The 15th century Herstmonceux Castle is considered England’s oldest notable brick building. It is set among over 300 acres of gardens and is a splendid spot for a picnic. Although you can visit the gardens, the castle is only accessible by guided tour.
At the time of the Norman Conquest, the property was home to a priest and by the beginning of the 13th century it was home to Idonea de Herst who married Ingelram de Monceux and it is from these two that both the castle and the village take their name. However, the castle was not built until 1441 when Sir Roger Fiennes moved in.
The Royal Observatory moved onto the castle grounds after the Second World War (this is now the Observatory Science Centre) and in the 1990s Queen’s University in Canada purchased the castle and it is now used as an overseas study centre.
What to see at Herstmonceux Castle
Herstmonceux Castle is used primarily as an overseas campus of Queen’s University (based in Kingston, Canada) and the castle is usually closed to the public except for guided tours. However, the grounds and gardens are open to visitors and most people who come to visit the castle do not go inside.
The castle’s grounds are set on 121.4ha (300 acres) of woodland with formal Elizabethan gardens immediately to the rear of the castle, a rose garden and an avenue of 300-year-old chestnut trees. There is a moat around three sides of the castle and a visit allows for some brilliant photo opportunities.
Guided tours of the castle allow you to see a lot more, including inside the main building, but they do not run on a regular basis as they have to fit around the schedule of the study centre as well as any conferences or weddings that may be held at the castle.
Visiting Herstmonceux Castle
Herstmonceux Castle is around 4.8km (3 miles) south of Herstmonceux but the neighbouring village of Windmill Hill is a little closer. It is not particularly easy to get to by public transport and visitors without access to a car will have to take Stagecoach bus route 98, which runs between Eastbourne and Hastings, and get off at Windmill Hill post office. From Windmill Hill, the castle is around a 40-minute walk.
It is much easier to get here if you have access to a car and parking is free of charge.
The castle grounds and gardens are open to the public from early March until the beginning of November. Admission to the gardens and grounds costs £6 and there is also a combo ticket available that also gives you access to the nearby Observatory Science Centre.
Most people visit just to see the gardens and to see the exterior of the castle but it is well worth paying the extra £3 for a guided tour if they’re running when you visit.
Because it is in the countryside, there is not much choice when it comes to finding somewhere nearby to eat and Chestnuts, the small cafe by the side of the castle, and the cafe inside the Science Centre are your only options. Chestnuts is the nicer of these two and it is a lovely spot for a cream tea.
Most visitors spend between one and two hours visiting the castle grounds but allow an extra hour if you’re taking a guided tour.