British Castles Offer the Feel of Royalty

After the hoopla and excitement of the royal wedding on Friday, April 29, when Prince William and Kate Middleton tie the knot at Westminster Abbey, British tabloids are speculating that grandma and grandpa (the Queen and Prince Philip) will retreat to Windsor Castle, to leave the young ones to get on with the celebrations at Buckingham Palace.

Windsor Castle, sprawling over 26 acres in Windsor, Berkshire, just west of London Heathrow airport, is the largest occupied castle in the world, and is likely to also become the weekend-break destination of the young royal couple.

Being a Windsor myself, I’d like to be able to tell you that I have also spent long leisurely weekends there, but unfortunately my royal connections don’t quite cut it. However, I don't need to feel too put out, because there are plenty of castles I can stay in, even as a commoner. Castle owners are turning their grand piles into hotels and opening them to the public in an effort to help maintain the upkeep.

Here is a selection of castle hotels with guest books full of royal credentials:

Amberley Castle

The 14th-century fortress is enclosed in 60-ft stone walls surrounded by a moat. It has a large portcullis, a heavy metal grill that is lowered each night at midnight. The rooms here are sumptuous, some with 4-poster beds, oak paneling and lattice windows. Amberley Castle was leased by the Crown from 1558 to 1660 during the reigns of Elizabeth I and Charles I and II. Outside the walls, you’ll find the verdant hills of the South Downs, which you can gallop across on horseback.

Thornbury Castle

Built in the 15th century, this is the only Tudor castle in England that has been turned into a hotel. It was once owned by the most infamous English king, Henry VIII. Inside you’ll find suits of armor and original bedchambers with open log fires. Opt for the Duke’s chamber to sleep in the same room as Henry VIII and his ill-fated second wife Anne Boleyn, or the superior suite, where there is a 10-foot-wide bed, the widest in the UK. The gardens are some of the oldest in England, and the 500-year-old grapevine is still used for producing wine. You can enjoy a bottle in the hexagonal tower dining room, where chamber pot recesses were installed because the men feared being talked about if they left the room. Nearby is the historic market town of Thornbury and the city of Bristol with its famous Bristol Old Vic theatre.

Ruthin Castle

Built by King Edward I and owned by both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, the Welsh castle is more than 700 years old. Prior to 1277, Ruthin was a wooden fort and, according to local folklore, was frequented by King Arthur. Its most notable royal guest since becoming a hotel in 1960 was Prince Charles, when he stayed there before being sworn in as the Prince of Wales at nearby Caernarfon Castle. It’s set in its own wooded parkland, but if you want a more expansive landscape, the majestic Snowdonia National Park is just down the road.

Dalhousie Castle

It’s a 13th-century fortress in a fairy-tale setting on the banks of the river Esk, surrounded by extensive woodland. Edward I stayed here before defeating William Wallace, and Queen Victoria also dropped in for tea in 1840. Perhaps this isn’t the place to choose if you are easily spooked. There have been many reported sightings of a ghost in a grey dress, purportedly the spirit of Lady Catherine, the mistress of the castle's owner in the 16th century who was locked in one of the rooms and starved to death. You can learn falconry in the grounds, and the vibrant city of Edinburgh is just a short drive away. There is also a spa if you desire some royal pampering.

Star Castle

The Isles of Scilly are a cluster of white-sand fringed islands off the coast of Cornwall. Prince William last came on holiday here in 1989 with his mother Princess Diana. Star Castle is so named because it was built in the shape of an 8-pointed star in 1593 during the reign of Elizabeth I. As part of the Duchy of Cornwall, which was established in the 13th century to provide an income for the Prince of Wales, it is effectively owned by Prince Charles. The recently refurbished rooms are less traditional than those in other castles, but it has stunning views of the sea and isles in every direction.

Writer Antonia Windsor, a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, is a regular contributor to The Guardian and The Observer in Britain.

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