Fit for a queen
Fancy something a bit different on the blogaroo today? No problem, may I offer you a stay in the Cotswolds castle where Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn spent 10 days of their honeymoon? Yes, seriously!
This gorgeous piece of stoneware is Thornbury Castle, a Tudor beauty built between 1512 – 1521 whose history includes the beheading of its owner Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham on charges of treason. The fortified design of the castle that Henry had originally offered him special dispensation for eventually being his undoing, as rumours of challenges to Henry’s crown swirled around him. Who knew architecture could be so dangerous?
The castle is part of the Luxury Family Hotels group, a brilliant company that specialises in relaxed hotels in historic or dropdeadgorgeous buildings, with spas and fantastic children’s facilities. Thornbury Castle takes some of those assets, but is a more grown-up experience, with children 8+ able to stay. Probably wise given all those stone staircases and turrets. Hence, we waved goodbye to the Mudlets with a tear in the eye (of unadulterated joy!) and Mr Muddy and I hurtled off to a night by ourselves.
Thornbury Castle is on the Bristol side of the Cotswolds – ie far far West – and of course as usual I hadn’t worked out where I was going or how long it would take, so we arrived just shy of dinner time. Long enough to allow the jaw to drop at the loveliness of the castle which, as it was unfinished before the Duke of Buckingham went in for the chop, still has some unfinished areas, which gives it a kind of ‘ruin romance’ that gives you the tingles. No difficulty guesssing why this place is a popular wedding venue.
Want to see the bedrooms? This was our home for the night, very grand and roomy with not one but two TVs (!) and a bathroom with more square footage than my lounge.
The green velour carpet reminded me of my parent’s house in the 70s but you can’t have it all, and like many period properties I stay in, there’s always a throwback to the last time the place was redecorated. I like to think of it as history in the making.
Worth quickly showing some of the other rooms too, as they’re all very different and some of them are absolutely stonking.
You can definitely play the queen here – ask for The Duke’s Bedchamber and you can actually stay in the room where Henry and Anne got jiggy.
Inside the castle is full of wood panelling, massive fires and plush, heavy pieces of furniture. Americans would lie on the hearth and roll around in ecstasy at the sheer weight of history here. It’s waiter service all the way here, and all the staff were charming – quite relaxed and fun on the reception desk, more formal and solicitous from the food and drinkie team, which included a waiter who’d worked at the hotel for 42 years!
Dinner was served in a smallish octagonal room that again was high on history
… and like the other Luxury Family Hotels I’ve stayed at the food was very good without saying ‘hello, how are you, sit down Mr Michelin star’. But of course that’s not why people come, it’s all about the atmosphere and the history.
I should definitely mention the grounds at this point, as they’re just lovely, with that slightly overgrown English garden feeling that speaks of trysts in corners and heaving bosoms (though possibly I’ve been overdoing the Georgette Heyer again).
My lovely romantic weekend was rudely interrupted by a Mudlet falling ill, so I missed a historical tour around the castle and grounds that I was desperate to go to. Such a good idea and these tours are offered regularly, so if you book you’ll probably catch one and can tell me what I missed.
We drove through Thornbury on the way home, a small English town that isn’t worth a tourist detour but has the requisite Boots, WH Smith and other high street staples. There are far more interesting diversions nearby, namely the delights of Bristol within 12 miles with its tourist traps of Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the Aquarium, and also very cool shopping in Clifton.
If you’re maxing out on castles, Berkeley Castle is very close too. Slightly further afield, if you want to immerse yourself properly into the Cotswolds for the day, you can reach Westonbirt Arboretum to the east in all its loveliness and all the big Cotswolds attractions in about 30-40 minutes.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Romantics all the way. A stonking wedding venue or a special night away for those who get hot under the collar about Tudor history. There are 28 rooms in total so a whopper family gathering could take over the whole place. Anyone not overly keen on children careering through the lobby or having a tantrum in the dining room will love the serene atmosphere here. Doglovers need not be separated from their four-legged friends – several of the rooms and suites are woof-friendly.
Not for: Funky and modern are not two words associated with Thornbury so if you’re looking for a urban-style buzz, go elsewhere. Those who delight in child-led chaos will feel bereft at the lack of Jenga blocks on the floor.
£££: Midweek breaks are a steal at £189 per couple for the room, 2 course dinner, English brekky and two glasses of prosecco (Sun to Thurs). Ultimate Romantic Weekends with deluxe bedchamber, bottle of champers, 3 course dinner one night, a 5 course tasting menu the second and English brekkies all the way, cost around £1000, but what price to a stay in Henry’s four-poster?
Thornbury Castle, Castle Street, Thornbury, South Gloucestershire BS35 1HH. Tel: 01454 281182. thornburycastle.co.uk