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Goodwood Estate (West Sussex)

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Estate in West Sussex home to many leading sporting events in the UK such as the Goodwood Racecourse

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      30.01.2011 10:04
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      Stately home and estate in West Sussex which plays host to many sporting events

      Many of you may recognise the name Goodwood - be it as a fan of horse racing or of motor sport. Indeed, Goodwood not only has a world renowned racecourse and a motor circuit, it also has an airfield, a stately home, a hotel and two golf courses. Goodwood also plays host to two very popular annual motor events.

      Having worked for many years at Goodwood Racecourse itself, I spent a lot of time in and around the whole of the Goodwood Estate, and I thought it was about time I shared my knowledge of this tiny corner of West Sussex with you.


      *** GOODWOOD ESTATE ***

      Goodwood Estate and its stately home, Goodwood House, has been the ancestral home of the Dukes of Richmond and Gordon for over 300 years. The dukedom was created by Charles II in 1675 for Charles Lennox, his illegitimate son. Today, Goodwood House is lived in by the present 10th Duke's son and heir, the Earl of March and Kinrara, along with his wife and children.

      Goodwood Estate comprises some 12,000 acres and is a popular sport and leisure venue. You have horse racing at Goodwood Racecourse, motor racing at Goodwood Motor Circuit, aviation pursuits at Goodwood Airfield, two major golf courses and a hotel. There's also an organic farm shop and a member's only sporting club called The Kennels. Finally, nearby - but run independently - is the manufacturing plant and global headquarters for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. As well as these fixed sites, Goodwood also plays host to various festivals and events throughout the year, most notably the Festival of Speed and the Revival Meeting.


      *** GOODWOOD HOUSE ***

      "He lives in a house, a very big house in the country"

      The very first Duke of Richmond was the illegitimate son of Charles II and his French mistress, Louise de Keroualle. The estate at Goodwood was originally purchased in 1697 as land to hunt on, and first Goodwood House was nothing but a hunting lodge. Over the years, his descendants enlarged the hunting lodge from a small Jacobean house into the rather magnificent house it is today. Most of the major renovations were undertaken in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by various architects, most notably James Wyatt. Goodwood House was originally intended to be of a unique octagonal layout, but only three out of the eight sides were ever built! Today, Goodwood House is divided up into state rooms open the general public and the private apartments lived in by the Earl and Countess of March.

      Goodwood House (pronounced "hice", if you're really posh) has an outstanding art collection including paintings by Van Dyck, Canaletto, Stubbs and Reynolds. There is also a stunning collection of Sèvres porcelain, Gobelins tapestries and plenty of eighteenth-century furniture. In recent years all the state rooms have been restored to their original Regency décor, so they are extremely opulent with plenty of gilding and neo-classical interiors. The main stateroom is done out in rich burgundy and gold tones, and looks stunning (especially by candlelight if you're lucky enough to attend a ball there). My favourite room is the Egyptian Dining Room, which is splendidly done with superb attention to detail in both décor and furnishings.

      Goodwood House is only open to the public for around 60 days a year, so if you want to tour it then you will need to plan in advance. Entry charges are £9.50 for adults with reduced concessions for OAPS and children.


      *** HORSE-RACING ***

      "And they're off"

      Racing has been held at Goodwood since 1802. Goodwood Racecourse is essentially a summer course (flat racing only - there are no jumps here). The highlight of many a social calendar is the five day Festival meeting at the end of July / beginning of August (known universally as "Glorious Goodwood"), when up to 100,000 people attend. Goodwood Racecourse is set high on the Sussex Downs and it has truly breathtaking views - especially from the private hospitality boxes in the main grandstand. Other than the major five day Glorious fixture, there are another 16 race-meetings from May to October every year.

      Being a summer racecourse, Goodwood can be rather at the mercy of our unpredictable weather. I worked there for many years in the 1990's and many a race meeting had to be cancelled in the early autumn due to fog. However, when the sun is shining, it really is a breathtaking course and being set high up on the Sussex Downs there are magnificent views. On a clear day you can see right across to the Isle of Wight and the Solent beyond.

      Goodwood is rather chic, especially during Glorious in July/August, but it's nowhere near as posh as Royal Ascot. Yes, the ladies are encouraged to wear hats and dress up, but the dress code is more informal. At Goodwood, gentlemen tend to wear the linen suit and panama popularised by Edward VII in the early 20th century rather than morning suits and top hats.

      As for the actual horse racing, Goodwood doesn't really have any particularly famous races like Aintree's Grand National or Cheltenham's Gold Cup, but it certainly does draw the crowds. The Sussex Stakes, a mile long race held on the second day of the five day Glorious meet is probably its most well-known race. Yes, you do get the keen gambler and punter at Goodwood, but it's more a place to see and be seen by the rich and well-heeled, thus making it a firm fixture in the social calendars of many a season follower. Goodwood Racecourse best summarized by Edward VII who was a huge fan of the course and said that racing at Goodwood was "like a garden party with racing tacked on".

      If you're a novice to racing, then I suggest you attend one of the evening race meetings at Goodwood, as they're great fun and a lovely way to spend a summer evening. Many locals pop up to Goodwood on any Friday evening in June to socialize and enjoy the sights and sounds. There's often a Caribbean steel band or a jazz band to entertain the crowds and it's a lovely convivial atmosphere.

      The cost of entry to the races at Goodwood are varied and confusing, as it all depends on the time of year you attend, and which enclosure you intend to enter. At Goodwood you have a choice of the cheapie Lennox (Public) Enclosure (from £8.00), the middle of the road Gordon (Tattersalls) Enclosure (from £16.00) or the super-expensive Richmond (Members) Enclosure (from £20.00). As with most things, you get what you pay for at Goodwood Races - the Public Enclosure is basic, lacks anything special and is furthest away from the finishing post. There are better views and facilities in the Gordon Enclosure, but for the state of the art chrome and glass fronted bars and restaurants resonating to the sounds of champagne corks popping, you need to head to the Richmond Enclosure.


      *** MOTOR SPORTS ***

      "I like driving in my car"

      Goodwood Motor Circuit originally opened its gates in 1948, ready to host the very first post war race meeting. Fifty years after it first opened, Lord March officially re-opened the track to host the Goodwood Revival Meeting in 1998. The Revival Meeting was such a success it is now held annually every September, and has become one of the premier historic motor sport events in the country.

      The Goodwood Revival Meeting is a glimpse back into the history of motor sport and cars. Each annual meeting has a different "theme", but basically it celebrates cars (and planes) from the 1940's, 50's and 60's. Motor sport stars from yesteryear regularly attend the event, happy to have another chance to race old cars they spent their glory days in. Regular attendees are Sir Stirling Moss, John Surtees, Derek Bell and Richard Attwood. Famous amateurs like Rowan Atkinson also attend (and was very unamused by my mother approaching him for an autograph for my nephew minutes before his big race!).

      I was lucky enough to work at the first ever Revival Meeting back in 1998, and the atmosphere was tremendous. Staff and punters alike try to dress up in period costumes so as to add authenticity to the proceedings and celebrate the bygone atmosphere. All the catering staff were dressed up in old RAF uniforms that we hired from a costumier. Most clientele thought the uniforms were entirely in keeping with the spirit of the Revival Meeting but a couple of old codgers complained about the mis-use of RAF uniforms and badges :o(

      The Revival Meeting is a three day event and is held annually every September. Ticket prices start at £113.00 for a three day pass, or you can buy a daily ticket for £36.00 (Friday only) or £54.00 (Saturday or Sunday).

      Goodwood's other famous motor sport event is the Festival of Speed, which is held every year in June / July in the grounds of Goodwood House. Each year, the Festival of Speed attracts some 150,000 petrol heads, with guest appearances from such Formula One luminaries as Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, as well as celebrities like Jeremy Clarkson, David Coulthard, Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart and Damon Hill. The Festival of Speed is held in the grounds of Goodwood House and is essentially a hill climb at terrific speeds.

      It's a chance for visitors to see modern day Formula One drivers, motor stars of yesteryear and the odd celebrity attempt the Goodwood Hill Climb - a tricky course of just over a mile. That makes it sound easy, but it isn't, as the track rises by 300 ft and is a very narrow and twisty road. Sadly there have been a few fatalities over the years at the Festival of Speed where drivers lost control. However, it's not just the Hill Climb that pulls in the punters; it's the chance to see some stunning cars up close and personal; the paddocks at the event allow the public access to view most of the vehicles in the races.

      I've attended the Festival of Speed several times, and all I can say is that is very LOUD. You'll definitely have a headache by the end of the day, but most visitors would say that's a small price to pay to see so many fantastic cars and drivers up so close and personal. My favourite part of the whole weekend is the aerobatic display by the Red Arrows - it never fails to thrill me. Not very petrol-headed of me, I know, but they are truly awesome.

      The Festival of Speed is a four day event and is held annually every June / July. Ticket prices start at £116.00 for a four day pass, or you can buy a daily ticket for £20.00 (Thursday only) £37.00 (Friday only) or £53.00 (Saturday or Sunday).


      *** WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO? ***

      Vintage at Goodwood - This event was held for the first time in August 2010 and is best described as a celebration of music and popular culture from the 1940's to the 1980's. There were lots of bands, period nightclubs and shops set up for each decade. I didn't attend this event as the ticket prices were absolutely horrendous. However, my boss' wife went and she said it was truly fantastic and very atmospheric. The event was a joint collaboration between Lord March and the designer Wayne Hemingway, but the jury is out as to whether it will become an annual event. Leastways, Lord March is not going to be involved in the event from now on as the Goodwood website states "Following the hugely successful hosting of the Vintage at Goodwood Festival in 2010, in the grand tradition of "musical differences" the founders of the event, Lord March and Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway have decided to go their separate ways", which sounds like spin for "Lord March lost shed loads of money on the event in 2010 and has cut all ties with the event".

      Scattered around the Estate are various other places which may be of interest. Goodwood Farm Shop sells all sorts of, mostly expensive, goodies. All the farmland on the Goodwood Estate is now organic so you can purchase organic beef and milk there - at a price. Goodwood Park Hotel, Golf and Country Club offers not only accommodation but health and leisure facilities and a golf course. There's also a member's only club called The Kennels, which was built in 1787 to house Duke of Richmond's prized hunting hounds. It's very little like a kennels nowadays, being rather opulent and offering the finest of dining. I went to a works Christmas do there a couple of years ago and it was very nicely done - delicious food and luxurious surroundings. If aviation is more your thing, you can learn to fly at Goodwood Airfield. The Airfield is surrounded by Goodwood Motor Circuit and you can therefore partake of a flying lesson in the morning and then take a spin around the track in a Ferrari or suchlike in the afternoon.


      *** NEARBY POINTS OF INTEREST ***

      There are a raft of historical buildings to be seen nearby at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in Singleton, which is located about 1-2 miles down the hill from Goodwood Racecourse. There is also The Cass Sculpture Foundation at Goodwood, at outstanding collection of huge indoor and outdoor sculptures / works of art.

      Chichester can be found within a short drive of 3 or 4 miles and is home to a famous cathedral, theatre and Medieval Market Cross, as well as good shopping opportunities.

      Further afield there are other sites to enjoy such as Nelson's Victory in Portsmouth, Arundel Castle and Parham House. From Goodwood, you can also easily reach the market towns of Midhurst (known for hosting international polo matches on the Cowdray Estate) and Petworth (home to Petworth House and Park).


      *** RECOMMENDATION ***

      Lord March and the Goodwood Estate get a lot of mixed press locally, with many a nearby resident up in arms about noise and pollution issues generated by the motor sport events. I say, love him or loathe him, Lord March really has dragged his estate into the 21st century, and there are enough sporting and leisure pursuits on offer even for the most jaded palate. This is no normal upper class estate relying on a steady stream of visitors to their shabbily gentile stately home in order to patch up that hole in the roof or keep the dry rot out of the tapestries; Goodwood is very 21st century and any updating or upgrading of period features has been done with style, panache and a great deal of care and attention. Unfortunately, the costs of such perfection are passed onto the punter, as nothing at any Goodwood event or attraction certainly comes cheap. However, if you enjoy the finer things in life and you have a matching budget, then there is really something for everyone on the Goodwood Estate nowadays. From horse-racing, flying, motor sports, shooting on the Estate or a simple round of golf there are sports aplenty. And if sport isn't really your sort of thing, you can appreciate the history and architecture of Goodwood House or just chill out and pamper yourself in the leisure facilities at Goodwood Park Hotel.

      Recommended.... (if you have deep pockets...)


      *** HOW TO GET THERE ***

      By Car
      Goodwood is easily reached via the M27 (and A27) coastal road which links Sussex, Hampshire and Kent. From London, Goodwood is best reached via the A3, A29 or A24.

      By Train
      The nearest station is in Chichester, and is served by regular trains from London Victoria (1 hour 45 minutes), Portsmouth and Brighton.


      *** FURTHER INFORMATION ***

      The Goodwood Estate Company Ltd
      Goodwood House
      Goodwood
      Chichester
      West Sussex
      PO18 0PX

      Tel: 01243 755000
      Fax: 01243 755005

      Email: info@goodwood.com
      Website: http://www.goodwood.co.uk

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