We took a trip to Arundel at the weekend, somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for years. Arundel is dominated by a huge castle, the seat of the Howard family and dukes of Norfolk for many centuries. The castle itself is fascinating with a jaw-dropping history dating back to the Norman conquest. The library – 10,000 books! The bliss of never running out of shelf-space! – is gorgeous, the pictures are divine, the views from the battlements are splendid. But the castle gardens were a complete surprise, captivating, playful and enchanting.
They were re-developed only recently (re-opened 2008), inspired by the gardens that may have run down to the Thames from the Howard’s London house in The Strand in Jacobean times, now demolished. There are fountains, astonishing grottoes made of cleverly-carved wood and planting, with lots of wildflowers (poppies and cornflowers, the essence of summer) as well as more formal lavender and roses. Paths lead you through little rooms, the willow hedges contorted to provide peep-hole windows from one to another.
There’s a mown labyrinth, lovely fountains with spouting dog heads, apple trees trained into arches and arbours. It’s heavenly. At the apex is a shell grotto, within a mock-classical temple (carved of green oak, splitting and ageing attractively) housing mosaics made of cockle and mussel shells, and a jet of water on which spins a crown, gently rising and falling with the water.
The gardens were clearly designed to dazzle, to amuse, delight and surprise. They succeed wonderfully. Do go.