Ninety minutes and a world away from London…
The end of a busy week, and the heat and bustle of London fade away as our train departs London Victoria, bound for the countryside and 48 hours of freedom.
It’s our fourth visit to Arundel, West Sussex, so we’ve already earmarked a loose plan for the weekend. Places to shop, eat and explore which have already become new and essential traditions for us.
But first, the now-familiar thrill of watching the countryside speed by from our seats, and the bubble of excitement as our train passes through Christ’s Hospital…. Pulborough… Amberley… and – “look to the right!” – there’s the winding River Arun, with Arundel’s spectacular Castle and Cathedral standing majestic and proud in the late afternoon sun. We have, as the train announces, arrived!
Arundel railway station is quiet, but there are taxis waiting outside to ferry weary travellers to their destination. We opt to stretch our legs and turn right out of the station, under the bridge and follow the foot and cycle path towards town. It’s a short walk to Arden House B&B, and we check ourselves in and can’t resist browsing the breakfast menu in our bedroom while we freshen up from our travels.
We love our food, and Arundel really does have a fantastic range of independent restaurants to suit all tastes. We need to do a little more walking to prepare for the evening’s eating and drinking! So we take an early evening stroll along Mill Road; tree-lined and cool despite the still warm evening air, and a great place to admire the elevations of the Castle.
Passing the museum and putting green and over the stone bridge, we reach Swanbourne Lake, and decide to take a clockwise stroll around the lake. The undulating woodland track becomes a more well-worn path on the north side, and we stop to admire the crystal clarity of the water. The lake is a popular destination for visitors, with boats for hire and a picturesque tearoom. But there’s something particularly special about visiting early evening, when the only sounds come from bird song and the occasional quack and squawk of wildfowl.
Then back into town and into the Swan Hotel, where the bar offers delicious, creative cocktails as well as good Fullers’ and guest ales. It would be tempting to remain here for dinner but we have a reservation at Motte & Bailey just a few doors along the High Street. A tea-room during the day, they transform by evening into a Tapas restaurant, specialising in small and tempting plates of Moroccan-inspired Tapas. As usual, we end up ordering far more than we originally intended – each dish begs you to try another one!
Saturday dawns bright and clear, and after a restful sleep and a delicious breakfast we head off to explore the town. Even on our fourth visit, there are still so many places to discover: Tarrant Street with its quirky shops and arcade, Maltravers Street with its stunning architecture, and a network of little roads full of gem-like cottages.
It’s Farmers Market day, so we stop to admire the artisanal crafts and buy some local honey. Then into Pallant of Arundel – one of those heavenly delicatessens with an irresistible range of local produce.
What to do next? We’ve visited the Castle and Museum on previous occasions, so we decide to spend some time at the Wildfowl and Wetland Centre, home to a spectacular list of wildfowl, and a restful destination to while away a few hours. We could walk there in 20 minutes by road, but follow our hosts’ advice and take the river path, which winds alongside the Arun and provides wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.
Back to Arden House B&B, and after a quick change we’re off for an afternoon swim at the heated outdoor Arundel Lido, just a couple of minutes’ walk away.
Dinner reservations that evening have been made at The Parsons Table. Just time for an aperitif in the very pretty bar at nearby Butlers (which we promise to visit next time). The food at The Parsons Table is sublime: locally sourced, beautifully presented, and satisfying, with friendly and attentive service.
Sunday, and we split off for an hour to pursue our respective retail addictions: my bookworm partner to delve into the vintage books in Kim’s Bookshop, and me to browse the floaty tops and trousers at Fanny Adams, and shoes and handbags at Grays of Tarrant Street.
Purchases duly stowed away with our weekend luggage, we head out for a final walk up through the town, stopping to catch our breath in the coolness of St Nicholas Church and Arundel Cathedral, before turning off London Road onto the Norfolk Estate.
Past the Hiorne Tower and down the footpath that leads us through a valley and back past Swanbourne Lake. But we don’t stop this time as we are bound for lunch at The Black Rabbit, which we love for its picturesque waterside location, friendly service and roast lunch.
And then its time to head home. Bags collected from our hosts with fond farewells, and back home on the train, already dreaming of our next visit. So many places yet to explore, and all just 90 minutes from London….!
by Lucie Stirling at Arden House