A Stop in the UK, and a Visit to a Cool Castle

Wow, I'm really late on this post. Took me forever to get through this set of my photos, and to sit down to write up this post. As such, I've probably forgot a whole lot of details that I would have wanted to write down. 

After spending the week in Europe, I was flying back to Vancouver through London. As it was a long weekend, I decided to spend the weekend in the UK with my friends Mark and Rachel. Mark and I went to University together, and when I moved to the UK, we had a chance to see each other a lot, and we had a number of great adventures while I was there. Since I've moved back to Vancouver, we've tried to stay in touch, but it's tough. When I was in the UK, they lived in Greenwich, but very recently they had sold their place, moved out of London and into a new place in a town called Royal Tunbridge Wells. Tunbridge Wells is southeast of London, about 50 minutes by train. 

 The train station at Tunbridge Wells.

The train station at Tunbridge Wells.

I flew from Brussels to London on Saturday morning, and Mark and Rachel were kind enough to pick me up at the airport. It was a lot further from Heathrow to their place than I expected, but it gave us a chance to catch up, and for me to find out about the big move. The house they had bought in TW was a project - and a big one - as I found out once we arrived. The house is very cool - three levels, amazing architecture but ti's going to be a ton of work. I'm dying to see how it turns out, after they get done with it. 

After getting settled, we wandered into town to get something to eat, and to give me a chance to check the place out. There was a small festival going on in the town, and the streets were crammed with vendors with all kinds of great stuff on offer. We had some lunch, and wandered around for a bit. TW is situated on a natural spring, and was a destination for the aristocracy and royalty back in the day. They recently refurbished the building the spring is in, but we didn't go check it out that day. After Rachel left us, Mark and I wandered for a bit more, before stopping at the local pub for a couple of pints. It was great to be back in a real British pub, having real beer.

The sign describing the original spring at Tunbridge Wells.

Just off the main street in Tunbridge Wells.

After spending a relaxing afternoon, we hung out at their place for a while, before walking back into town and having dinner at a great "gastropub". Dinner was awesome, with great food and a nice bottle of wine. We chatted for a good while before heading home and calling it a night. 

Mark and rachel made me a gourmet breakfast in the morning, before we headed out on a day trip down to the coast to check out Arundel Castle. On Saturday afternoon they had suggested this outing, casually mentioning that there was a castle not too far away. As I love castles, it was a no-brainer to accept, but I wasn't really expecting much - maybe an old fortification, or something small. I couldn't have been more wrong - this might be the coolest castle I've ever been to!

 A view of the main entrance to the castle.

A view of the main entrance to the castle.

Arundel Castle was founded in 1067, during the reign of William the Conqueror, and has been the family home of the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for nearly 1,000 years. The current Duke still lives in the castle, and I was told that after the Royal Family, this family is the second most important family in the UK. The Duke of Norfolk is the premier duke in the peerage of England, and also, as Earl of Arundel, the premier earl. The Duke of Norfolk is, moreover, the Earl Marshal and hereditary Marshal of England. The seat of the Duke of Norfolk is Arundel Castle in Sussex, although the title refers to the county of Norfolk. The current Duke of Norfolk is Edward Fitzalan-Howard, 18th Duke of Norfolk.

In addition to the title of Duke of Norfolk, the Dukes of Norfolk also hold the hereditary position of Earl Marshal, which has the duty of organizing state occasions such as the state opening of Parliament. For the last five centuries, save some periods when it was under attainder, both the Dukedom and the Earl-Marshalship have been in the hands of the Howard family. According to The House of Lords Act 1999, due to his duties as Earl Marshal, Norfolk is one of only two hereditary peers automatically admitted to the House of Lords, without being elected by the general body of hereditary peers (the other being the Lord Great Chamberlain).

Additionally, the Duke of Norfolk participates in the ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament. He is among the four individuals who precede the monarch, and one of the two of these who walk always facing the sovereign (thus backwards).

As the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk is head of the College of Arms, through which he regulates all matters connected with armorial bearings and standards, in addition to controlling the arrangements for state functions.

As the castle is also the Duke's family home, only a portion of the castle is open to visitors. As it is still a functioning home, there were many interesting elements of day-to-day like that you could see around the castle as we did our tour.

 From the moment we walked up tot he gatehouse, I knew that this was going to be a very cool place to see.

From the moment we walked up tot he gatehouse, I knew that this was going to be a very cool place to see.

It took us about 40 minutes to drive from TW to where the castle is, and from quite  distance you suddenly see this massive fortress rise above the surrounding landscape. You know why they built it here - the slight rise in the land gives it a very easily-defended location. The small town that is near the castle is utterly dominated by it, and the castle seems to hover over the village. 

 The walk from the gatehouse to the castle entrance walks along the side of the castle, and gives you a real appreciation for the size and defensibility of the place. 

The walk from the gatehouse to the castle entrance walks along the side of the castle, and gives you a real appreciation for the size and defensibility of the place. 

Back in the day, you certainly wouldn't have wanted to try and take the place by force. There was an interesting poster up inside that told of the one time the castle was taken by siege - they drained a nearby lake to empty the castle's well, to force the surrender. 

Once inside, you were not allowed to take any pictures, so most of the shots of the castle are from outside. Sadly, it wasn't a very nice day - very grey and overcast - but the castle still provided an amazing backdrop for taking pictures. It took us a good three hours to walk through the place and see all the various parts. 

My favourite, which I don't have any pictures of was the library. 112' long by 37' wide and two stories high, containing over 10,000 books. The room had been renovated in the 1800's for a visit by Queen Victoria, and the room was still in the same state as when she visited. It was spectacular.

From one of the outside walkways, you can see back onto the part of the castle that the Duke still lives in, and that we did not get a chance to see. It's a huge place.

 For some odd reason, they had a couple of rheas wandering about the castle.

For some odd reason, they had a couple of rheas wandering about the castle.

I took a ton of pictures outside the castle. so here's a slideshow of the good ones. 

While you were not supposed to take pictures inside the castle, I couldn't help myself and I did snap a few with my iPhone. I didn't get any of the amazing rooms like the library, or the main hall, but I did get a few interesting shots. 

After exploring the inside of the castle, we spent some time exploring the grounds. There is the original chapel for the castle, with some amazing old tombs and beautiful stained glass, as well as the highlight of the ground, the formal gardens. As Mark said, the gardens made you feel like you were in the south of France, rather than England. 

 I don't actually remember what this building was for. We walked by it on our way to the chapel.

I don't actually remember what this building was for. We walked by it on our way to the chapel.

 The walled gardens had a number of great doors leading into it, most of which were closed off.

The walled gardens had a number of great doors leading into it, most of which were closed off.

The gardens were amazing. There were so many different paths to explore, and there were all of these interesting wooden structures they had built within the garden. As you would expect for this time of year, there were lots of tulips around, but there were also lots of other flowers. Rather than write more about it, I'll just put up lots of pictures. 

One of the red doors led through to a beautiful wisteria wine, clinging to the interior wall.

 One of the many wooden structures within the gardens.

One of the many wooden structures within the gardens.

 For a small town, it had a couple of massive churches. This one was just outside the walls of the garden, and made for a nice backdrop. 

For a small town, it had a couple of massive churches. This one was just outside the walls of the garden, and made for a nice backdrop. 

 I needed at least one picture of some of the flowers.

I needed at least one picture of some of the flowers.

The one section of the garden has an elaborate fountain, with tons of tulips this time of year.

Tulips, fountains and waterfalls.

As we left the castle gardens, the weather finally started to clear up a bit, and we got some blue sky. This gave us a chance to walk around the grounds a little bit more, and get some great views of the castle.

 Finally, some blue skies to go with our epic castle.

Finally, some blue skies to go with our epic castle.

The lion and the stallion guard the entrance to the castle.

This might be my favourite view of the castle, with the moat and the wooden bridge.

 One final view of the imposing towers.

One final view of the imposing towers.

It was getting towards the end of the day, and while I was to be traveling back to Vancouver, Mark and Rachel needed to work. We had a low key evening (with the exception of some really delicious birthday cupcakes for me!), then off to bed for an early start. I took the train into London with Mark, then took the tube over to Paddington and caught the Heathrow Express to the airport. After a very long day, I ended up back at home and celebrated my birthday with Justine while struggling to stay awake. :-)