Sussex is home to some wonderfully atmospheric and historic castles. Some of them are in ruins, some of them are still occupied but all of them offer a wonderful glimpse into times gone by, and our great Sussex heritage and history. So if you are looking for Sussex castles to explore, here they are (working our way roughly from east to west):
East Sussex castles
There are seven fabulous castles in East Sussex to explore.
Rye Castle is also known as Ypres Tower. It was probably built in the 13th or 14th centuries and was later used as a prison. It’s open to the public and part of two sites in the town, the other being the museum. There are great views from outside but I particularly love the map that shows how the coastline has changed over the centuries (what can I say, it lights up).
If you’re in Rye, don’t forget to visit the other attractions:
Out on the flats, one mile south of Rye and to the west of Rye Harbour, Camber Castle is owned by English Heritage. It was built by Henry VIII as an artillery fort designed to defend Rye. You can view the outside and peep through the gates at any time but although it’s occasionally open to the public, this summer (2023) it is closed (due to issues with the masonry). Include it in a visit to the Martello Tower at Rye Harbour, a visit to Rye and a visit to Winchelsea or try this bike ride:
Standing proud, if in ruins, at the top of the hill over Old Town Hastings, Hastings Castle is a keep and bailey castle built by William the Conqueror in 1067. It was the first Norman motte and bailey castle to be built but it was destroyed hundreds of years later on the orders of Henry VIII. There are fabulous views of the town and the sea!
If you’re in the area, don’t forget to check out these other things to do:
Bodiam Castle near Robertsbridge is a photographer’s dream, with its moat and romantic ruins. It’s owned by the National Trust and was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dallingridge during a turbulent time when England was at war with France. It’s had a chequered history, is in ruins inside and is always well worth a visit.
Dating from the 15th century, Herstmonceux is one of the oldest significant brick buildings still standing in England. The parks and gardens are Grade II* listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens but the actual castle operates as the UK campus of Queen’s University (Canada). The gardens are open to the public and you can hire the castle for weddings. You can also walk through the central courtyard but for tours, you need to follow the castle on social media or contact them via their website.
While you’re in the area, why not visit historic Battle:
Another pivotal castle if you’re on the 1066 trail, and also owned by English Heritage, is Pevensey Castle just outside Eastbourne. It actually dates back to the 4th century and was a Roman fort but was also the landing place of William the Conqueror’s army in 1066. It’s open to the public.
If you’re in the area, you may also be interested in:
Touring over the town, Lewes Castle is another of our great Norman castles and although it’s a motte and bailey castle, it’s unusual in that it has two mottes. With a museum at the entrance, it is open to the public and has amazing views from the towers across the South Downs. It’s owned and run by the Sussex Archaeological Society.
If you’re in Lewes, don’t forget to have a good explore:
West Sussex castles
When you’ve explored East Sussex, don’t forget to head west for these five West Sussex castles.
Bramber Castle is a Norman motte and bailey castle in the village of Bramber not far from Steyning. It’s thought to date to about 1070. It was held by William de Braose who was granted lands in England by William the Conqueror soon after the Norman conquest. Although it’s in ruins, it is free to visit and has helpful information boards and great views. If you’re in the area, you might want to check out:
There’s not much left of Knepp Castle which was a motte castle just outside Horsham on the Knepp Estate. The castle was probably founded by the Braose family in the 12th century but was confiscated by King John and used as a hunting lodge before he ordered its destruction. However, it’s free to visit and there is some fabulous walking to be had on the estate where you’re likely to see wild deer and boar:
Amberely Castle in the village of Amberely near Storrington was originally a manor house built in the 12th century. It was fortified in 1377 and used as a fortress by the bishops of Chichester. It’s now a privately owned hotel but you can visit for afternoon tea, a meal at their restaurant or an overnight stay. And it’s gorgeous. And if you’re in the area, you might be interested in:
Arundel Castle was originally a motte and bailey castle built by Roger de Montgomery (a cousin of William the Conqueror) in about 1067. It was damaged in the English Civil War but restored in the 18th and 19th centuries. It has been the seat of the Earls of Arundel and the Dukes of Norfolk since the 11th century. It is perhaps the most spectacular of our castles inside and is open to the public to visit during the summer.
If you’re in Arundel, you may also be interested in:
No, not the Cowdray ruins. At St Ann’s Hill (in the town), you’ll find the charismatic ruins of what was once a Norman motte and bailey castle thought to date back to just after the Norman conquest. The ruins are free to visit and have a very special atmosphere even if they don’t take you long to explore.
If you’re in Midhurst, you may be interested in:
There are also ruins just outside Horsham at Sedgwick Park House but they are very hard to find and fast disappearing. There were also castles at Chichester and Pulborough which have been lost.
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