River Rother valley and if that isn’t enough, you can turbocharge your experience by catching a steam train to the castle with the Kent and East Sussex Railway!

Can I have a little history before I go?

The castle was built in 1385 by one of Henry VIII’s knights, Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, to defend the area against a potential French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War. It was built out of sandstone and unlike many castles, doesn’t have a keep. During the reign of Richard III, a siege against Bodiam was planned but there are no records to show whether or not this attack actually took place.

Sadly, during the English Civil War, much of the interior was destroyed by Parliamentarians but the exterior walls wouldn’t be brought down and have lived to tell the tale. The castle just survived as a ruin during the 17th and 18th centuries, and like many at this time, went into disrepair and became covered in ivy. Now owned by the National Trust, it is visited by over 150,000 people every year and has appeared in numerous films and videos.

Should I take a tour or do it alone?

You can take brilliant guided tours where you will discover intriguing and often gruesome tales from the colourful medieval characters that lead the tours. These include William the forester, Blanche the Webster and Ebete the huckster amongst others. They are a wealth of information and will talk you through the history of the castle and how they would have experienced it in their role. You can also watch a short DVD, which will explain a little history about the castle and then make your way around at your leisure. The castle has a ruined interior so much of the experience is walking amongst the ruins, but there is enough of an interior structure to imagine how the castle was in its day.

Climb up the spiral staircases and peek through the narrow slitted windows where arrows would be shot at the enemy, and check out the old lookout tower. Make sure that you also visit the well room and the great hall where you can imagine the many celebrations and feasts taking place. Check out the original wooden portcullis which is a very rare example – set in the gatehouse, it is an integral part of the visit. In the gatehouse tower you will also see the ghoulish murder holes under which prisoners would have been kept, waiting for their fate to rain down upon them in all manner of grisly ways.

What else can I do there?

There are extensive grounds to explore and for a bite to eat, the Wharf tea room serves home-cooked seasonal food. There is a refreshment kiosk and various picnic benches outside that are wonderful to sit at on a sunny day. There is also a great shop that sells gifts, cards and local produce.

If you want a full day out experience, you can also hop aboard a steam train on the Kent and East Sussex Railway from Tenterden which takes in the castle on its journey around Sussex. There is also a boating station in Bodiam and free guided walks around the castle to make your visit even more special.

Is my dog allowed?

Yes, but only in the grounds – there is a dog tethering point and dog bowl outside the ticket office opposite the castle entrance for thirsty hounds.

What is the entry price?

Entry to the castle and grounds is £10.30 per adult and £5.15 per child.

Herstmonceux Castle

Easily one of the most beautiful medieval castles in the area, this 115th-century, moated structure is surrounded by 300 acres of woodland and formal gardens. Surprisingly for a castle, it is made from red brick and is one of the earliest examples of this form of building material in England. Previously only used in France, it is far removed from the typical red brick structures we see today. The castle has been visited by such luminaries as Sir Winston Churchill, Stephen Hawking and Queen Elizabeth II and still attracts thousands of visitors yearly from all over the globe.

Can I have a little history before I go?

The castle was originally a 12th-century manor house called ‘Herste of the Monceux’, when Idonea de Herste joined in matrimony with a Normal nobleman, Ingelram de Monceux. Later in 1440, a Sussex Knight by the name of Roger Fiennes became the owner of the house. He had risen to prominence, not only serving Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt some years before but as a treasurer of Henry VI, and decided to show off his importance by making the house into a castle.

Unfortunately, the success of the Fiennes family with the Royal Henrys was to come to an end in 1541 as the owner at the time, Lord Dacre was implicated in the murder of a local gamekeeper and executed by the king. The estate was seized by the crown and later handed back to the family by Elizabeth I. The family and castle prospered through turbulent times including the civil war and it was refurbished during the Restoration period. Sadly, their fortunes soon came to an end due to these costly refurbishments as well as the excessive gambling of Lord Dacre, and the estate was sold to George Naylor for the princely sum of £38,000.

Some years later, the castle was deemed to be in such a state of disrepair that it was partly demolished and reduced to a gothic shell covered in ivy. The growth of tourism in the 18th century made the castle a popular attraction for visitors to the nearby coastal towns of Brighton and Eastbourne.

However, it was still in a state of disrepair and in 1910, an eccentric MP called Colonel Claude Lowther saved the day and started restoring the castle. Like many buildings, it felt the effects of the war and was later sold to become a centre of scientific research and home to the Royal Greenwich Observatory. The RGO later moved to Cambridge and this part of the estate became the Observatory Science Centre. It still uses the famous green telescope domes that you can see today as you drive up the long sweeping drive to the castle.

Should I take a tour or do it alone?

Because the castle is now an international centre of study, it isn’t open freely to the public, so you would need to take a scheduled tour. Lasting one hour, there is a cost of £2.50 per adult/concession and £1.00 per child under 16. As tours are scheduled around timetables and events, it is best to check their website for details, but they are generally open between March and October. You can tour the gardens and grounds however at any time which is £6.00 per adult, £5.00 concessions and £3.00 children under 16. You can also visit the Science Centre for an additional charge.

What else can I do there?

There are seven formal themed gardens with 300 acres of woodland as well as tea rooms and a visitor centre. On the woodland trails, you will find 300-year-old chestnut trees as well as The Folly and The Secret Garden. The Lake and Moat Walk will certainly clear your mind and you can finish off with a tasty cream tea at Chestnuts Tea Room before heading home.

Is my dog allowed?

Yes, in the gardens and grounds but please keep them on a lead.

What is the entry price?

As above.

Other castles you may wish to visit in Sussex

Hastings Castle – originally a motte and bailey castle and part of the 1066 story, this coastal castle is now in ruins but full of amazing history and intrigue.

Lewes Castle – an 11th century Norman castle that sits at the highest point of Lewes, you can also see Anne of Cleves house with a combined ticket.

Pevensey Castle – originating in the 4th century as a Roman ‘Saxon Shore’ fort, this was the landing place of William the Conqueror’s army in the 1066 Battle of Hastings.

Bramber Castle – a motte and bailey castle now in ruins, strategically placed to defend a gap in the South Downs.

Camber Castle – now just ruins of a 16th-century artillery fort, it was built by Henry VIII to guard the port of Rye against French attack.

Explore historic Sussex and its incredible castles from our variety of holiday cottages in Sussex located nearby.

Where to find the castles of Sussex

Plan your tour of Sussex castles from the list on the map below.

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To find out even more about what to see and do in the region, take a look at our complete guide to Sussex.

*Prices are correct at the time of publishing; however, they are subject to change. Some castles have seasonal restrictions - please check each castle's website for details.

**lyrics are from Greensleeves and The White Cliffs of Dover.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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