To Capture the Castle (#133)

Once upon a time, the handsomest king in Europe (i.e., the only one without the Habsburg jaw) married the most beautiful woman in his court. On their honeymoon, they stayed at a charming castle. Then they lived happily ever after.

Nah, just kidding. The King was Henry VIII. You know this didn’t have a happy ending.

Unless you’re an American, in which case you’re hazy on all history before 1776.

Unless you’re an American with a history major, in which case you probably had a six-foot poster showing the family tree of all the monarchs of England instead of a supermodel. (Right, Big Brother?)

In this case, the castle was Thornbury. The Duke of Buckingham began Thornbury Castle around 1510. Said Duke forfeited the castle to the King — along with his head — amid charges of treason a decade later. This should have served as a warning to the new queen, Anne Boleyn. It did not. She lost her head several years after her visit to Thornbury Castle. (Sometimes, I imagine Henry VIII tossing heads out to the London mob like Oprah: “You get a head! And you get a head! Everybody gets a head! Nay, I jest — Anne of Cleves, you get a divorce!”)

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Part of the unrestored castle.

But back to the castle. It fell into disrepair until the 1800s, was restored, and eventually morphed into a luxury hotel.

When I planned our trip to England, I initially wanted to visit Alnwick Castle (used by the producers of Harry Potter and Downton Abbey). Unfortunately, Alnwick is practically on the border with Scotland — many, many hours from London. Alnwick also doesn’t allow overnight guests. In fact, most of the surviving castles that are not owned by the Queen are in the north.

Thornbury Castle, however, is just a few hours west of London. It’s also expensive. Really, really expensive. I agonized over just how expensive two nights would be.

Then I thought, “But goddamnit, if I’m going to England, hell, yeah, I’m gonna stay in a castle, because that’s the one thing I can’t do in the United States.” (After this epiphany, I swore I would never, ever laugh at Europeans who insist on going to see the Hollywood sign or visiting dude ranches again.)

I booked a room at the castle. Plus the dinner, the bed-and-breakfast option, and an afternoon tea.

I may NOT have told my budget-conscious Chinese-American husband EXACTLY how much the castle cost until after our flight took off. In fact, I may have waited until he’d been served his free dinner. I may also have waited until he’d had free beers, had watched free movies, and said, “God, I love these international flights! I haven’t felt this pampered on a plane in years!”

Yeah, that’s when I told him. Cuz — not my first rodeo.

Andy took it well, especially after I explained how I’d saved us money by booking the dinner, breakfasts, and tea in advance.

He took it less well the following day, when he discovered how expensive London is for everything but cider from Tesco.

By the second day, the man was muttering darkly at everything from our (i.e., MY) Harrod’s receipt to the menu for tea across from St. Paul’s Cathedral. He was cross with the expensive London hotel that had a sloping floor, the miniscule sink in the bathroom, and – especially – the cost of an ale with only 4% alcohol. He was grumpy about rude tourists, the never-ending construction (some of it on the street right outside our hotel), and the fact that the never-ending construction made it difficult to find bus stops and Underground Stations near the British Museum.

Andy perked up at the Tower of London, though. Perhaps it was all the weaponry in the White Tower. Maybe Andy fantasized about blowing up the VAT tax. Or his jolly mood might have owed something to the fact that the Tower of London is the first museum he’d ever been to that sold beer (right next to the raven exhibit, in case you were wondering). In any case, Andy was cheerful as we stood in line for the torture exhibit at the Wakefield Tower.

[Fun fact: the line for the torture exhibit is longer than the one for the Crown Jewels or beer. Work out what this means for humanity and despair.]

Andy’s grumbles returned with the bill for our “nice” dinner out near Buckingham Palace. I cast longing glances at the little shops around the palace, but firmly told myself that I did not need a gilt-edged teacup and saucer commemorating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

By the time we’d collected our rental car, cursed out Google repeatedly, hit two potholes (no matter what Andy claims, I assure you they were POTHOLES and not the curb) at Heathrow, and made two undscheduled K turns on our way to the M4, I was in as foul a mood as Andy.

And then we got to Thornbury Castle:

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The courtyard. Yes, I drove through that tiny entrance and was really proud of myself until a huge Land Rover came in after me.

Sherry and tea were waiting for us. So was this view:
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St. Mary’s Norman door. Also, those little round white things in the grass are hailstones.

After sherry, we went for a walk around St. Mary’s Church, which dates back to the Norman era. We had to take shelter there when a rainstorm turned into hail, along with some British tourists. (They informed us that the rain was typical. “The hail, though,” they shook their heads, “That’s definitely not typical.” Andy laughed, pointed at me, and said, “It is for her!”)

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St. Mary’s Church on the left behind the trees, Thornbury Castle on the right

After the hail, we wandered back to hotel, checked out the Tudor gardens, and I asked about a tour with the local historian. They had one scheduled during our dinner reservation, so I had to decline. (Andy cheered, since it’s 10 pounds.)

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The dining room

 

Diner service was impeccable – despite their extensive wine list, our waiter did not bat an eyelash at our plebian demands for ale and cider. Our dinner was delicious, with scallops, fillets, and lamb cooked to perfection. We finished it off with brioche treacle tart and waddled away from the table.

I’m still not sure how we made it up these stairs:

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But we did, and collapsed into food coma on our glorious, king-sized bed. The bed, by the way, was heaven after our sloping double in London. Soft as a cloud. I still talk about that fantastic bed, and the giant jacuzzi tub.

 

Andy still talks about the toilet:

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The throne. For realz.

The next morning, Andy had his English breakfast and I had the best eggs Florentine ever. Stuffed again, we staggered wandered around the village, which was gearing up for an art festival. We even checked out the local potter (future post).

We went back to the castle, and checked on that day’s historical tour time. Sadly, that tour was during tea.IMG_7381 And when it’s tour versus tea, well, tea wins. Especially in this room:

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View on the left of St. Mary’s bell tower.
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View on the right of balcony and coats of arms.

After tea, we walked down a country lane. We even passed the carefully labeled “Vicarage,” so I could check that off my “UK Bingo” card.

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The breakfast room, once part of the Duchess’ bedchamber or drawing room.

We spent another night on the fabulous mattress in the fabulous castle and had another delicious breakfast (eggs Benedict). As we were eating, I told Andy how restful this part of our trip had been.

He agreed. “Yeah, after all the running around London, this is so relaxing.”

“And quiet,” I added. “Even when other people are around, no one raises their voice. Everyone speaks softly, respectfully.” I tried to figure out why. Was it a different class of people? I didn’t think so. I know plenty of rich, loud people. And then it finally clicked for the atheist. I exclaimed, “It’s the castle! It’s old, made of stone, and formal! It feels like a church! Instinctively, everyone lowers their voice!”

Well, except for the American who was so delighted with this revelation that she practically shouted it in the silent breakfast room.

After the shocked stares, my mumbled “sorry,” and Andy’s strangled laughter into his napkin, we gorged on a few more pastries. A few pictures and many  wistful sighs later, we loaded up our luggage and said farewell to Thornbury Castle.

On our flight home, I asked Andy what his favorite part of the trip had been.

Instantly, he replied, “The castle.”

That was over a month ago. Since then, we discovered that we got screwed on the rental car, the VAT tax, and plenty of other items. Andy has bitched about London’s hidden tourist taxes repeatedly. Our visa bill for the trip has come and gone. So has the money in our checking account.

But not once has my husband complained about the cost of Thornbury Castle.

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If you want to know more about the history of Thornbury Castle, you can check out Nathen Amin’s post.

If you want cool drone footage or to see the ungodly — BUT TOTALLY WORTH IT –room rates, check out the official website for Thornbury Castle.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

35 thoughts on “To Capture the Castle (#133)”

  1. I wanna stay at Fotheringhay Castle cos that’s where Richard III was born.

    And no, I didn’t have a six foot family tree of the Kings and Queens of England. I can still name them all, though.

    1. But can you diagram the family tree? That is a crazy family tree. Queen Victoria alone would kill me.

      I thought Fotheringhay was dismantled. But maybe you can camp there. 🙂

  2. The throne? I mean, I can’t even. That alone was worth the price of admission. Just a tip from someone married much longer to someone who is also very, umm, thrifty, no harm in adjusting the exchange rate a little (or a lot) to make a hotel rate seem more palatable. Although, that was before smart phones when I could get away with such a thing.

  3. Your castle visit sounds fantastic. I always enjoy the countryside and small towns when I travel. When the English countryside is so quaint and green and historical and reminds us of books we’ve read and movies we’ve seen, who needs to go to London?

    1. Well, the Tower is incredible. So much history. And the Horse Guards were also cool. And seeing Big Ben and the Tower Bridge…also a thrill.

      It worked out nicely for us — hectic London and then a countryside vacation. 🙂

  4. Thornbury Castle looks divine on the inside. From your photos, it looks and feels everything like a castle. That toilet – I would love to sit on it. If you hadn’t mentioned it was a toilet, I thought it would be a chair that you used at the dinner table. Heck, I would even pay just to go inside and see it and take a sit on it 😀

    Andy complaining about everything expensive, except the castle in the end. The castle certainly had high standards 😀

    1. Everyone loves that throne. 🙂 I probably could have just used that picture and skipped the others. Although I love turrets and battlements myself.

      The castle did have high standards. There was even a rabbit that came for “tea” on the lawn outside our sitting room window at 5 PM daily. We called him Peter, of course.

      1. I wonder if all the thrones in the other rooms were exactly the same, like the same shape and same colour. I would not be surprised if thrones were made of gold back in the day. What a sight to greet you as you walk into the bathroom…

        Peter Rabbit! How apt and regal. Sounds like he likes to make friends 🙂

        1. I think back in the day the toilet was actually just a hole in the floor that drained into the moat. If you had a moat.

          Peter was pretty skittish. The castle had its own vegetable gardens and the gardeners undoubtedly did not approve of vegetable poaching.

  5. ROFL the throne. I bet Ryosuke from Texan In Tokyo would have loved that too. xD

    So, are you now back to eating hot-dogs, assuming that the cost of the trip was pretty high? 😛

  6. I don’t know of a single Brit who has actually stayed in a castle before. Definitely a tourist thing.

  7. That castle sounds wonderful. I live between NYC and Philadelphia. Too many city trips over the years. Something quiet with great food and history sounds wonderful.

  8. That looks so relaxing! So how many kilos did you gain during these two days? haha!

    We also have castles in Spain. I am not sure if I have ever spent the night in one, but two of my cousins did their wedding banquets in a castle close to our hometown.

    1. I refuse to step on the scale until I’ve lost that castle weight. Probably next year.

      Did you get to attend the castle weddings? How old were “your” castles? I would read a post on Spanish Castles in a heartbeat!

      1. They must be from around the 16th century I guess, as that was when my home town was richer. But they are different from the British castles, look more like fortifications and the towers are not that stylized (google image castillo de la herguijuela, and also caceres, the name of my home town). I went to those weddings when I was around 16, but it is still a very popular place for wedding banquets!

        I don’t think I can write a post on castles now, haha! But when I go home to visit in October I can take some pics, read some history and prepare one!

  9. I love English history. I’ve read so many books about Henry VIII, too. Obsessed I was. “Divorced, beheaded, died / Divorced, beheaded, survived”.

    Now I just obsess over mastering my fake English accent much to the agony of my British coworkers.

    You got stay in an English castle! Sounds lovely. Jealous! One day I’ll sit on a proper throne 😉

    1. This one is my favorite:

      King Henry VII, six wives he wedded,
      One died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded.

      When we read “The Other Boleyn Girl,” at my book club, none of them knew any of the history. They looked at me like I had two heads when I talked about how sad it was knowing Anne Boleyn was doomed and then recited that couplet.

      I am chuffed to hear about your British accent!

      1. The Other Boleyn Girl – excellent. I remember staying up to finish it! Never saw the movie though, heard it sucked.

        I’m assuming you watched The Tutors? 😛

  10. Autumn, Loved the story, and hey, staying in a castle…well, worth it! My husband always says that England is like paying taxes in the States, just close your eyes and try not to think about what you are spending.

    1. Thanks, Jim!

      Trying to ignore the prices was pretty much my philosophy. I mean, how often do you get to stay in a castle? Never! And lucky you — your husband sounds like he has a good perspective. 🙂 Without attitude adjustment by ale.

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