Lizzie Frainier and Blossom Green dust off their tiaras to discover the history and mysteries behind some of Britain’s most regal buildings. Together, they prove that you don’t always have to be royal to rest your head in some of the nation’s most magnificent keeps
HEVER CASTLE KENT
Anyone with a head on their shoulders will be familiar with the demise of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. But their relationship wasn’t all axemen and Dissolution. In the romantic grounds of Hever Castle, Anne’s childhood home, the pair courted amid the fragrant gardens and, if rumours are to be believed, canoodled in the privacy afforded by the great oak tree.
The early days of their affair at Hever were so potent that Henry denounced the Catholic Church to marry Anne.
While you can take a peek at Henry’s bedchamber, guest accommodation today is found in the Anne Boleyn and Astor wings. The 28 rooms are filled with rich antique furniture, wood panelling and inviting four-poster beds. For breakfast, expect a feast fit for royalty served straight from the castle kitchen: grilled kippers with lemon butter is a solid pick.
The castle’s golf course is a little over a kilometre away and offers great perspective of the estate (rounds from £30), while the award-winning gardens are filled with marble statues and mazes. A number of events are held here throughout the year and access to the 50ha grounds is included in your stay.
From 24 April, a tulip festival will see 7,000 bulbs burst into a riot of colour. Afterwards, try your hand at archery (weekends only): a quiver of 40 arrows cost £15, giving you plenty of chance to hit your target. Doubles from £125.
GLENAPP CASTLE AYRSHIRE
The year is 1944 and Winston Churchill is pacing the halls of Glenapp Castle, chomping on a cigar. He is here to plan the D -Day landings with P&O chairman Lord Inchcape and General Eisenhower. The largest-ever seaborne invasion in history will soon take place and the Allies will be on their way to victory.
Shortly after the war, the castle fell into disrepair. It was only in 2000, after six years of painstaking restoration, that it reopened as a hotel with all the grandeur from its Forties heyday. Everything about the sandstone exterior screams classic Scottish baronial style: expect towers, turrets and crenelated battlements.
Inside, all 20 rooms are decorated in true Victorian style with Oriental rugs and oil paintings, plus marble-tiled bathrooms with clawfoot tubs and Penhaligon’s toiletries.
The same splendour awaits in the 15ha of landscaped gardens. Spend an afternoon exploring and you’ll find rare and exotic plants collected since the 19th century. Check out the Italian and walled gardens before finishing in the kitchen garden. You can try its standout produce with the restaurant’s six-course tasting menu, which features dishes such as turnip and thyme velouté and roast fillet of aged Scotch beef on a shallot purée. Watch the sun set over the volcanic outcrop of Ailsa Craig, which also happens to be a handy lookout point for any seaborne invasions. Doubles from £295.
CHATEAU RHIANFA ANGLESEY
It’s hard to think of a more romantic gesture than building a castle for your significant other. In 1849 that’s exactly what the Baronet of Bodelwyddan did for his wife, Lady Sarah. The couple travelled frequently in the Loire region of France and fell in love with its Renaissance architecture. And as you approach Château Rhianfa, you’ll see it has a certain je ne sais quoi.
The interiors of the Grade II-listed building – the only castle on our list not to be attacked or home to a friendly ghost – are Lady Sarah’s magnum opus. Expect elaborately patterned wallpapers, period features and views across to Snowdonia. Each of the suites have their own advantages: choose the William for its shower found in the circular turret or the Kate with its own library and free-standing tub. Ornate chandeliers come as standard in many of the rooms, as do bold pops of colour.
Restaurant Le Dragon Rouge serves French cuisine made with local ingredients, continuing with the theme. You might spot head chef Paul Wenbourne catching lobsters and crabs off the jetty before you head to the candlelit dining room and feast on dishes such as goat’s cheese pithivier with roasted beets and caramelised onions. Welsh cheese of the week smothered with apple chutney on cranberry toast is a wise choice to finish.
Take a stroll through the lush, tiered gardens to the hotel’s private beach or join one of the adventure activities that are on offer. You can hop on a boat at the hotel’s pier and spend an hour speeding up the Menai Strait (£24pp), spend a day coasteering, where you’ll hop across rocks, explore caves and cliff jump (£150pp) or visit Anglesea’s motor racing circuit.
If you want to round off your stay here like a true member of French royalty, pay a visit to the wine caves in the cellars and sample some of the fine cabernet sauvignons and pinot noirs. Just make sure you keep any thoughts of a revolution to yourself. Doubles from £105.
INVERLOCHY CASTLE FORT WILLIAM
‘The scenery here is the grandest of all the spectacles I have met,’ wrote Confederate president Jefferson Davis in a letter to his wife Varina during a stay at this impressive mansion in Scotland’s West Highlands in 1869. Queen Victoria echoed his sentiment, proclaiming: ‘I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot’ after her week-long sojourn. The luxury château-style hotel was built in 1836 and sits three kilometres from the site of the original 13th-century castle from which it takes it name. Its location close to River Lochy and in between Lochs Linhe and Leven provides an incredible backdrop to any stay.
It took on life as a hotel in 1969 under the Hobbs family, who also owned nearby Ben Nevis Distillery, one of the oldest producers of whisky in the country. Today there are 17 sumptuous rooms to book, some of which feature copper tubs big enough to swim in. All boast sublime views of the estate’s grounds.
Fort William, the gateway to Ben Nevis, is under 5km away and there are activities aplenty to enjoy. Learn the art of clay pigeon shooting (from £210 per couple) within the grounds or don your waders for a spot of fly fishing (free) on Loch Na Marag or Loch Garry, which has some of the best wild brown trout and salmon in the country. There’s also opportunity to traverse the Kinlochleven’s mountainous terrain in a 4x4 (£99 per couple).
After a day in the bracing Scottish air, you’ll be pleased to find the legendary team of Albert and Michel Roux Jr have curated the restaurant’s dinner menu. Expect modern British cuisine with a French influence and flavoursome local produce (from £67pp). Start with the likes of roasted veal sweetbreads with parsley and garlic pearl barley or Orkney scallops and buttery sprout tops. Mains of Highland mallard served with spiced lentils and sweet potato and loin of roe deer with sloe gin-braised red cabbage and celeriac complement the elaborate setting to a T. Doubles from £465.
AMBERLEY CASTLE WEST SUSSEX
Several hundred years ago within the bastion of Amberley a young servant girl fell in love with a resident bishop. When she revealed she was pregnant he rejected her and she fled through the green baize door to the rooftop barricades, where she jumped to her death. It is said her presence can still be felt today in the Herstmonceux room, which has access to those very parapets. It’s just a tiny part of the history you experience as you as you step through the 60ft high medieval walls that frame this luxury retreat in the rolling countryside of West Sussex’s South Downs.
The original building dates from 1103, when it took the form of a hunting lodge. Since then it’s been razed to the ground, rebuilt and changed hands more times than Liz Taylor donned a wedding dress. Previous owners include fiery Elizabeth I, the bishopric, a cloth merchant and the Duke of Norfolk, who in 1893, commenced repairs to the stonework over the now-working 2.5-tonne portcullis – the only one in the country.
Its modern story begins in 1987, when the Brownsword family set about converting the castle into the unique hotel it is today. The foreboding Curtain Wall entrance gives way to picturesque gardens, an 18-hole putting course, contemporary British dining and a sense of grandeur. Design is a seamless marriage of ancient architecture and contemporary luxury. There are 19 suites, each with their own character, but our favourite is Pevensey, which has private access to the portcullis and its machinery.
During your stay, make like a Victorian and opt for a game of croquet in front of the battlements or cosy up in front of an open fire in one of the lounges. For those who prefer holidays with a side of education, time your visit with the popular castle tours which run throughout the year. They’re led by historian Keith McKenna and include a three-course lunch in the Queen’s Room, where the barrel-vaulted ceiling dates back to the 12th century. Doubles from £200.
ACKERGILL TOWER EAST CAITHNESS
Every castle should have a good ghost story to tell, and Ackergill Tower’s tale of Helen Gunn fits the bill. Gunn was kidnapped on her wedding night by Ackergill’s resident Lothario Dugald Keith. When he locked her in the tower for his wicked desires, she chose death over disaster and leapt from the battlements. Some 600 years later, many claim to still see her wandering the corridors.
Whether you buy into ghost stories or not, a weekend at the northernmost tip of Scotland is enough to fortify mind and spirit. The property towers above the rugged shoreline of Sinclair Bay, so you’ll wake each morning to standout sea views from your four-poster bed and the sound of bagpipes echoing through the castle. Tuck into a breakfast of haggis and sausages in the Great Hall then pull on the wellies, Barbour jacket and hat left for each guest to explore the surrounding Highlands.
Later, retire to your room, all of which feature unique wallpaper prints (interestingly, this was the first place in Scotland to use wallpaper). You’ll be more than happy to lock yourself away here, if only for a night. Doubles from £124.
This article was published on 11th April 2017 so certain details may not be up to date.