With a long drive leading up to the castle and white doves peeping out from the walls around the portcullis, the entrance to Amberley is nothing if not impressive. I’ve enjoyed afternoon tea here twice now, and with such a stunning setting there really is nothing to beat it, especially if you are looking for a special treat. What’s more, they do an excellent gluten free afternoon tea which thoroughly delighted my sister-in-law who has coeliac disease. She was over-the-moon that she wouldn’t be left out.
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Exploring Amberley Castle
While many of the oldest parts of the castle are now in ruins, plenty of it still remains, in particular, the 60 foot high outer wall and the working portcullis which is lowered every night. The original building at Amberley Castle was a timber-framed hunting lodge, built in 1103 by the Bishop of Chichester. Over the next 400 years it was transformed into a fortified manor house with crenelations, battlements and the portcullis.
Part of it was destroyed in 1643 at the hand of Oliver Cromwell. But following the Civil War, Mr John Butler, a cloth merchant from London, built the brick and timber Manor House and the barrel vaulted Great Hall within the castle walls which we see today.
Over the years it passed through many hands, including those of the 15th Duke of Norfolk. It is now the epitome of tranquillity, however, having been converted into a hotel in 1989, and soon gaining an international reputation for quality and luxury.
I’ve lived in the area all my life, but it wasn’t until my 50th that I first visited Amberley Castle. I was eager to look around, so, before taking afternoon tea, we walked around the gardens and discovered the ancient ‘his and hers’ – no more than cubbyholes in the outer walls. While the bench to sit on is long gone, you can still look down the hole that opened up high above the ground outside the castle walls.
On the other side of the garden, adjacent to the entrance gate, lies the guard-room and, through an inner door the Oubliette (which translates as the forgotten place), a seemingly bottomless pit. Often, political prisoners were kept in such places. I wonder how many people were forgotten here.
Afternoon tea at Amberley Castle
Having enjoyed the gardens in the sunshine, we settled down by an open fireplace in one of a number of cosy drawing rooms in the manor house and tucked into the most delicious afternoon tea. Finger sandwiches, including my favourite, smoked salmon, plain and fruit scones served with the traditional strawberry jam and clotted cream, plus some delightful little cakes and, of course, a pot of the tea of our choosing from an extensive list. When weather permits, afternoon tea is served in the beautiful garden.
Gluten free afternoon tea
When relatives came visiting from Canada the following year, I couldn’t think of a better treat than afternoon tea at Amberley Castle, and I was more than happy to return. One of our party has Celiac Disease, so we were delighted that they could offer a full afternoon tea that was all gluten-free. Maggie was in raptures over the sandwiches, scones and cakes. Apparently, it’s impossible to get quality gluten-free choices in Canada. While she couldn’t finish all her gluten-free delights, I could see she was determined not to leave any behind and the hotel was more happy to box them up for her to take home.
A visit to Amberley Castle is so much more than simply a superb afternoon tea. The whole experience, including the walk around the grounds and a look at a few of the castle rooms, makes a great afternoon out. And at £30 a head, I think it’s very reasonably priced too.
Amberley Castle is just an hour and a half by train from London Victoria, with the castle less than a mile from the station in the heart of the South Downs National Park. For more information, visit the castle’s website AmberleyCastle.co.uk.
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