This is the latest in my series of travel posts about our trip to South England in late April and early May 2023. The part of the trip that I am talking about here was organized by Albion Adventures, now know as National Trust Tours, in a tour called South of England Stately Homes and the Isle of Wight. They are doing it again in May 2024 and the link describes that upcoming tour.
The next stop on our tour was Arundel Castle. According to the tour brochure, it is “one of the longest inhabited country houses in England.” The Dukes of Norfolk and their people have lived there since 1067. 1066 is the year of the battle of Hastings, the Norman Conquest. The place has quite the pedigree.
This was the day we left the South Lodge Hotel and its voluminous inflorescence (By this I mean huge rhododendron and azalea bushes in bloom) and traveled on a ferry to the Isle of Wight, where we booked into the Royal Hotel for several nights. These included, coincidentally, considering the name of the hotel, the coronation weekend for the current King Charles. On the way to the ferry, we took in Arundel Castle, which was one of my favorite places on the trip. I especially liked the variety and vintage of the objects. The architecture, also, was most impressive.
As you walk to the castle from the parking lot, you go through a large gate. And it is at this point that you realize you are entering a compound, which includes several spacious parks, including a small formal rose garden. And during that brief space in time, there were tulips everywhere.
Once inside the castle there were so many interesting objects and architectural elements to look at. There was a cradle made of wood, and visiting the chapel and viewing it from the choir loft was amazing. The word I want to use for the entire impression I have of this place is sumptuous. Lots of intricate and vaulted features, a Virgin Mary or two ,since this was a Catholic family (which got them into trouble at various times from Henry VIII on, although I don’t remember all the details) and plenty of gorgeous stained glass. I’m sure my pictures don’t do it justice. It was quite a heady experience overall. I apologize for the blurriness of the pictures. It was rather dark and of course, no flash was allowed.
After the chapel, we went into various rooms which were decorated with weaponry and the traditional trappings of a castle, including suits of armor and crests. There was even an old fashioned wheelchair.
Then we went to a huge hall, studded with portraiture and full of all sorts of precious things, many of them of the type, that might be used on a Catholic altar during Mass. Some, such as the urn, I do not know the use of, and dared not ask. There was also a painting that seems to depict some kind of African royal procession from precolonial days, although that is only a guess. Several Dukes hang in portraiture above you, seeming to judge your merit, some with more personality than others. I included my favorite. And there was a fantastic sled, that looked like it had been taken straight out of Narnia or perhaps the fairy tale, the Snow Queen.
We went on to various galleries and rooms that were full of art, especially portraits. I know the names of some of them were told to me, but I have not retained that information, much to my chagrin. Nearly every hallway felt like a cathedral in its proportions, and every ancient door seemed yanked out of a monastery. Clocks of very fancy styling stood on tabletops of the fanciest patterns, and there were wooden chests with ivory or shell inlay. The word ormolu springs to mind (a kind of fake gilding, I think.) The green pillow, I believe, bears the emblem of the Dukes of Norfolk. There is also a portrait of the young Victoria below. I omitted a stout, less flattering brass statue of her, later in life, out of compassion and commiseration.
Then we went into my favorite room, the one I would have most liked to be invited over to visit and spend time in: the library. You can see for yourself why. So many objets d’art, but what were in those bookcases sealed behind a metal fence? I also found the portrait of King Stephen so adorable that I kept him as my screensaver on my phone for weeks after we returned. Finally on the way out the door of the last room, we were greeted by a marble statue of a boy, which may have been Roman but perhaps not.
Before returning to our coach or tour bus, we were allowed to wander a bit, and I dragged my husband to the rose garden and took a million pictures. Roses were not in bloom yet, but I loved the small orderly plan of this garden, with a sundial in the center (keeping perfect time as it happens, as shown on my Apple Watch) and nice arches that mimicked the gothic elements inside the castle, with vines just beginning their work, to block the sky and the sun from view.
We had a beautiful blue sky that day, which did not happen that often, so I am grateful for the pictures’ sake. I think my husband had had enough of castles by the end, as perhaps you have by now. He was much more interested in our subsequent transportation, than in the rose garden. He enjoyed watching how the ferry hooked up to the dock, before we departed the mainland in Southhampton, for the Isle of Wight. The following pictures are from our ferry ride, and from the island, on our way in. The last is from our room at the Royal Hotel on the Isle of Wight.
Next time we will explore Osborne House on the Isle of Wight!