A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.
This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.
Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.
In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.
This week, the area south of London that includes the counties of Kent, Surrey & Sussex.
The ancestral home of the Dukes of Norfolk for over 800 years, few castles can match the setting and history of Arundel. The setting is a strategic and picturesque situation atop a hill on the south coast overlooking the sea and estuary near Littlehampton.
If the setting doesn’t grab you, the history will: The castle was founded on Christmas day 1067 by Baron Montgomery who was made 1st Earl of Arundel by William the Conqueror, exactly one year after the successful Norman invasion. In 1102, Robert Montgomery rebelled against Henry I, who besieged and took the castle. On the king’s death in 1135, it was granted to the king’s second wife Adele, and thus became the first ‘queen’s castle’ in the country. In 1139, Henry I’s daughter Matilda claimed the English throne here, which was disputed by her cousin Stephen. Thus, the long civil war known as the ‘Anarchy’ broke out.
Arundel was always a bit of a rebel castle. successive Earls of the Fitzalan line opposed Edward II, Richard II and Henry IV. There were further dynastic executions for treason during the Tudor period. When the Fitzalans became extinct in 1580, Arundel passed to the Howard family (Dukes of Norfolk). It has been their ancestral home ever since. The Norfolks are traditionally the royal masters of ceremonies. The family remained distinctly Roman Catholic, in a country that had moved towards Protestantism. They are amazing survivors. A family who managed to retain the hereditary position of Earl Marshal through civil wars and Jacobite rebellions.
From 1840-1900, there was a major Victorian remodelling of the interior. Today it is a treasure house of paintings, furniture, books and tapestries. The Baron’s Hall is a medieval recreation. The Grand staircase features a portrait of Henry Howard, beheaded in 1547 for treason. The Library is from the Regency period and contains the UK’s largest collection of books on Catholic history. The Fitzalan Chapel is the resting place of Catholic and Jacobite families. It includes the relics of Mary Queen of Scots, and the quill that signed the Catholic emancipation of 1829. The Victoria room is where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed on a visit in 1846. In the Undercroft is an unusual object: a sleigh made in Ireland by refugees from the French revolution. Outside, the New Earl’s Garden has a Jacobean influence and contains a version of Inigo Jones’s wooden Oberon Palace designed for the 1611 royal masque.
For lunch, there are good tearooms in the town of Arundel. Also recommended is the George & Dragon in Burpham, a pleasant drive through the Sussex countryside. Or walk inland along the river Arun to the Black Rabbit.
As English Castles go, Arundel has an unmatched setting and history.
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear next tomorrow.
For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com
*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:
- Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
- Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
- Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
- Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
- South coast (Hants/Dorset)
- Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
- South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
- Wales (north & south)
- Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
- Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
- Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
- Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
- East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
- Yorks (all ridings)
- North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
- North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
- Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
- Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
- Ireland (Northern/Southern)