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The Sussex holiday cottage blog » Sussex Strongholds

Sussex Strongholds

Posted 24 April 2013 by Andrew Gardner google authorship button

Lewes Castle East Sussex

I love castles, and our wonderful county of Sussex has some really good ones. Bodiam, for a start, down near Robertsbridge: hard to beat for sheer atmosphere and incredible setting. It's been sympathetically restored, so it doesn't have the Disney factor even when there's a medieval theme day going on around it. Over the May Day bank holiday weekend the 'Living Castle and Green Man Trail' event is a must-do in our family. It brings to life the medieval household and daily life in a castle, and the children love searching for the green man sculptures and – hopefully – claiming a prize at the end of the trail.

If you haven't come across the green man before, well, he's not exclusive to Sussex but he does seem to feature widely here, especially if pub names are anything to go by. He was probably a pagan symbol originally and some children find him a bit scary, but many others find him beautiful and just a little mysterious.

Another of our favourite castles is Lewes, which I always think has a slightly darker atmosphere, but I love the way it so clearly connects with the town around it. Lewes is a town steeped in tradition – some of it quite radical – and it's a fascinating place to spend a day strolling around.

Arundel castle is famous too with a great view of it from outside the town, and an interesting display of armour. It is intriguing and the Collector Earl's Garden, which Prince Charles opened in 2008, is lovely. It's a modern take on a Jacobean garden, a light-hearted tribute to the 14th earl, who was said to be one of the first great English art collectors.

Sometimes, for me at any rate, ruins have more about them than restored castles. Bramber castle is one of my favourites – to the uninitiated it looks like a large mound with a pillar on the side, but it has incredible atmosphere and wonderful views over the South Downs. It's easy to imagine it as a defensive stronghold and indeed, after being built around 1070 after the Norman conquest by the de Braose family it saw plenty of action, including the notoriously bloody English Civil War, when it was besieged by Parliamentarian forces. Not so much a castle now as a place to feel history and perhaps start a South Downs walk.