Driving down to Thornbury in South Gloucestershire with my son Charlie, I laughed when he said that he didn’t want to stay in the same room as Henry VIII because the bed would be squeaky, I was rather hoping that since Henry’s stay in 1535 it would be a much newer bed!
I’m not sure who was more excited about our stay at Thornbury Castle, me or Charlie. I’d read a lot about the fascinating history and briefed Charlie before our journey. I knew this was going to be a pretty special hotel visit, but I wasn’t quite expecting what I was about to experience.
As we arrived at Thornbury, I spied St Mary’s, a beautiful Norman church that stood by the entrance to the castle. We approached the drive, which was encircled by sprawling gardens and ancient walls, and were immediately captivated by the imposing building that was hiding such a colourful past.
We made our way to the reception (it feels rather odd using the word ‘reception’ when visiting a castle). Thornbury is the only Tudor castle to be used as a hotel, so you can imagine I felt very thrilled to stay here.
I gave Charlie a hand opening the heavy wooden door to the main entrance of the building, only to be greeted by Stan (well that’s what Charlie named him), a grand suit of armour. Even the corridor that ran along the front of the reception was impressive with its wood panelled walls. I couldn’t wait to see the rest of the castle.
We were introduced to Sam, our wonderful host who knew everything there is to know about Thornbury, and whose passion was contagious. As we were guided to our room, we climbed a stone spiral staircase, strangely there wasn’t a lift in sight! I felt like Mr Benn; I had entered a magical realm and was transported back to Tudor times. We reached our room, ‘Howard’ – each of the rooms at Thornbury Castle is named after the well-known families that have stayed here throughout the centuries.
The moment I stepped inside the chamber room, it quite literally took my breath away and for a moment I thought I was going to cry, thankfully I managed to hold back the tears. I have never been so overwhelmed by a hotel room. I froze for several minutes to take in the opulent ceiling roses, ancient walls that were hung with tapestries, and the flickering flames in the stone fireplace. And then there was the bed. But this wasn’t just any bed. This was a four poster, oak carved bed draped in deep red plush curtains, with the plumpest, comfiest mattress I have ever bounced on…er, sorry, I meant slept on. (For the record; I didn’t really bounce on it!) I almost wanted to skip dinner and get an early night. However, I resisted temptation.
The room was extremely spacious and had cosy armchairs in front of the fire, while the bathroom boasted a freestanding roll top bath, separate shower, and black and white chequered flooring.
Later, we were taken on a tour around some of the most impressive rooms in the castle, accompanied by Sam’s in-depth knowledge of its history. The Baron’s Room is an amazing space with wood panelling, stone walls, beamed ceiling and fabulous views of the castle grounds. But the pièce de résistance for me was the Tudor Hall, a large open room dating back to the 16th century and overflowing with original features. Suits of armour were casually stood observing the room and incredible tapestries hung from stone walls. This room really evoked a strong sense of the past. Adjoining the Tudor Hall is a really cool bar, which still has its original windows and an imposing fireplace.
Next we explored the enchanting walled garden, which had its own 500 year old vineyard and kitchen garden, where herbs and vegetables are grown for the restaurant. It was quite a strange, yet wonderful feeling knowing that we were walking in the footsteps of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
In the evening, myself and Charlie made our way to the lounge for an aperitif. The room is decorated in enormous paintings and large sofas in front of a large fireplace, surrounded by carved stone containing the Stafford knot. I learnt that the Stafford family owned Thornbury Castle for the longest period of time and this knot represented the hanging of three people at once. Gruesome but true.
As we sat down to enjoy our canapés, I slipped into a nostalgic reverie as birds outside softly cooed over the sound of the operatic music that played quietly in the background. Charlie gave me a gentle nudge to bring me back to reality, and we were led through to the Tower Room for dinner. The hexagonal shaped room featured a fireplace and arrow-slit windows, letting in shafts of light.
The food was to die for (perhaps not by the means of the Stafford knot) and service was impeccable. I opted for the Slow Poached Wood Pigeon, followed by Wild Devon Sea Bass with Lobster and Organic Salmon. It makes my mouth water at the mere thought of it.
The next morning, I was reluctant to leave Thornbury Castle. This place has certainly left a lasting impression on me.