Jemima Coxshaw goes in search of fortresses big and small, where you can slumber like royalty.
1 Bovey Castle, Devon
Although the newest of all our fortresses, Bovey Castle’s setting, all 400 acres within Dartmoor National Park, is enough to have us weak at the knees. Its story begins with William Henry Smith (of the stationer
WH Smith, which made its fortune in the Industrial Revolution’s railway stations) and later to become Viscount Hambleden. He bought 5,000 acres of land in 1890, with the intention of establishing himself as a country squire. But it was his son, Frederick Smith, who completed the neo-Jacobean manor house in 1907, which acted as a symbol of family wealth. After Frederick’s death, the house came, fittingly, under the ownership of the Great Western Railway Company, which built a golf course and opened it as a hotel, setting it up as a southern rival to Gleneagles in Scotland.
2 Amberley Castle, West Sussex
For the dedicated Anglophile, Amberley Castle is about as gratifyingly box-ticking as it gets. The downland village of Amberley in West Sussex is peppered with chocolate-box perfect cottages, and is framed by the South Downs Way on its east side and the River Arun on the south and west sides. Presiding over it all is Amberley Castle, the 900-year-old fortress that now doubles as a luxury hotel. Once used by the bishops of Chichester, it was part destroyed on Oliver Cromwell’s orders during the Civil War owing to its Royalist tenant, as a result of which its Great Hall was demolished. From war to a blissfully peaceful retreat, visitors who pass through its 60-foot-high curtain wall will find its rooms resplendent, its food sumptuous and its service simply sublime.
3 Cawood Castle, North Yorkshire
Once upon a time, Cawood Castle was the medieval stronghold of the archbishops of York and played host to a long line of royal visitors, including King John. In 1465, it provided the setting for the “Great Feast of Cawood” to celebrate the accession of George Neville to Archbishop of York, which rivalled the king’s coronation festivities. Cardinal Wolsey was arrested at Cawood in 1530 and turned back south, where he died shortly after. Much of the castle was dismantled during the 17th century English Civil War, when it fell into the hands of Parliamentarians in 1646. Today the gatehouse and banqueting hall remain, and guests can stay via the Landmark Trust, which restores buildings of historical significance for holiday lets.
4 Woodsford Castle, Dorset
Set in deepest Hardy country, up to eight guests can stay in the remaining part of the 14th century Woodsford Castle. The fortress dates back to 1370, when it was most likely built as part of a wider group of buildings. It was later bought by Sir Guy de Bryan, a close friend of King Edward III, who was remembered, during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign some 200 years later, as a great warrior by historian William Camden – who describes the Woodsford building as being where Sir Guy had “a little castle of his own”. It has passed through many aristocratic hands, and in 1850 John Hicks of Dorchester commissioned its restoration to a Mr Hardy – father of the writer Thomas. It is now let for holidays by the Landmark Trust.
5 Hever Castle, Kent
Originally built in 1270, Hever Castle is, curiously, most closely associated with two of the famous wives of King Henry VIII. In the 16th century, it was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, for whom Henry’s passion was so fervent that he not only married her, as opposed to just keeping her as his mistress, but also renounced the national Catholic faith of the entire nation. It was later home to another of his wives, Anne of Cleves, who apparently lived there unperturbed by the ultimate unfortunate fate of her predecessor. Centuries later, in 1903, the historic gem was restored to lavish effect by America’s wealthiest man, William Waldorf Astor, and today guests can stay in splendid luxury in a designated wing of the castle.