The perfect picnic spot: Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Could there be a better backdrop for sandwiches, strawberries and sparkling wine, than a moated castle? With a surplus of shaded spots, a medieval fair and dragon hunt trail, grab your blanket and basket and get to Bodiam Castle.
The dramatic Sussex coast can often (wrongly) overshadow the stunning settings inland. So with one of the bluest sky days I’ve witnessed, I thought best to match them with some greenery and had my first picnic of the year at Bodiam Castle nestled by Robertsbridge.
The picture-perfect 14th century moated castle has a raw, rustic beauty and offers something for everyone including guided tours, a Dragon Hunt Trail and a Medieval Fair for families where I did try (and of course win) a few games.
If you fancy visiting, here are some suggestions to make the most out of your day out here.
BEST PICNIC SPOTS
At Bodiam there are 3,000 acres you can to choose picnic at and huge trees everywhere offering surplus amounts of shade as well as designated picnic spots with tables and deck chairs – which I collapsed into with an ice cream.
The walk up to the castle is on a slight slope so best to take it easy in the sunshine and with a heavy picnic basket (am sure it was the blanket and not the wine) there is a buggy for anyone who needs assistance.
There are plenty of trees on the West Hill offering shade, but the sun worshiper I am, went all in for bright light. There are additional picnic benches next to the Medieval Fair and cafes and toilets, both by the castle and at the entrance, which have water points – essential in the hot weather.
If you want to be more secluded, there are locations around the perimeter of the castle. Although if you have small children, (or a rumbling tummy) the most suitable spot may be by the former Mill Pond, near the car park, there are benches and lots of space for running off energy post a car-journey as well as a pretty view.
If you’ve not had time to pack a picnic, (we’ve all been there) you can take advantage of the two cafes. And what’s even better is, until 21 August, kids eat free at the Castle View Cafe which has lots of outdoor seating for the summer and a great view of the castle – as the name suggests! When you spend £5 in the cafe, you’ll get a free kids’ lunch box . More info, here.
Inside the castle you can spot bats sleeping and hear them too! And there are play stocks for anyone who isn’t behaving in a princely manner. To the west of the castle is a small wooded area that is ideal for den building and if they really must get grass stains, the hill is also ideal for rolling down.
This summer, the Medieval Fair (until 31 August) returns with a corned off area with tents and medieval-themed games from mini jousting on a hobby horse, a small catapult and plastic ‘rocks’ to try and siege a pop-up castle. Kids can build your own fort and play skittles. I couldn’t resist a few of the games when no one was looking, but you’re probably more mature than me!
For a longer wonder, there’s the Dragon Hunt Trail for families which is signposted through the fields and you have your own map to explore. (Until 31 August, £2 entry that includes a prize). And to bring it all to life for young children there is storytelling on selected dates to enchant with tales of dragons, knight and castles. Older kids (up to eight) can flex their creative skills and make their own crown, wooden castle or shield at special workshops (1-4pm Saturdays, Mondays and Tuesdays until 30 August).
You won’t want to miss The Reluctant Dragon open air theatre at the castle – a tale of bravery and friendship, where a dragon refuses to fight St George – 10 August, 6-8pm, pre-booking is essential.
One of my favourite things to to do is see medieval encampments and Bodiam will be delivering that over the August bank holiday with demonstrations of combat, skilled archery displays, talks about the longbow and have-a-go archery sessions. And to really get your history fix, replica armour is on display in the castle and experts are very happy to answer any questions.
You can opt to have a castle tour and discover more about the knight who built it (Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout July and August). And you can combine this with a ranger talk focusing on the nature and wildlife (most importantly, the bats) on selected dates.
And after all that learning you’ll no doubt want a cuppa and this summer, the Wharf tea room is housing a small exhibition by Hastings artist, Ed Boxall whose prints and books can be bought there.
I’ll be back on the next sunny day, to paddle board along the River Rother and then no doubt head up to the castle for a lie down. But for a more leisurely route, the steam railway goes through the East Sussex countryside into Bodiam station which is just a five minute walk to the castle.
More info on Bodiam Castle