Put aside your daily cares for a spell and rest up in these historic fortresses. Chris Carter reports
“From mighty medieval fortresses that have stood sentinel since the Norman invasion to baronial stately homes built to impress, Britain is peppered with fantastical castles”, says Edward Aves in Britain magazine. A few have been converted into “sumptuous” hotels and B&Bs – “a delightfully decadent way to soak up Britain’s rich history”.
One such is Amberley Castle in Sussex. With its ruined battlements and white doves flitting around the twin-tower gateway, it is one of England’s most romantic places to stay. And Amberley has hosted some high-profile guests over its 900-year history, too. Names in the guest book include Henry VIII, Charles II and Queen Elizabeth II.
The 17th-century, ivy-clad Great Hall is the heart of the castle. It has weathered stone floors and Gothic tracery windows, and the rooms feel grand yet welcoming, with their antique furnishing and “inch-thick drapes to keep out the winter chill”. The “barrel-vaulted Queen’s Room makes an impressive setting for dinner – an extravagant affair that lifts classic English ingredients with continental flair and creativity. The wine list alone stretches to 30 pages, and service is attentive and discreet”.
“Valentine’s Stay” for £426 a night; AmberleyCastle.co.uk
Chilling in the tub in Scotland
You need not take your wine in the dining room of course. At Stobo Castle in Peeblesshire, south of Edinburgh, you can have a bottle of Bolly chilling on ice in a bathroom with a limestone tub big enough for some serious wallowing, says Ines Watson in the Daily Express. “When Stobo Castle goes for luxury, they certainly don’t cut corners. And the beautiful Cashmere Suite is just about as good as it gets.” No detail has been overlooked – from the Molton Brown toiletries to the underfloor heating.
The hotel prides itself on being a “destination spa” with an enormous indoor swimming pool. And after a long drive, a full-body “candle massage” was “just the thing”. “I was assured that having hot candle wax dripped all over me was actually a good thing – and after an hour I had to agree that indeed it was,” says Watson. “Truly one of the most calming treatments I have ever experienced.”
More relaxation can be enjoyed in one of the specially appointed rooms, supplied with mineral water and fresh fruit. Or perhaps in one of the outdoor hot tubs that have a canopy of sparkling lights, making for a “pretty sight” in the evening.
From £125 per person a night based on two sharing; StoboCastle.co.uk
A monument to sibling rivalry
For an impressive sight, head to Augill Castle, near Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria. It is a monument to sibling rivalry, says Hattie Garlick in The Daily Telegraph. John Bagot Pearson, a local gentleman, had it built in 1841, picking the location because it overlooked the farm his brother Alexander inherited from their parents.
“He chose the design because – well, how do you top a castle?” The jealous brother “really went for it too”: the neo-Gothic folly still features its original turrets, towers, battlements, and stained-glass windows, and there are “vast” oak doors and “azure vaulted ceilings flecked with gold stars and edged by inscrutable golden faces”.
“If it’s… an excuse to wear fake fur and a working fireplace in a four-poster bedroom that you’re after, then the Pendragon is your room of choice,” says Genevieve Fox in The Observer. The 17 bedrooms in the main house overlook the Yorkshire Dales and Lakeland fells, while the 20 acres of grounds are perfect for a brisk winter walk. Then afterwards, head inside to “warm your cockles by the woodburning stove in the comfy music room, by the open fire in the dining room with its vaulted ceiling, or slouched in a Chesterfield by yet another woodburner in the Great Hall”. The choice is yours.
Pendragon from £160 a night for two sharing; StayInACastle.com