Scotney Old Castle
Scotney Old Castle
In 1377 French ships raided the Sussex coast, causing widespread damage and panic among the local population. Roger de Ashburnham, Conservator of the Peace in Kent and Sussex, decided to build a castle to guard against the threat of further invasions. He chose a site on the River Bewl, at the bottom of a wooded valley just south of Lamberhurst, and there he built a quadrangular castle on a pair of islands, surrounded by a wide moat. The moat also encloses a outer courtyard and the stumpy remains of a ruined gatehouse.

One one of the original four towers still stands, topped with a later conical roof and bristling with machicolations. It looks for all the world like a fairy tale castle tower, so much so that you almost expect to see a Disney fairy princess at the upper window of the tower. It is possible that the quadrangular castle was never actually finished, and what we see today is a large part of the completed structure. The south tower we see today was recorded as the only tower standing in 1558.

The tower is connected to a later Elizabethan manor, built by the Darrell family. Thomas Darrell ownred the castle in the late 16th century, at a a time when Catholicism was illegal. For seven years between 1591-1598 Darrell harboured a Catholic priest in a secret chamber inside the castle. On one occasion the priest, a Jesuit named Father Richard Blount, was forced to flee over a wall and across the moat to escape a raid by the authorities.

An east range was built by William Darrell around 1630, possibly to a design by Inigo Jones. Darrell had most of the medieval castle pulled down and connected his new house to the surving tower. The manor followed the same route to decay as the medieval castle, and together they form the centrepiece of a magnificent hillside garden.

The medieval tower
The medieval tower
In 1778 Edward Hussey bought Scotney from the Darrell family. Around 1830 his grandson, also named Edward, called in architect Anthony Salvin to create a new Victorian mansion at the top of the hill, looking out across the valley towards the riverside ruins. The picturesque view was accentuated by quarrying away part of the hillside for building stone. One unexpected treasure lurks in the quarry; the footprint of an iguanodon, left here over 100 million years ago.

Hussey planted a profusion of trees, and masses of azaleas and rhodedendrons, so that Scotney is a blaze of colour in early summer. His descendent, Christopher hussey, left the estate to the National Trust, and the Trust has its regional headquarters here. Margaret Thatcher had an office in the mansion, and the house appeared in the 1979 film Yanks.

Salvin's Victorian mansion
Salvin's Victorian mansion
(Scotney New Castle)
The estate stretches to 770 acres, with trails through the hillside gardens and through lovely woodland. It truly is a gorgeous location; the garden is a delight, and the views across the wooded valley are superb.

Visiting Scotney Castle
Scotney is a gem; the views from the winding path down the hillside gardens prepare you for the Old Castle, but it is only when you walk around the moated site that it really hits you how pretty it is. Some of that 'prettiness' is forced; its a delibert attempt by Edward Hussey to create a picturesque landscape, but in this case it works so well that you don't mind if Hussey accentuated the ruined state of the medieval castle and Elizabethan manor for artistic effect. It works! I've seldom seen a more wonderfully romantic English castle.