As you travel south to visit Arundel, the busy Sussex countryside starts to give way to something different. The grandeur and sweeping views of the South Downs seem to herald in a time gone by, while water meadows and walled parklands speak of a different way of living.
Today, Arundel is presided over by two grand dames: its magnificent Medieval castle and stately home, and the 19th century cathedral, both keeping a watchful eye on the town which bustles with life around its many listed and period buildings. And however familiar you are with Arundel’s splendour, the unexpected magnificence of the castle as you round the bend at the top of the High Street never fails to elicit a quiet gasp.
Although there are traces of the early Romans here, Arundel really grew and evolved as a Saxon town. With a flourishing market, it unsurprisingly appears in the Domesday Book. In 1071, the town was registered as a port and by the mid 19th century, it was linked to London and Portsmouth by canals. Over the centuries, the town has had mixed fortunes. During the English Civil War Arundel Castle changed hands three times and by the late 18th century the town was run down and poor. But, not to be kept down, Arundel was flourishing once more by the early 19th century with two thriving breweries and a timber trade. These days, it’s hard to believe that at the beginning of the 19th century, Arundel was a prosperous harbour but in fact, the port here didn’t finally close until the early 20th century.
A potter through the streets
Steep, ancient and twisting, Arundel is now home to bookshops, bric-a-brac, tea rooms, antiques and art. There’s architecture of all ages with a large proportion of buildings being either listed or of historic interest. On a sunny spring day, it’s busy and yet feels hushed and calm, with the occasional cry of a seagull.
There are numerous tunnels and cellars under the High Street and Tarrant Street, although none leading into or out of the castle grounds … as far as we know! The town hall has high vaulted ceilings and gothic archways and the old town jailhouse is now a notorious “ghost experience”. (Many years ago, in my time as a junior barrister I remember appearing before the bench here for a client who was trying to pay me in gold necklaces! I’m guessing they weren’t hers!)
Arundel even has its own saint, St Philip Howard, whose Tudor bones are enshrined within the cathedral and of course, its own coat of arms, with three black martlets or heraldic swallows on a silver shield.
As you build up an appetite enjoying a stroll around the town, you find yourself torn between Roly’s Fudge Pantry, the Jam Gallery (sadly lacking in jam) and the delightfully named Tea and Biscuit Club! How do I join?
The castle itself dates back to 1067, and it still has a number of original features including a Norman Keep and a Medieval gatehouse. It’s been owned by the family of the Duke of Norfolk for over 800 years and much of the house was rebuilt by them between the 1870s and 90s – in magnificent Gothic style. Although it’s only open between April and October, it’s a visit not to be missed. You can climb the turret, enjoy works of art by the likes of Gainsborough and Van Dyke and take in the sumptuous gardens.
The cathedral was commissioned by the 15th Duke of Norfolk in 1868. The architect was Joseph Hansom, who designed many other religious and secular buildings but is best known for inventing the Hansom Cab. You pass the cathedral on your way into the town from the north, but some of the best views of it are from the bypass below.
Arundel has an exciting calendar of events throughout the year which includes the Arundel Arts Festival, Arundel Food Festival, and Arundel Cathedral’s Feast of Corpus Christi. Every April the castle is also now home to the incredible Tulip Festival which is an absolute must for any floral fan.
A visit to Arundel manages to feel like it’s a little off the beaten track and caught in its own time. Yet it still has a vibrant community and so much to offer and see. So, if you find yourself looking for a cultural and diverse day out, you could do a lot worse than by starting here. There are lots of reasons to visit and we’ll be sharing some ideas soon.
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