Arundel Castle and the Elizabethan Cold War

View of Arundel Castle © Chris Shaw
Arundel © Lambert
Box Copse and Swanbourne Lake © Peter Holmes

This easy stroll includes a delightful stretch beside the River Arun, approaching Arundel along water meadows and offering the most spectacular views of Arundel Castle. The route passes the front of the castle itself and then goes round the lovely Swanbourne Lake in the historic deer park.

1. If starting from the Black Rabbit, from the back of the public car park beside the pub, go onto the river bank and walk along, with the river on your left, towards Arundel Castle seen in the distance. In 1/2 mile, ignore paths going right, but cross a sluice gate and continue along the river. Continue for a further 1 1/4 miles, until reaching a car park on your right. Follow the path between the car park and tea garden to reach the ruins of Blackfriars.

The ruins of Blackfriars are all that remain of a small Dominican 'Maison Dieu', or hospice, founded in the 13th century by Isobel, Countess of Arundel. The hospice was permanent home to 20 men of the parish, 'aged or infirm but of good life', and was administered by Dominican monks, whose other duties included caring for travellers, of which there were many. The bridge at Arundel was the lowest crossing point of the river, and downstream of it was a small port marking the highest point coastal vessels could reach. Arundel was thus a bustling crossroads for merchants and travellers.

When Henry VIII took England out of the Catholic faith, the wealth of the church was seized in the process known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Arundel Priory was disbanded at that time and its land was bought in 1538 by the Earl of Arundel.

2. Cross the road to the gatehouse of the castle. (If starting from the long stay car park, start here.) The privately owned castle is open from 1st April until 31st October, Monday to Saturday, noon to 5 pm. It is possible to visit the gardens separately from the castle. There is an admission charge.

The first castle at Arundel was begun in 1070 by Roger de Montgomery, to defend the strategically important point where a gap through the South Downs coincided with a river crossing. The Norman arch and walls of the inner gateway date from this time, and the original Norman 'motte', or raised earthen mound upon which the keep was built, can still be seen.

The castle was besieged and captured by Henry I in 1102, when its owner sided with the Duke of Normandy against the King. In 1135 the small castle was given to Queen Adela, widow of Henry I, whose second husband William of Albini was created Earl of Arundel. During the 16 year long civil war in the 12th century, when the throne was disputed between Stephen and his cousin Matilda, William was a supporter of Queen Matilda, and Arundel successfully withstood a second siege by Stephen's army in 1139.

In 1243 the male Albini line died out, and Arundel castle passed through the female line into the up-and-coming Fitzalan family. The Fitzalan earls reinforced the castle, building the outer barbican, strengthening the keep and raising the walls. Arundel Castle remained the home of the Fitzalan Earls of Arundel until Henry, 12th Earl, was executed in 1572 for his involvement in the Ridolfi Plot to assassinate the Queen. The castle and estates passed through Henry's daughter Mary into the Howard family, where it has remained ever since.

During the Civil War the Duke of Norfolk fought on the side of the King, and in 1644 Arundel Castle was besieged for a third time, by Parliamentarian forces. The garrison held out for eighteen days before surrendering. To prevent it being used again, the castle was 'slighted' - its walls torn down and the keep and gatehouse destroyed.

Arundel Castle remained a ruin for nearly 150 years until the 8th Duke started to restore it in 1716. Restoration continued on and off until 1903. Most of the structure that can be seen today is Victorian, but the original Norman undercroft still survives beneath the Great Hall and the Well Tower is basically 13th century.

To continue the walk, follow the path along the left side of the road, next to the ornamental castle moat, with fine close-up views of the castle on your left. Where the path ends, continue along the side of the road for a few yards and go over a bridge. Just 10 yards after the bridge, turn left on to a marked footpath and go through a squeeze stile into Arundel Park.

3. Follow the path along the side of the lake.

The lake was originally the water supply for a Saxon mill pond, mentioned in the Domesday Book. It later became the water supply for the castle. The lake was painted by John Constable.

At the end of the lake, do not cross the stile ahead into the park, but instead turn right and follow the main track, continuing around the lake.

The park was originally enclosed in Tudor times by the Fitzalan earls as a deer park. Hunting deer was a favourite pastime amongst the gentry in Tudor England, and it was usual for great landowners to enclose areas of their estates and stock them with deer herds, to provide sport for themselves and visitors.

Follow the lake shore back to a kiosk and lodge.

4. Go out of the park onto the road. Turn left and follow the quiet road for 1/2 mile to reach the Black Rabbit public house.


The walk starts from the Black Rabbit public house on a minor road that passes the eastern side of Arundel Castle and continues to the hamlet of Offham. This road leads off a roundabout reached just after crossing the river into Arundel, if approaching the town from the A27. There is a small public car park beside the pub. Alternatively, there is a large pay-and-display car park (passed on the walk) opposite the castle gates, 50 yards along the minor road to Offham. This is recommended at peak periods.

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