With a spare weekend and a few pounds in your pocket (actually, quite a few pounds), there is never a shortage of things to do in the South East of England.
We visit Arundel Castle. Rising above the River Arun, it overshadows the town and everything it surrounds, beckoning with a magnetic quality. (Doesn’t the ticket lady know it. Our entrance fee is £14.00 – we could have opted for the Gold Plus at £16 – but they are a charity. Do we want to contribute another 10 per cent and gift aid it? Does this buy us a share? No? Then, thank you for offering, but we do not.) The earliest part of the fortification was built by Roger de Montgomery to fulfil a condition attached to the gift of land from William the Conqueror for services rendered. Some gift. At that time, it was only five miles from the sea and would become a significant port. For much of its thousand year history, the castle has been in the hands of the Howard family – the Dukes of Norfolk – perhaps most famously the third Duke who was uncle to both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard and who himself escaped the death penalty only because King Henry VIII died the night before his execution was due. One of the more recent additions is an 18th Century library, 34 metres long, a Gothic creation of dark wood, ruby velvet and low lighting; leather-bound volumes in two-tier shelving – the atmosphere marred only by the screaming of one small child trapped in that modern day instrument of torture: a pushchair.
Bignor Hill is a bleak place on an Autumnal morning before the sun breaks through the cloud. A narrow and winding unmarked lane – no wider than the mini – brings us to a car park just shy of the summit at a crossing of the South Downs Way and Stane Street, the Roman Road that leads to London. Surrounded by vineyards, it is a convenient place, you might think, for the construction of a villa. It is not hard to imagine the excitement of the farmer who uncovered the first of the remains with his plough, only to discover that, under his fields, lay some of the most beautiful mosaics in Britain.
Sunday is considerably warmer. It is also my birthday (43, since you ask). Findon Valley is our destination, home to two ‘prehistoric’ hill forts (we debate this description: think 300BC rather than woolly mammoths). Cissbury Ring is the larger and the more obvious of the two sites. With a circumference of over one mile, it is entered through a gap in its ramparts. The inner circle is sheltered, now a place for hide-and-seek and dog walkers, a place to observe the sweep of the land to the coast, the chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters clearly visible. Chanctonbury Ring is more discreet and might be missed altogether had it not been planted with beech trees in the 18th Century. I am told that it has a magical quality in the mist. Today, it is clear. People linger here, idling between the beeches eating picnics. Lovers are cradled by tree roots and trunks that bear the hearts and arrows of generations of couples who have done the same. I walk the ramparts in search of traces of mystery, but today is all about the sky. As I track the movement of a cloud that morphs from angel’s wings to a bluebird, Matt captures the sun through the branches of trees in the lens of his camera.
But what Sunday is about, more than anything else, is coming home. New leaf-fall litters the garden that Matt so carefully raked before we left. Warm bath: cold prosecco. Wearied by three days of leather boots and flint pathways, I wonder if, like Eeyore, Janes really like walking all that much.
Monday’s weather does not quite live up to BBC Carole’s promise. I remember the free cinema tickets that I won in the summer at Waterstone’s Chick-lit event. We walk into town, order two large lattes at Costa and go to see Despicable Me. (Why are there children here? Shouldn’t they be in school at 12.20 on a Monday?) We sit at the back wearing our 3-d glasses. We giggle. We laugh out loud (‘Dart gun, not fart gun’). At one point I wonder how it is that a cartoon can make me cry.
Jane stayed at The Swan in Arundel: DON’T
Jane bought packed lunches from the Deli counter at Pallant of Arundel. DO. Try the Higgidy Pies and apricot flapjack. Mmmmmmmm. http://www.pallantofarundel.co.uk/
Jane loved the copper tables and enjoyed illy coffee at Pappardelle on Arundel High Street, and ate at Osteria, the restaurant above (booking essential), where all wines are sold by the glass and fifty different grappas are on offer. http://www.pappardelle.co.uk/
Jane laughed out loud at Despicable Me http://www.despicableme.com/