Herstmonceux is one of the best castles in Sussex. The castle is Located in East Sussex and it can be reached easily from London, Hastings or Brighton. Car is the easiest way to access the site as it is nestled in a small country village. The closest large town is Hailsham which is 15 minutes north of Eastbourne by bus.
Herstmonceux is one of the most impressive of the East Sussex castles. It features over 300 acres of woodland, themed gardens and of course a moated castle too,
Of all of the castles near Hastings, it is the only intact castle with a moat. Its closest counterpart being Bodiam Castle, which is a ruin. When you visit Herstmonceux Castle you will feel as if you have stepped back in time or are in a fairy tale.
The history of Herstmonceux Castle
Herstmonceux Castle was originally the home of Ilona de Herste and her Norman husband Inglegram de Monceux. The castle was initally known as Herste of the Monceux. Over time this morphed into Herstmonceux. The township surrounding the castle is also known as Herstmonceux now too.
Uniquely the castle is built with red brick. This was prevalent for French houses, however it was unusual for British homes. Additionally, it was the largest privately owned British home of the time.
Modern day Herstmonceux
The home changed hands a number of times over the years. The original castle subsequently fell into a state of disrepair. At its worst, the walls were covered with ivy. Additionally, much of the brickwork was removed and used to build another dwelling.
In 1933 the site was purchased and renovations took place to restore the castle to its former glory. Excavations were made to refill the moat. Furthermore tennis courts and a pool were also added. Finally the original red brick was used to reinstate the castle to its original design.
During the 1990’s the castle was sold again. This time to developers. They planned to convert the castle into a hotel and build a golf course on the grounds. By and large the locals were against this idea. Pressure from the locals was considerable. Consequently the site was sold before construction began. Most recently it was donated to the Canadian Queens University. The castle currently operates as a university campus in addition to being open for visitors.
Visiting Herstmonceux Castle
The castle can only be viewed on an organised tour. Up to date tour times are available on the Herstmonceux Castle website. The expansive gardens are open daily from 10am-5pm however. It is worth noting that Herstmonceux Castle is closed between October and April.
Adult tickets cost £6 and children under 16 £3. Castle tours are £2.50 and can be booked at the castle office. Compared to other castles, Herstmonceux is a value for money day out in East Sussex.
What to see at Herstmonceux Castle
Castles in Sussex fail to rival Herstmonceux. Comparatively, no other castle is as grand in size, grounds or current state of repair. Additionally, the grounds span over 300 acres, so you could easily spend a day exploring. Bring comfortable shoes. The site has gravel and stone paths however it can be muddy in parts.
The seven themed walled gardens are flanked by knotted oak trees. In October the conkers are fully grown and in Autumn the leaves carpet the grass. There are endless opportunities for play and exploration.
Additionally, weeping willows line the moat. Their twisted branches beautifully frame the castle. You can walk the circumference of the castle, however the most beautiful vantage point is standing in front of the long brick bridge.
It’s worth noting that you can explore the bridge and get up close to the castle even if you’re not on a tour. The intricate wood and iron front door features a unique door knocker too. Unfortunately the ornate door is only decorative these days and no one will answer your knock! Still, it is a fantastic vantage point for a photo. In fact, the whole site is very scenic. On clear days the moat is reflective. If you’re lucky you will capture a mirror image of the castle and sky.
The walled gardens
At the rear of the castle are seven walled gardens. Each has their own theme and feature a variety of decoratively placed plantings. Keep an eye out for unusual trees such as the medlar tree. This tree features in Romeo and Juliet. The exact verse has been written on a stake under the tree for you to enjoy.
Hedge walls keep the gardens separate. Arches and wire gates allow passageway between the spaces. Thanks to the hedged walls, the gardens feel warm an intimate despite their large size. You can easily wander or sit for a while without being disturbed by others. There are a number of garden benches scattered throughout the gardens as well as stone garden beds and stairs.
On site facilities
Days out in East Sussex should include good food. The region is known for its fresh produce. Herstmonceux Castle is no different. Their cafe famous for delicious cream teas. Additionally, guests are also welcome to bring a picnic and lunch on site. There are plenty of places to sit or lay down a picnic rug.
Herstmonceux Castle visitor's centre
Finally you must visit the visitor’s centre. It is located adjacent to the cafe. The centre displays interesting artefacts and history about the site. You can learn more about the family that initially built the castle here and view photographs of it over time. This is the next best thing to a castle tour.
Special event days
Notably during the year Herstmonceux castle run special event days such as medieval jousting and woodlands days for families. Events run over the summer, so keep an eye on their website for upcoming dates.
Days out in East Sussex
Allow 2-3 hours to fully explore Herstmonceux Castle. If you are staying for lunch add a little more time. There are many exciting attractions in East Sussex and Herstmonceux Castle can easily be combined to form part of a day out from London.
Finally, neighbouring Eastbourne and Beachy Head are both beautiful locations to visit. The South Downs are also close by. There are many other castles in the region too. Hastings Castle, Bodiam Castle and Battle Abbey are also excellent choices.