West Sussex offers some of the most picture-perfect countryside
in England. Meadows, hop fields, and forests nestle in rolling hills where the only movement comes from grazing sheep and roaming deer. Charming thatched-roof cottages and country pubs seem untouched by modern
Between the South Downs and the expanse of the Amberley Wildbrooks--a preserved wetland and nature reserve--the massive fortified castle of Amberley welcomes you to a genuine castle experience.
THE PAST Obviously, security was once an important consideration here. Marauding brigands and assaulting armies never had a chance when confronted by the castle's massive, sixty-foot-high stone
walls, soaring battlements, iron portcullis, and moat.
In 672 the Saxon king Caedwalla gave the lands where the castle now sits to Saint Wilfred, first bishop of Selsey. Eventually the property passed to the bishop of
Around 1100 Bishop Ralph Luffa of Chichester embarked on an ambitious building program in Sussex. (The first cathedral of Chichester and parts of the East Wing and Small Hall at Amberley still exist.) Not
much is known of the period until 1377, when King Richard II granted a license to crenellate to Bishop William Rede. The bishop then built the castle's tremendous curtain wall.
Bishops lived quite a luxurious
lifestyle back then, and their persons and possessions were coveted by peasants and French pirates who came up the Arun River from the coast. These men of the cloth required serious protection. Amberley's bishops could
swiftly mete out justice to any local agitators and made use of the castle's oubliette. (Only one other still exists in such good condition in England.)
Not until the Civil War did Amberley suffer the ravages of
battle. When the Royalist, John Goring, who lived in the castle in 1643, declared that he wasn't going to pay any more taxes to those "odious" Roundheads, Cromwell's soldiers laid the castle's Great Hall to waste.
Several years later King Charles II visited the loyal Mr. Goring at the castle. A second royal visit from this king inspired the mural in the Queen's Room, which is now the dining room.
The fifteenth duke of Norfolk
bought the property in 1893 and began the long restoration work that is being continued by the present owners.
THE PRESENT The only threatening presence here nowadays comes from the
peacocks who stand sentry duty on the walls and grass-covered moat, which now serves as a croquet lawn. Through the portcullis, you enter a large courtyard where a stone walkway leads to the hotel.
accommodations have come a long way from the dank oubliettes. Each uniquely decorated room bears a medieval ambiance and is named for a Sussex castle. Proprietress Joy Cummings has furnished each with antiques,
brass or four-poster beds, and fabrics in lovely shades of turquoise and terra-cotta or lilac and pale green. The Herstmonceux and Pevensey rooms each have a secret doorway leading to the battlements, and the Arundel
and Amberley rooms have gas fireplaces and stunning windows set in stone recesses. The Chichester Room, decorated in shades of deep red and blue, not only has a fireplace and beamed ceiling, but a six-foot-long
four-poster bed and an enormous bathroom with an outstanding view from its oversize whirlpool bath.
In the barrel-vaulted Queen's Room Restaurant, you can feast on classic French and traditional
English cuisine served on Wedgwood china and Dartington crystal. Lancet windows provide views of the graceful English countryside.
Amberley, Nr. Arundel, West Sussex BN18 9ND. Tel:
011-44-1798-831-992. Fax: 011-44-1798-831-998.
Rooms: 15; all with bath. Rates: Very expensive; doubles from £130; includes breakfast and tax. Dates closed:
Open all year. Dining facilities: Restaurant. Children: No discounts. Facilities for disabled: None. On-site recreation:
Archery; shooting; falconry; croquet; horseback riding. Nearby diversions: Golf; ballooning; Arundel Castle; Glyndebourne; Chichester Cathedral; Petworth House; Goodwood House. Proprietors:
Joy and Martin Cummings. Operated as a hotel since: 1989. U.S. representative: Josephine Barr; Small Luxury Hotels of the World; Euro-Connection.
From London, take A24 south. Turn west on A283 to Storrington. In Storrington, continue southwest on B2139. The castle is on the right and is marked by a very small signpost. Try to arrive during daylight.