Abbe’s Family Favourites – Castles

Herstmonceux Castle

Herstmonceux Castle with Herbie and Abbe

Introducing a new regular feature… GTO’s Consultant Editor Abbe Bates now visits many attractions with her young family. In this regular new feature she shares her tips and ideas of where adults can enjoy a great day out with youngsters.

Welcome to my new page. With my sons Herbie (five) and Gus (one) and husband, Rich, I’ve visited a lot of castles over the last few months.

We’ve found that they are a great way to encourage a love of history and Herbie has developed an enthusiastic interest in knights and battles! I hope we give you some ideas.

In search of knights at Herstmonceux Castle!

In May, we visited Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex for the ‘Castle Connections’ event – a small-scale version of ‘England’s Medieval Festival’, which takes place over the August bank holiday weekend.

There was plenty to do including archery, birds of prey demonstrations, a living history village and talks on the armour and battle techniques of the time by costumed re-enactors. Gus had fun watching the owls and falcons flying above our heads.

Owls and falcons at Herstmonceux Castle

Owls and falcons at Herstmonceux Castle

The castle itself can only be visited on a pre-booked guided tour but the grounds and gardens are expansive. There are seven formal gardens and 300 acres of managed woodland, so plenty of opportunities for picnicking and walking.

A small visitor centre details the castle’s tumultuous history since the 15th century. It was refurbished to its former glory in the early part of the 20th century.

The Royal Observatory Greenwich was based at Herstmonceux from the 1940s until the end of the 1980s, and you can still visit the domes and telescopes as part of a trip to the neighbouring Observatory Science Centre – joint tickets are available.

Verdict

A peaceful gem hidden in the Sussex countryside.

Herstmonceux Castle

Café/Restaurant
Picnics allowed
Toilets
Baby Change facilities
Gift Shop
Free Parking
Family Tickets available

Children under 4 – free

On the trail of William the Conqueror

Living in Hastings, we have many connections to William the Conqueror in close proximity, the most well known being Battle Abbey. As English Heritage (EH) members, we visit often and Herbie is well catered for at the site.

It has been revamped in recent years to include an excellent wooden playground, a visitor centre with engaging exhibits and films, and displays in one of the main towers with views across the battlefield and beyond.

Battle Abbey

Battle Abbey

We visited in June during half term, when activities for kids included a bug hunt. The battlefield walk, which is partly accessible with a pushchair, is a particular highlight for Herbie, with its huge wooden statues depicting Normans and Saxons as well as an immense arrow, marking the spot where King Harold is said to have fallen during the Battle of Hastings.

Audio guides are free to help you navigate the site and there’s a pleasant café with outdoor seating. You can certainly spend a whole day here, taking your time to enjoy the scenery.

Close to Eastbourne is Pevensey Castle (EH) where William landed in 1066. Its history began as a Roman ‘Saxon Shore’ fort but it was developed into a full-scale Norman castle in the century after the conquest.

A mainly outdoor site, there is plenty to explore from dungeons and castle turrets to interactive displays outlining its history including its use as a base for soldiers during the Second World War.

Herbie, Gus, and Dad Richard enjoy the pile of cannon balls at Pevensey Castle

Herbie, Gus, and Dad Richard, enjoy the pile of cannonballs at Pevensey Castle

Herbie was very impressed with the collection of old cannonballs piled up high!

Also worth a visit is the local Pevensey Courthouse Museum and Gaol, just down the High Street. This small, free-to-enter attraction is run by local volunteers and includes the old dock and prison cells as well as a children’s discovery trail.

Herbie was able to stand in the dock and for a small donation was released with a certificate to commemorate his visit!

Verdict

Fascinating history but both best on a fine day.

Battle Abbey

Café/Restaurant
Picnics allowed
Toilets
Baby Change facilities
Gift Shop
Family Tickets available
Audio Tour

Parking – chargeable public car park discounted for EH members

Children under 5 (and under 18 with EH family membership) – free

Pevensey Castle

Picnics allowed
Gift Shop
Free Parking
Family Tickets

Parking – public car park (charge)

Children under 5 (and under 18 with EH family membership) – free

Pevensey Courthouse Museum and Gaol

Gift Shop (small display)

Free entry

Public car park (with charge)

Down the Tunnels at Dover Defences

Making the most of our EH membership we took a trip to Dover Castle on the Kent coast. There was much to see and do, from the medieval Great Tower, built by Henry II and recently re-displayed to great effect, to the Secret Wartime Tunnels.

Herbie and his cousins loved the re-enactments in the Great Tower, detailing the turbulent history of kings and queens of the time.

Dover Castle

A visit to Dover Castle

There are two timed tours of the tunnels, one which traces the story of a wartime pilot making his way through the underground hospital and one which details the planning and execution of Operation Dynamo, with film and special effects bringing the period to life.

Both were accessible with a pushchair and the Great Tower had a buggy park, where you could leave the pram to return to it later.

This is definitely a site to return to, as we didn’t fit in the Medieval Tunnels or the battlement walks.

Verdict

A great and varied day out.

Dover Castle

Café/Restaurant
Picnics allowed
Toilets
Baby Change facilities
Gift Shop
Free Parking
Family Tickets available

Children under 5 (and under 18 with EH family membership) – free