Thursday, 6 November 2014

Arundel Castle - a review

Whether it is the grandeur of the fine castle rooms and the treasures they behold, (think Gainsborough and Caneletto), the exquisite gardens, the gift shop and restaurant, or simply the magnificent structure itself, Arundel Castle is a fantastic day out for everybody.

DETAILS: Arundel Castle
WHERE: Arundel, West Sussex, BN18 9AB
CONTACT: 01903 882173
WHEN: April - Nov daily from 10am, although the castle rooms open at midday
CLOSED: Monday, except Bank Holidays
HOW MUCH: A gold plus ticket for a family of 2 adults & up to 3 children costs £45
WHEELCHAIR/PUSHCHAIR ACCESS: The castle is on a hill and there are some steep stairs which can make mobility difficult. About 2/3 of the Castle interior is accessible to wheelchairs and prams, subject to some width limits. See website for info
EVENTS: Days throughout the calendar where you can live history, check website
PARKING: Across the road - £5 for all day

From the moment we parked opposite Arundel castle, I thought we were in for something special - this being a far cry from how I used to feel as a child at the prospect of spending hours within a castle on a family day out long ago. Being dragged around the country and into what I thought were the dullest of places, I'm afraid the experience was wasted on me.

A friend has since admitted to feeling the same. She and her siblings went so far as to create a code, an acronym - AFC - a phrase not for parental ears. It summed up how I felt entirely. 

So how would my children take to a day out at what was for them A First Castle experience?

Given their ages - Fia is just 3 and Esme 6, I couldn't really expect too much. Together with the fact that the Half Term holiday had already tipped a category 8 on the ugly sister scale, I had been wondering why in heaven's name I'd chosen a castle for a day out?

Wonderfully, my daughter's stopped arguing long enough to both embrace the adventure - Fia was particularly interested in the narrow twisted staircases, and Esme was particularly appreciative of the long drop relic - at her current age, it is ALL about the toilet humour.

It helped that we were meeting good friends. As well as Normans and Crusaders, who brought with them a tremendous amount of atmosphere to the day, (and monetary value).

Talking of atmospherics, it rained and blew a bit, and the castle was partly shrouded in mist, adding to the drama. 

One couldn't fail to be impressed by such an imposing castle. It is a splendid example of what a castle ought to be; think of it in terms of being a lot like a child's toy sized up to liveable proportions - with one hell of a motte and keep thrown in.

Liveable proportions indeed, currently it is the seat of the Duke of Norfolk. His apartments are on the very top floor and no, you don't get to nose around those. Although I'm betting his bath tub looks somewhat more inviting than the others in the 1,000 year old stronghold?

Built at the end of the 11th century by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel, the fortress has not only defied time, it is one which continues to move with present day; now offering fun experiences such as 'living days' to depict its rich history.

Equally defiant in strength that day was 3YO Fia, who decided to throw a wobbler as we arrived at the previously peaceful castle chapel. Perhaps in hindsight my lively girl could have done with missing some of the castle rooms, although she did do incredibly well overall. The quote of the day was when she first laid eyes on a four poster bed, exclaiming, "Mummy, why does that bed have a roof?" A member of staff was on hand to tell her it was to keep the warmth in and the rats out. 

Esme really took a lot in, asking questions as we went. There were a lot of things to point out and for both my young children to enjoy. Although one observation I did make was that information lacked when you walked around by yourself. If I'd had longer and no small children accompanying me - I can dream - so as to make the most of the visit, I would join a walking tour (I'd need to apply in advance for this).

At the end of the day we still had time to explore the gardens, and being Autumn they didn't disappoint. In fact, they surprised. You see, not only do they offer space for children to run, trees to climb, and fun to be had, they also offer exquisite beauty and tranquility, with stunning views of Arundel Cathedral, the castle and the countryside to enjoy.

The GraceFaith girls marched miles around the grounds, up and down stairs, in and out of the gift shop (what a gift shop!) and didn't moan once about their legs hurting - which given the prior whinge factor that week, was remarkable. The friends we were with had two boys, ages 13 and 11, who were also wrapped. I think the boys had probably come with the AFC mentality but had been won over, even impressed. This was helped by the interesting entertainment. The Normans and Crusaders not only put on a great show, they also allowed the children to interact. On top of that, there were activities to try out in the castle. Below the girls are spinning wool. As Castle's go, Arundel is brilliant, and I was pleasantly surprised by what was a truly great day out. I may have to change my outlook; AFC could well now stand for Another Fabulous Castle!

Emma Oliver and the GraceFaith blog girls & friends received a complimentary day out at Arundel Castle in exchange for a review on the parenting/lifestyle blog LIFE AS IT IS.

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