When my family traveled to France and England for a two-week vacation, we looked forward to all of the famous sites. We knew that Paris and London would be crowded, fast-paced, and we wanted to see more of the countries as well. To escape the bustle of London, my family jumped on the Southern Railway for a three-day jaunt to the southern coast of England. Once our Eurostar from Paris arrived at St. Pancras Station in London, we hopped on the Underground to Victoria Station. We packed light so that we only had carry-on bags for our vacation, making train travel easy. We rode comfortably without worry and enjoyed three small English towns.
Day 1: Visiting The Castle And Town Square In Arundel
The Southern Railway took about 90 minutes to cross the countryside en route to Arundel. This town of just over 3,000 residents is quiet but interesting. The town square offers many restaurants, pubs, and shops. Red, white, and blue flags span the street between the Victorian and Georgian buildings with a very English feel. The town began as a Roman market town and became the seat of the Duke of Norfolk.
As we approached Arundel, we caught sight of the castle looming over the town. William the Conqueror named Roger de Montgomery the Earl of Arundel near the end of the 11th century. The Earl began construction of a castle and moat at the high point of the land. The castle passed through a few families over the centuries and eventually became the home of the Dukes of Norfolk. Various owners expanded and renovated the castle and grounds.
The 15th Duke, in the late 19th century, mainly created the castle we visited. In the oldest section, the Keep, we climbed narrow spiral stairs and walked through dark corridors past the guard room and Empress Matilda’s room. From the top of the Keep, we gazed over the town and the lush English countryside.
We then explored the newer sections of the castle where the 18th Duke and Duchess still host guests. Signs explain that the rooms may be closed at any time due to the needs of the Duke. Expansive opulent rooms boast enormous stone fireplaces, luxuriously canopied beds, and ornate furniture.
Down a grassy lane, a typical English garden contained fountains, manicured hedges, and hidden spaces. Above the multicolored flowers, Arundel Cathedral stood out against the blue sky.
The town square had many places to eat. At Partner’s Café, we ordered pocket potatoes, a baked potato with our choice of toppings. I decided on the bacon, avocado, and cheese, while my daughter chose beans and cheese. My husband’s sandwich came with thick-cut fries that reminded me of the fries my mom used to cook.
At Roly’s Fudge Pantry, we had a difficult time limiting the flavors of fudge we purchased. The sea salt was my favorite but the chocolate, strawberry, and honeycomb-flavored chunks were almost as good.
After touring the castle, we perused a few shops then stopped at Norfolk Arms for a pint of stout for me and a root beer for my daughter. We settled onto the couch for a rousing game of Ticket to Ride, a board game we often play at home.
Arundel Park Hotel
When we disembarked on arrival in Arundel, we walked a tenth of a mile to Arundel Park Hotel. The hotel was only a half-mile walk to the town square and the perfect location when riding the train from London. Our triple room was small, but clean and comfortable. Before leaving for Brighton the next morning, we enjoyed an English breakfast of beans, fried egg, hash browns, and a stewed tomato in the sunroom. We chatted with a couple that was moving back to England after 20 years of living in the United States.
Day 2: Enjoying The Pier And The Lanes In Brighton
We started early on the Southern Railway to Brighton. The ride lasted a little over an hour and we had to transfer once. We were glad that we had bought first-class tickets as the train car filled up quickly. We spent the day exploring Brighton, a fun coastal town that seemed to attract many summer visitors.
Royal Pavilion And Garden
As we walked across the Pavilion Gardens, we marveled at the minarets and domes of the Royal Pavilion. King George IV spent time in Brighton when he was the Prince of Wales to improve his health. Over the early decades of the 1800s, he transformed a villa into an opulent palace. He employed an interior designer, which broke from the traditional custom of the architect designing all aspects of a building. Elaborate furnishings, light fixtures, and wall coverings matched his extravagant lifestyle.
Queen Victoria sold the estate to the town of Brighton in 1850 and removed all of the furnishings. During World War I, the building was converted into a hospital and treated many soldiers from the Indian army and British soldiers. Starting in 1920, the town worked to return the palace to its former glory and Queen Mary returned many items that remained at Buckingham Palace.
We began our visit in the long dining hall filled with dragon sculptures, ornate chandeliers, and colorful Chinese wallpaper. In the grand kitchen mounds of artificial food and dozens of pots and serving dishes demonstrated the excess of events. Each bedroom boasted rich colors and expensive furniture. In my favorite, the Music Room, dragons peer down at you from the ceiling, snakes curl around posts, and the detailed domed ceiling holds dainty metal and glass chandeliers.
Brighton Palace Pier
Extending more than 1,700 feet over the water, The Brighton Palace Pier offers games, rides, and treats for all ages. My daughter and I took a spin on the carousel and enjoyed a rich brownie with chocolate sauce. As we walked along the coast, we passed shops with art and souvenirs and many people enjoying the summer day on the beach.
Not far from the train station, a maze of narrow pedestrian streets make up The Lanes. Various clothing, jewelry, and gift shops line the paths. My daughter spent quite a bit of time exploring the Harry Potter shop before deciding on a Hufflepuff t-shirt. We then joined my husband across the way at The Bath Arms where he was enjoying a pint. During our stroll, we also stopped in at Urban Legend for a chocolate-filled donut and a berry berry berry donut.
Many restaurants offer outdoor seating to watch the passersby. We tried getting lunch before heading to the Royal Pavilion, but most places had not started serving yet. When we stopped in at The Dorset, the host was about to turn us away, but the chef agreed to open the kitchen early for us. My chicken Caesar salad fortified me well for the day. The burger and sweet potato fries looked very tasty also.
Pro Tip: Travel light and leave your bags at City Space. We made a reservation at this convenience store for luggage storage for several hours. It is only a short walk from the train station and allowed us to explore Brighton for the day.
Day 3: Exploring The Smugglers’ Caves And Interesting Shops In Hastings
After another hour or so of riding the train along the coast, we landed at Hastings. We meandered down the steep hill to the water’s edge to find our small hotel for the night. The tall windows of our room at the Astral Lodge looked out onto the beach and pier. The town offers a pedestrian-only strip of restaurants, shops, and a smaller version of beach-side fun.
Probably everyone can recite the date 1066 when William the Conqueror landed in England and built a castle. Most tourists will climb to the top of the cliff overlooking the sea to visit the ruins. We, however, turned toward a site that my daughter was eager to experience, Smugglers Adventure.
After climbing many, many stairs to the top of the cliff, we headed down a bunch more to enter the caves. In the 17th and 18th centuries, pirates along the Sussex Coast used these caves and tunnels to hide their stolen goods. They spread ghost stories to keep locals away. Videos of Hairy Jack, a notorious smuggler, led us through dark passageways as he related the history, demonstrated by dozens of life-size mannequins. Interactive displays and lively stories kept us engrossed as we learned about these interesting characters.
Pro Tip: Ask for a flashlight or use your phone light if you tend to get scared in dimly lit areas.
Back out in the sunlight and down on the beach, the Shipwreck Museum offered another aspect of life near the sea. Displays showed the cargo rescued from many ships through the years, including wine bottles, dishes, and precious metals. One exhibit explained the story of one of the largest merchant ships from the 18th century, a Dutch East Indiaman, the Amsterdam, which ran aground at the beach in Hastings.
With a short walk from our hotel along the beachfront, we reached many good options for dining and shopping. At Monellis, the waiter squeezed us into a table in the small dining room. We watched the owner and his assistant prepare and cook the sourdough pizzas at the other end. Our margarita pizza came topped with dollops of pesto, halved cherry tomatoes, and slivers of fresh Parmesan. The garlic bread, in a ladder shape, was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. We completed the night with wonderful cannolis topped with chocolate shavings and pistachios, a café latte, and limoncello.
At Hanushka Coffee House, we enjoyed a simple breakfast of pastries, fruit, eggs, and cheese amid teeming bookshelves. My daughter entertained us with facts she read from a book pulled from the shelf. They also offer a few tables set out on the walk.
Before heading back to our hotel for a late check-out, we dined on fresh flavorful food at Ladle. My husband and daughter shared a cheese board with fruit and nuts. I ordered one of the specials, sous-vide chicken salad. This included fresh mozzarella, small chunks of tomato, and pumpkin seeds with basil pesto dressing.
The Southern Railway provides an easy way to explore some of the small English towns and see the countryside. The prices are reasonable, even for first class. The upgrade was usually not needed but provided a sense of security that we would have seats. History and great dining combined for a trip worthy of leaving London.
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