Although its name may make you think you're in France, Herstmonceux castle and its surrounding village are located in East Sussex, around 2.5 hours south of London or 50 minutes west of Brighton.
Nestled in a small country village, the castle is surprisingly easy to find and with over 300 acres of woodland and themed gardens, as well as a moat, the castle is well worth the drive.
The history of the castle
Originally the home of Ilona de Herste and her norman husband Inglegram de Monceux, this 12th century home was known as Herste of the Monceux. Over time this translated in Herstmonceux and later became the name of the surrounding village.
The castle is quite unique as it is built in red brick which was a prevalent style for houses in France of the time, but not for those in Britain. At the time it was the largest privately owned home in Britain.
Over the years the home changed hands and over time fell into disrepair. The walls were covered in ivy and much of the brickwork was removed in order to build a more modern house in another location on the property.
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 and tennis courts and a pool were also added.
In the 1990's the castle was sold to developers with the idea of building a golf course and converting the castle into a hotel. This idea was quashed by locals and the site was eventually repurchased and donated to the Canadian Queen's university and it remains a campus still today.
When can I visit the castle and how much does it cost?
Alongside the university, the castle and grounds remain open to visitors. The castle is open daily at various times for tours, however it is not open to visitors outside of these times. The gardens and surrounds are open for exploration from 10-5pm daily. Like many attractions in the UK, it closes for the winter at the end of October and reopens again in April.
Adult tickets cost £6 and children under 16 £3. Castle tours are £2.50 and can be booked at the castle office.
What can I see?
Set on over 300 acres, you can spend a long time or just a little exploring Herstmonceux castle. The best place to start is at the front of the castle where you can walk across the bridge over the moat and enjoy the spectacular front door and the grand size of the building up close. The door bell was a personal favourite of mine!
If you're a fan of Oak trees, you will love the knotted oaks that flank the path to the seven themed walled gardens that lay at the back of the castle. In October, the conkers are well and truly growing and the deciduous leaves carpet the grass.
The walled gardens vary in size and theming. You can enjoy viewing unusual trees like the medlar tree (which Shakespeare refers to in Romeo and Juliet). There are privet hedges, cottage gardens and beautiful sculptures. The sheer size of the site means that the gardens can be explored peacefully and you can either wander or sit and enjoy them without being disturbed by others.
Cream tea for me please!
Herstmonceux castle are well known for their delicious cream teas, so if you get hungry whilst exploring, it is worth stopping in for one at the cafe. You can also take a look at the adjoining visitor's centre to learn more about the history of the site throughout the ages.
Special event days
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.
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