Thornbury Castle, Bristol: a Tudor fortress for a regal getaway

·4-min read
 (Thornbury Castle)
(Thornbury Castle)

Royalty is centre stage this year but if you want a trip that gets you beyond the House of Windsor, back to England’s very own Game of Thrones, how about an actual Tudor castle? Specifically, the only Tudor castle in England where you can stay: Thornbury Castle, near Bristol.

It belonged to the third Duke of Buckingham, Edward Stafford, who, alas, fell foul of Henry VIII – as pretty well everyone with Plantagenet descent did, poor things – so that put paid to his plans for a crenellated tower. Later Mary Tudor stayed there, and restored the castle to the family, in gratitude for their support during her own difficulties with Henry.

 (Thornbury Castle)
(Thornbury Castle)

It boasts a room in a tower where bad King Henry stayed with Anne Boleyn with an enormous wooden door and a proper big key. I stayed in the room above, which boasts the biggest, viz, widest, bed in England - Henry and all six of his wives could have been accommodated in it – and a lovely view over the surrounding park.

And if you too like a huge bathroom and a rolltop bath, and a church view from the bathroom window, look no further. There’s a winding staircase to the tower rooms; the other bedrooms are atmospheric too, with an eye to detail and a decorative scheme that’s sympathetic to the Tudor vibe. In fact you’re not allowed to forget the history; the main bedroom corridor has rooms named after Tudor queens and copies of their portraits, so you can pass wicked Anne Boleyn on the way to breakfast.

 (Thornbury Castle)
(Thornbury Castle)

The downstairs library and dining room are decorated in the Tudor style, with a splendid fireplace and the ceiling detail finely coloured. Elsewhere on the site of the separate old manor house, next to the castle which replaced it, is the hall that would have been used for large dinners; next to it is the old cookroom.

The whole castle has had the benefit of £10 million refurbishment courtesy of the Middle Eastern owners, who are keen to emphasise the heritage of the place. I am rather looking forward to the return of the minstrels’ gallery to active use, perhaps for a Twelfth Night entertainment. The hotel is anxious to promote the history; it hosts a Tudor historian occasionally to talk to visitors. And if you’re lucky, you may encounter American visitors having a lovely time dressing up in Tudor costume.

In the grounds you see the outstanding feature of the house, the oriel windows, reaching right down to the ground floor, in two sections. They’re beautiful and so too are the chimneys, if you’ve got binoculars to get the benefit of the handsome brickwork on them. There’s also a mounting block for getting on your horse with greater ease, which Henry and Anne may well have used.

 (Thornbury Castle)
(Thornbury Castle)

There are lots of activities that can be booked in advance. I had two teenagers with me and they had a lovely time throwing axes – quite modest sized ones - and all under the eye of a watchful expert, who is apparently a record holder at throwing little axes using his feet. Archery is another possibility – though not, alas, longbows which were in fashion when the castle was still a mere manor house – and falconry, which really was a Tudor thing. But you need to request all these things in advance, as indeed you need to book the afternoon tea in the handsome library.

When I visited, the peace of the place was compromised by the background music… I hope it’s no longer a thing.

Dinner in the wood panelled restaurant, under the aegis of Welshman, Carl Cleghorn, is excellent. The menu draws on local and seasonal produce – some from the castle gardens, and has a notable delicacy of touch.

This is a take on Wolf Hall, with all the agreeable aspects of modernity and no ghosts, a treat of a minibreak. I travelled by train, which is the best way of doing it, to Bristol Temple Meads and took a taxi from there, but there’s also a bus service from Bristol Broadmead.

Rooms are from £249 B&B; thornburycastle.co.uk. Trains to Bristol can be booked on gwr.com/tickets

There is a bus service from Bristol Broadmead , the T1 which runs five times a day, arriving at Thornbury Rock Street, 38 mile journey, and takes 40 minutes. Operator details First Bristol on 0345 646 0707.

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