Best Castles We’ve Visited Recently

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I’ve always enjoyed visiting castles so having children is a great excuse to visit more.

Favourite castles

Sometimes the best thing about castles is that they are just ruins to run around and explore, other times it is that they are amazingly well preserved and there are loads of artefacts and a lot of detail about the people that once lived there. Here are some castles that we’ve visited recently and we all really enjoyed:

Arundel castle

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OK, I didn’t take this, but it shows just how big this castle is 

Arundel castle in West Sussex is one of the longest inhabited country houses in England and is the biggest out of all the castles I have ever visited! It looks really impressive as you drive towards it.

There are a number of different tiers of ticket; we went for the second highest (Gold), which gave us access to the gardens & grounds, The Collector Earl’s Garden, Fitzalan Chapel and the shop, café and restaurant. These are all included in the bronze and silver tickets but we additionally got access to the castle keep (which I’d thoroughly recommend) and the main castle rooms. A family Gold ticket, which is for two adults and up to three children costs £41.

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The castle has an extensive events calendar, which really enhances the experience and indeed our visit happily coincided with the medieval tournament weekend. This was a 15th Century Tournament where competitors used a variety of weapons to recreate very convincing tournament combat. The girls absolutely LOVED it. This entertained them for ages. We eventually peeled them away when there was a break and went into the castle for lunch. After lunch we headed to the keep, which was brilliant and offered fab views over the surrounding countryside. We then toured the rest of the castle and there was a lot to see in terms of rooms and artefacts. The only thing we missed out on, which is included in Gold PLUS, was a visit to the castle bedrooms. To be honest we’d seen loads already, so I think the additional rooms would have proved too much.

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On the way up to the keep

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Back down from the keep

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View from part way up

Back outside and we watched some more of the medieval tournament at the girls’ request and headed over to falconry area; we didn’t see the actual display but the girls really loved looking at the birds. The adults all had a go at the archery. I liked it rather too much!

After spending a lot of time with the birds, we headed to the Fitzalan Chapel with its beautiful ‘White garden’ and then did a tour of some of the 40 acres of stunning grounds and gardens. The Italianate Collector Earl’s Garden was beautiful and featured Pagodas, water fountains, a water grotto and lots of beautiful plants. A highlight for the girls was Oberon’s Palace, which contained a crown dancing on a splashing jet of water.

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The floating crown in Oberon’s Palace

Alliums were in full bloom and just one of the attractions in the walled garden and the English Herbaceous borders were beautiful and in a natural style, which contrasted to the more tropical style of The Collector Earl’s Garden.

The glass houses were very interesting too. We didn’t have time to visit the rose gardens and quite a few other outdoor parts.

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Bodiam castle

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CastlesBodiam castle in East Sussex is a National Trust property. Built around 1385 and boasting England’s oldest dated portcullis, it’s regarded as both a defensive castle and a home. It’s a ruin, but an extremely picturesque one. The grounds are beautiful with plenty of ducks milling about and outdoor games set up. A great bridge across the moat (which is full of really greedy carp) takes you to an octagonal island and then on to the castle.

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There was plenty going on in the courtyard with medieval character presentations and exhibits. We explored all of the ruined rooms and climbed the high towers to get fantastic views. There were lots of people on hand to answer questions and all the rooms had good explanations so it was easy to picture how the castle would have been and have operated when in tact. The ‘murder holes’ were well-preserved and particularly gloriously and gruesomely described.

We spent a lot of time there and Sofia and Matt even tried their hand at archery.

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Scotney castle

Scotney castle in Kent is another National Trust property. It is a 14th century moated ‘fairytale castle’ with a beautiful tower, which reminded the girls immediately of Rapunzel. Within the estate there is also a country house and chocolate-box gardens.

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The house at Scotney Castle

We toured the house first. The girls were really interested and they also had a trail to do (relating to cats) so they were in their element. It wasn’t just a dusty old house and wasn’t overly ornate and ostenatatious; you actually got the feeling that it was still a family home albeit a pretty grand one.

We had lunch afterwards and then headed straight down to the castle. The castle was deliberately ruined to create a ‘feature’ in the garden. It’s some feature! We climbed the tower and admired the views and then explored the gardens.

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Scotney Castle

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Another view of Scotney Castle

After that we headed to the playground. It was a really nice natural one and the girls were extremely reluctant to leave. As always, there was much more to explore, but we just didn’t have the time.

Hever castle

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Hever castle on our summer visit

I was eight when I first visited Hever Castle in Kent. Last year I returned to the childhood home of Anne Boleyn when we had a summer holiday meet up with my eldest daughter’s friends. It’s an RHS partner garden, so concessions for the gardens are available to RHS members (you still have to pay for castle entrance). However, many restrictions apply so do check the website.

We loved it so much we went back with my husband. There is so much space for running around in the beautiful grounds surrounding the castle. It’s double-moated and the water is very picturesque with its lily pads, ducks (which we bought food for) and swans.

Our return visit was just before Easter so we had the added bonus of a Lindt Gold Bunny Hunt. This also gave us the opportunity to visit the Italian gardens, which we hadn’t seen last time around. Although not much was in bloom at that time of the year, they were still stunning.

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Hever castle on our pre-Easter visit

The adventure playground with its Tower Maze was a big hit again. We all went into the English Yew Maze, which was good fun as we let the girls decide the route?!

In the warmer weather the water maze is open. It’s quite a unique maze and the kids absolutely loved it on our summer visit. You do get a soaking, so sensibly it was shut during our cold March visit.

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The water maze in hotter weather

This time around we went into the castle itself and we all really enjoyed it. There were plenty of interesting rooms to visit, characters and costumes on display and lots of Tudor paintings, tapestries, antiques and furniture. There was even a whole room dedicated to instruments of torture (oddly quite a highlight for all of us!).

We still haven’t visited the Japanese Tea House, Miniature Model House Collection, English Rose Garden or Tudor Garden or even gone on the boating lake. Hever castle and grounds is definitely somewhere you can spend a whole day. We’ll be going back soon.

Penshurst Place

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OK, so Penshurst Place (also an RHS partner garden) in Kent isn’t actually a castle, but it is a stunning fortified manor house, set in gorgeous grounds, that looks very castle-like; it has vaulted crypts and was once owned by Henry VIII. Armada: 12 Days to Save England, Wolf Hall and The Great Fire were all filmed there.

There are 48 acres of grounds including the 11 acre formal Grade I listed gardens. They are truly beautiful and you can spend many hours here. There’s also a toy museum.

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One of the creepier exhibits in the toy museum

I’d love to hear about any of the castles you’ve visited recently; just comment below…

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About Author

I’m Fran: wife, mother-of-three and freelance publicist. My love for communicating and writing mirrors my passion for trying to be the best mum I can be. I love good food & wine, Italian culture and football and have a keen interest in personal finance. I also blog over on Epsom & Ewell Families and Habyts, and write sporadically for a number of other sites.

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