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The Best Outdoor Castles and Follies to Visit Across Sussex

25th March 2021

Visiting a local castle makes for a fun day out that the whole family will love. Providing a fascinating insight into our history, with stunning architecture and beautiful surrounding countryside, they offer the ideal outdoor activity to enjoy year round. Here in Sussex, we are lucky enough to have some of the most spectacular examples right on our doorstep so why not plan a trip to one of our handpicked favourites this Spring...

Castles Sussex

Bodiam Castle

With its high walls and crenelated towers reflected beautifully in the surrounding moat, Bodiam Castle is a classic medieval monument. It was built in the 14th century by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge in order to defend against an invasion by the French during the Hundred Years’ War, but later passed through many hands, including Henry VII and Richard III. In 1829, Bodiam Castle was bought and partially restored by John Fuller (see Fullers’ Follies below) and finally in 1925, was donated to The National Trust who opened it to the public.

Bodiam Castle bore witness to numerous sieges during its time, and as you stand in the impressive ruinous interiors, it’s easy to imagine the many banquets and battles that took place there. The spiral staircase and original wooden portcullis are just some of the extraordinary features to look out for, as well as the castle’s supposed ghostly residents!

Castles Sussex

Hastings Castle

The ruins of Hastings Castle occupy a stunning position overlooking Hastings town and coastline. The original structure was built out of wood under the instructions of William the Conqueror upon his arrival in England in 1066, and was one of the first motte and bailey castles in the UK. After William’s famous victory at the Battle of Hastings, he ordered the castle to be re-built out of stone and the Collegiate Church of St Mary established within its walls.

Over the centuries, the castle was dismantled and rebuilt several times, notably as part of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monastries in the 16th century. The structure also succumbed to storm damage, erosion and was a target for air raids during World War II. Despite this, the remains of Hastings castle are a striking memory, providing a vivid and beguiling glimpse into history and fantastic coastal views.

Plan Your Trip: www.smugglersadventure.co.uk

Castles Sussex

Brightling or ‘Fuller's' Follies

The Brightling Follies are a selection of six structures all commissioned by John Fuller, situated around the village of Brightling in East Sussex. Born in 1757, John Fuller, more commonly known as ‘Mad Jack Fuller’, earned his name due to the many stories of his eccentric behaviour and larger-than-life personality. He served as an MP for some time, however was removed for being a steadfast supporter of slavery. So spent much of his time and money restoring historic buildings and erecting follies, some of which were said to be the result of outlandish wagers.

One of his most famous, The Sugar Loaf, was allegedly built because Fuller had bet a friend that he could see the Dallington Church Spire from his home. When he realised this was not the case, he built The Sugar Loaf, named because of its resemblance to the conical shape in which sugar was supplied at the time.

Plan Your Trip: There are six follies: the tomb, the temple, the obelisk, the sugar loaf, the tower and the observatory. This 9½ mile walk contains detailed directions to take you within a view of all six.

Castles Sussex

Herstmonceux Castle

Situated at the mouth of a small valley facing the Sussex coastline, Herstmonceux Castle is one of the oldest significant brick buildings still standing in England. Origonally the property of Sir Roger Fiennes who won royal favour to build it in 1441, its ownership continued within the family until 1703 when it was reluctantly sold for £38,215 to pay off family debts. However, by 1740 it was virtually uninhabited and began to fall into disrepair, later being evaluated as economically irreparable.

It wasn't until its post world war appropriation by Sir Paul Latham that its most dramatic restoration got underway. With the majority of its structure returned to the original plans of Sir Rodger Finnes, with one exception. The intended mediaeval castle effect battlement silhouettes were exchanged for high pitched roofs rising above the revelations which can be seen today. Currently under the care of Alfred and Isabel Bader, Herstmonceux now also operates as an International Study Centre for Queen’s University in Canada, of which both are alumni. Housing an impressive 300 acre estate including woodland, formal and themed gardens, this moated spectacular is also a popular shooting location for Blockbusters, TV productions and reality shows.

Plan Your Trip: www.herstmonceux-castle.com

Castles Sussex

Pevensey Castle

A striking medieval castle and former Roman Saxon Shore fort, Pevensey Castle was built around 290 AD, supposedly as an unsuccessful attempt to prevent Rome from imposing its control over Britain. One of the last and strongest of these Roman forts, two-thirds of its towering walls still stand. Famously the landing place of William the Conqueror's army in 1066, it became a key strategic bulwark for the Normans as it faced several sieges bit was never successfully stormed.

Occupied until the 16th century, it was then abandoned until its re-occupation during the Second World War. With machine-gun posts built within its walls to fend off German invasion, these lasting works can still be seen today. After 1945 the townspeople of Pevensey petitioned for these to be left in place as a monument to this important episode in the castle’s history. Now in the care of English Heritage, it is open year round to visitors to explore this epic medieval fortification.

Castles Sussex

Petworth Park Follies

The 700 acre park at Petworth is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of English landscape design. In the 1750s and early 1760s, the park was transformed by English landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown from formal gardens in to the beautiful setting we see today. Brown installed carriageways, planted trees and erected two follies, strategically placed to offer stunning views across the grounds and surrounding area.

The first of these is the Doric temple inspired by ancient Greek architecture, while the second is the Rotunda, chosen by Brown to emulate the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy. Other intriguing structures to look out for around the park include the Upperton Monument with its single statuesque turret, as well as the bath and boat houses, which were added in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Castles Sussex

Camber Castle

Camber lies within a stunning nature reserve between the historic town of Rye and Winchelsea. Its name meaning 'safe haven', this Henry VIII's castle was strategically positioned to protect the shingle banks of the shallow harbour on which stood here during the late 16th century. Constructed so that English fleets could safely anchor behind it, its highly symmetrical structure is typical of Henry VIII fortifications. Built with materials sourced from the local area including quarries at Hastings, timber from Appledore and stone from the demolition of Winchelsea St Thomas' Church, its 600,000 stones were finished with a limestone coating.

Costing approx £23,000 to built, just 50 years later its structural integrity was deemed obsolete. By 1626, the sea had receded so far that the harbour was out of range of its cannons and the castle was instructed to be demolished but never was. Used as an anti-aircraft gun base during World War II,
the site was later was taken into Guardianship by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works and excavations removed most of the soil and and rubble which had filled the inside of its walls. Conservation efforts continued to protect the monument from further deterioration and in 1995 Caber Castle was opened to the public by English Heritage and Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.

Plan Your Trip: The castle exterior is viewable at any time of day and can be seen along this 14½ km circular walk which also include Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and other military structures such as a martello tower and WWII pillboxes.

To enjoy a tour of the interior of this historic castle, please pre-book a guide at www.sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/camber-castle

Please Note:

These Castles were featured as they offer outdoor activities that were available at the time of writing. We strongly advise that you consult their individual websites for up-to-date information on opening times and ticket availability before you plan your visit.

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Image credits: Bodiam Castle; wikipedia.org, Hastings Castle; bbc.co.uk, Fullers’ Follies; Nick Photos Flickr, Camber and Pevensey Castle; visit1066country.com. References: Herstmonceux Castle wikipedia and Camber Castle by Friends of Rye Harbour Nature.

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