“Your travels around the UK seem quite Scotland-focused”, Sophie said, in her usual provocative tone, as we trained our way down from Clapham Junction to Arundel, Sophie’s home town in the heart of West Sussex. It’s true that a lot of my time and investment has gone into planning extravagant holidays in Scotland and it’s really only because I live in London that England is featuring at all.
I jest; that’s not true. The motivation behind most of my travel, international and domestic, is simply where I have connections. I had a friend in Manchester; I was working in Glasgow; I had connections with Orkney; and this time round, I was visiting the small town of Arundel, where Sophie grew up – just over an hour outside of London. That’s Scotland 2, England 2, Sophie!
As the train pulls into the station, you can see Arundel castle, a restored medieval castle and stately home, imposing majestically over the surrounding pretty town centre. This is possibly the best view of the castle though it becomes no less impressive as you walk closer towards it. Later on, as we wandered round the castle gardens and stared up at the towering structure, I felt like I was looking at a 3D, computerised image, rather than a real castle with over one thousand years of history speaking through its walls.
The castle is inhabited by the Duke of Norfolk and his family, as it has been almost since it was built. However, it has been open to the public for almost 200 years and you can tour much of the interior, full of grandeur furniture and rare art. I mean, that’s what the leaflet tells me, anyway. Many events take place on the castle grounds, including open-air theatre productions, and the castle has featured as a backdrop in a number of films, including The Young Victoria. However, being the budget-driven 20-somethings that we are, Sophie and I opted for the cheapest option – bronze – which essentially allowed us to walk about the castle grounds and gardens, and visit the Fitzalan Chapel.
I was intrigued to learn that the Gothic Fitzalan Chapel is split: the east side is the Catholic chapel, and can only be accessed from the castle, whilst the west side now hosts the Anglican St Nicholas Church of England church, and can be accessed solely from the main road opposite the cathedral. A glass wall allows you to look through from one place of worship into the other.
How did the split come about? Well, the split-purpose always existed to some degree. In 1390 when the building was founded, it was used partially as a parish church and partially for the adjacent priory (ie. where the monks lived). Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, from 1536-1541, when Henry VIII dissolved the Catholic church, the 12th Earl of Norfolk purchased the entire building from the crown. Later, during the English Civil War (1642-1651) the now-Chapel was stripped of its original purpose and used as part of the now-Protestant parish church. However, in 1879, it was decided that the Chapel was an independent ecclesiastical structure and since then, it has remained Catholic. One paragraph of writing; an hour and a half of internet research; centuries worth of history. You’re welcome!
The rest of the day was spent exploring Arundel’s many antique and independent shops; basking in the sun by the River Arun (did you know Arundel has an annual bath race? Yes, people race in baths), and of course, the quintessential British way to spend any afternoon in the countryside – consuming a cream tea. What a delightful British invention.
Day trips into the English countryside don’t exactly come cheap – this will be a recurring theme in this blog – holidaying abroad is by far the cheaper option. However, there’s something quite novel about visiting a medieval castle; sampling a traditional afternoon tea; breathing in the clean fresh West Sussex air, all in a day’s work, returning to your own bed at night. Who says you need to go abroad to get away from it all?