Amberley Castle: a right royal welcome
The castle in West Sussex has been popular with kings and queens down the ages
With a population of 586, the West Sussex hamlet of Amberley may be only a fraction of the size of the better-known Arundel, only a five-minute train journey away, but it is definitely worth visiting in its own right. Its traditional cottages, most of which were built in the 16th and 17th centuries, the fact that it still largely adheres to the original medieval street pattern, and its winding lanes all combine to give an impression of a village that time forgot.
Amberley is also noteworthy for its heritage museum. Located across the road from the train station, Amberley Museum is one of the quirkiest places that I have been to. It contains 40 separate exhibitions and stalls, which range from covering traditional skills, such as those of a bodger (stool maker), broom maker and stone mason, to showcasing Victorian machines. It also has its own narrow gauge miniature railway, a nature walk and a wildlife hide.
Film buffs will particularly enjoy the former chalk quarry, where large parts of the 1985 James Bond film A View to a Kill, starring Roger Moore, were filmed. The quarry stood in for the fictional “Main Strike Mine” that Max Zorin (played by Christopher Walken) planned to blow up in order to trigger the San Andreas fault and destroy Silicon Valley. The museum retains several props from the film, including rail cars with a “Z” for Zorin Industries.
A castle fit for royalty
Amberley Castle may have been converted into a hotel four years after A View to a Kill was released, but the fictional 007 would certainly have jumped at the opportunity to stay in the deluxe property. It also has royal connections, beginning with the land it was built on, which was originally gifted to a local abbey by the king of Wessex in the seventh century. The building was constructed in 1103 and gradually transformed into a castle over the next four centuries, with visitors including Henry VIII.
A century on from Henry’s visit, Amberley’s role as a royalist stronghold during the English Civil War in the 17th century nearly led to it being destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces, but it was rebuilt after the restoration of the monarchy and went on to host Charles II, who visited twice. Later, the then-Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth II) was a frequent guest, which was reflected in the lowered flag on the castle’s turret. Today, the castle is owned by Andrew and Christina Brownsword of the Andrew Brownsword hotel group.
The sense of history is impossible to escape, from the 60-foot castle walls, which contain a 2.5-ton portcullis, to the 12-acre grounds within them, which retain a host of period features, including medieval stonework and even a privy that was used by the castle’s guards and servants. There are also plenty of places to just sit back and admire the architecture, flowers and doves nesting among the castle walls in the setting sun.
Those who are interested in doing something a little more active will also find plenty to do, as there is croquet equipment set out just outside the castle walls, as well as a tennis court a short walk away in the wider grounds. There is even an 18-hole putting green, designed with holes named after local towns – although I’m not going to reveal my score.
The period atmosphere extends to the hotel’s 19 rooms. Walking past suits of armour and antique cannons, I entered the Arundel, one of the hotel’s Premier Deluxe rooms, and was impressed by both its size and elegance. From the peacock sculpture in the fireplace and medieval windows, which look out onto the gardens, through to a door which opened to reveal a mirror, you get the sense that the interior designers have strived to make the room stand out.
Amberley has a reputation for having one of the finest hotel restaurants in the area, and has been awarded three AA rosettes. And it’s not hard to see why after tasting its food. I enjoyed a spiced monkfish starter, followed by halibut with prawn fish cake, lemon grass and samphire. For dessert, I had chocolate and cherry mousse with vanilla ice cream, honeycomb and roasted hazelnut, all washed down with a selection of wine suggested by the waiter. The full English breakfast the following morning was similarly outstanding.
Matthew's stay at Amberley Castle was complimentary. Overnight stays start from £285 per room, two sharing, including breakfast. Currently, an “Autumn Break” package is on offer, from £389 per room, two sharing, including a three-course dinner in the restaurant and breakfast. See amberleycastle.co.uk