Discovering the relics of our rich history is one of the most wonderful aspects of a trip around the UK and the castles to visit in East Sussex are fantastic examples of the treasure that awaits in every corner of our country.
BEST CASTLES TO VISIT IN EAST SUSSEX
Visit Herstmonceux Castle
Herstmonceux Castle sits majestically at the centre of a beautiful estate deep in the East Sussex countryside. It was constructed in the 15th century and is now the oldest brick building of significance in the country.
The moated castle has stunning grounds of 300-acres that would take days to explore fully. Each of the seven formal gardens has a theme. The Rose, Shakespeare and Elizabethan creations were wonderful, but we particularly enjoyed the Apothecary Garden, it’s fascinating to learn about the healing power of plants.
Herstmonceux has a wildlife-packed woodland that echoes with both the sounds of wildlife and the shouts of excited children on the adventure playground and in the rope maze.
Lovers of astronomy are regular visitors to the castle as it was the location of the Royal Greenwich Observatory from 1946-1989 and Sir John Flamsteed, the first Royal Astronomer, gazed at the night sky through a telescope situated one of the castle’s turrets.
On the guided tours you’ll also learn about tales of smuggling across the nearby English Channel and the history of the families who have lived there.
Visit Lewes Castle
Perched high above the medieval streets of Lewes is a castle that began life soon after the 1066 Battle of Hastings as the fortress-like home of William de Warenne.
The Barbican (the Old French name for a fortified gateway) is a magnificent edifice and visitors often tackle the steep climb to the top enjoy the spectacular panoramic views of the town below.
Next to Lewes Castle is the Barbican House Museum, which has excellent exhibits which describe and display the archaeological history of Sussex. You’ll see the permanent collection of medieval gold rings, Roman pottery and prehistoric flints plus new interactive displays and an elaborate tapestry from 1264.
Visit Bodiam Castle
When you enter Bodiam Castle, be prepared to take a step back in time to the 14th century. Much of the original castle remains, explore the rare original wooden portcullis, a full moat, imposing battlements, claustrophobic spiral staircases and spooky murder holes.
Bodiam Castle is as beautiful as it is historic. It’s romantic to walk along walls where Knights once stood and thrilling to peek through windows where soldiers shot arrows in anger. It is a place to let your imagination take flight.
Days out at the castle include enthralling guided tours, fun family history trails and armour demonstrations.
Visit Pevensey Castle
Pevensey was built in the 4th century by the Romans as of one the ‘Saxon Shore’ forts that defended the coast of Britannica. The fact it is the longest-lasting, two-thirds of the walls remain, is a testament to how impressive it once was.
The castle was also the landing place of William the Conqueror’s army in 1066 as they prepared to fight the Battle of Hastings.
Over the years Pevensey Castle has consistently been used as a deterrent to invaders so it still looks like the huge defensive structure it began life as. Visitors will spy Elizabethan cannon and catapult shot plus a now ruined Norman castle that was built within the outer walls.
The story of the castle is told in a fascinating visitor’s centre. Learn about its role in WW2, the poor souls trapped in the dungeon, and the families who have called Pevensey home.
Visit Hastings Castle
As the first of the Norman motte and bailey castles ordered by William the Conqueror when he arrived in England, Hasting’s Castle is an iconic part of our history. Its construction is detailed in the Bayeux Tapestry.
The castle has had a difficult past, the church was destroyed by Henry VIII on his crusade to become the head of the church, and until the 1800s it was covered in rubble and thick undergrowth. The Victorians loved Hastings as a holiday destination and transformed the castle into a tourist attraction.
Sadly, it was then heavily bombed during WW2 and needed saving again in 1951. £3000 raised by the people of Hastings town funded extensive work but only half of the original structure still stands.
Its historical significance makes Hasting’s Castle well worth a visit but other than the ruins and lovely views over the town, there isn’t much to ‘see’.
Visit Camber Castle
Camber Castle was built as part of Henry VIII’s south coast defence system against the French and Spanish. It was finished in 1544 and was home to a garrison of 29 soldiers.
By 1642 the castle became overwhelmed by a build-up of shingle and silt was abandoned. It is now two miles away from the sea and is a fabulous example of a fort of this symmetrical style.
English Heritage has made Camber Castle a great place to enjoy a day out. We were intrigued by both the military elements and domestic arrangements that have been remarkably well-preserved.
There is plenty to see and do at the castle, but if you have time, head to the neighbouring Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.
Visit Rye Castle
Construction of Rye Castle was started in the middle of the 13th century after being ordered by Henry III. After 750 years of defensive duty, it is amazing that it has changed so little.
Inside the walls of the two sites of the Rye Castle Museum (Ypres Tower and East Street) tourists can see the cell of infamous murderer John Breads and the gibbet his remains were displayed in. The stories of Rye’s ship-building industry and smuggling history are also told.
Head to the balcony for extensive views of the coastline and Romney Marsh, land that used to be a vital harbour. There’s also a 3D model of our historic defences against Napoleon.
The custodians of Rye Castle have tried hard to enthral visitors, especially the young. There is a children’s quiz, a fire engine from 1745 and opportunities to try medieval armour and weaponry.
Our favourite part of Rye Castle was the intricate medieval garden and the thought-provoking exhibit describing the establishment of the first women’s prison.