Key to the Castle

Heather Park

Twenty-one. It’s a big number. If you didn’t count yourself as an adult at eighteen, there’s no getting away from it now. I was, however, less concerned with the sudden thwack of reality, and more worried about how to celebrate my twenty-first – but after driving past the beautiful town of Arundel many times during my three years at university, I decided I wanted to spend my birthday satisfying my curiosity.


Wearing my freshly-pressed birthday presents – a 50s circle skirt and jumper – and feeling suitably overdressed (I wouldn’t have it any other way), my lovely mum and I arrived in Arundel. Once my birthday badge was pinned to my coat, it was time to set off on a morning of antiques shopping. This hobby of mine only started after I dared set foot in antique shops when looking for the vintage lighter in my first post. Since discovering that they’re generally not the snobbish, intimidating places I’d expected, no one can keep me away. While I claim to have no more expertise than enjoying the odd episode of Antiques Roadshow, it’s definitely something I hope to cultivate an interest in, so it was jolly fortunate that Arundel is renowned for its antiques shops.

My favourite was Nineveh House – a converted church full of handcrafted goods and antique dealers, with a delightful warmth and friendliness to it that only encouraged me to open my purse.


I left with an eclectic mix of items, including a purple and gold Moroccan style perfume bottle, a vintage pearl bracelet and a crocheted mouse (not absolutely sure about the reasoning on that one, but it was cute.)

By the time we’d explored both floors of the house (twice!) it was definitely time for lunch.


As both a vegetarian and a fussy eater, dining out sometimes makes me nervous, but the staff at Berties of Arundel were wonderfully welcoming, especially when they saw my birthday badge.

The café itself was one of the sweetest I’ve ever been in, with a checkerboard floor, retro fabrics, bunting lining the walls and a glistening chandelier illuminating it all. If it’s true that you eat with your eyes, then I was full before ordering.


Fully re-energized after a delicious pesto, mozzarella and sundried tomato panini, my mum and I set off to the main exhibit of the day: the castle.


I’d like to think I’m now a fairly confident writer, but I struggle to summon the words to describe just how I felt as I walked up the winding gravel path to Arundel Castle.

The castle seemed to rise up from the ground as if it had grown alongside the grass. I placed my hand on the stone, and as it cooled my palm, I touched history. I thought of the men that stood here almost 1,000 years ago and worked with their backs curved and hands soiled. I attempted to fathom the age of the place and all it must have seen, and in doing so, I realised the utter, wonderful absurdity of it.


Standing by a turret, I tilted my head up to the sky and found myself in awe of the fantastic, billowing clouds which spread so far – but once I had climbed the numerous steps up to the keep entrance, the sky had darkened. I realised that this haunting weather suited the place so much more, giving it a mysterious air which urged me to explore.


The interior of the castle did not only match the magnificence of its exterior – it outshone it. Stained glass windows, cracked oil paintings and cool marble tables; the glint of swords and gleam of armour.

Photography wasn’t permitted inside the castle, and while I regret that I can’t show you any of the wonders I saw, I was grateful that it made me take in everything in person and not through a phone screen.

My favourite piece in the entire castle was something unlike anything I’ve seen before: a sleigh, intended to be horse-drawn through the snow. Its panels were covered in paintings of children playing merrily, each one framed by dark woodwork and gold detailing that seemed to cover it like ivy. It perfectly encapsulated the fairy-tale feeling that fills the castle.

We ended the day with a great British tradition: afternoon tea at Lulamae’s, before walking around the castle grounds in the rain.


I had a truly wonderful time, and I’m sitting here smiling as I write about it. This day will always be my 21st birthday, and I’m so glad of that, because Arundel was a wonderful place to spend it in. The castle will forever be one of my favourite places to have visited. Even looking at the pictures makes me breathe a little deeper and hold my breath a little longer, as if I’m staring at a magnificent creature, and one wrong move may make it run away forever.


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