Friday night I had the strange privilege of working and lodging at Thornbury Castle in Gloucestershire. Beautiful? Oh yes! Stunning town, stunning countryside (replete with farm smells), and the great combination of still-in-use and overgrown ruined (some unfinished) battlements next to the gorgeous and imposing church and yard of St. Mary. I won’t describe my duties in detail–polishing plate and cutlery is pretty much the same all over. But toward the end of the shift, round about midnight, the manager asked, “How are you getting home?” My reply was essentially, “I thought you would tell me!” I had been under the impression that my agency was going to arrange transportation home (Thornbury is about 30-40 minutes from the city centre). But wires got crossed, and I had no way to get back. The manager disappeared, and reappeared with a skeleton key, to which was attached a golden fob engraved, “Duke’s Jewl Chamber.” And so I stayed overnight in that beautiful place, where Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn lodged when on their tour of the west country almost 500 years ago. Still can’t believe it.
My room was at the top of a dark and winding, though not long, stair, just past a room named after Anne B. The moon was quite big and bright that night, and the keep walls across the yard from my windows, and the walls and tower of the church, were lit up by soft yellow ground lights. It was spectacular and romantic. I was quite warm from the long shift, so I took a short bath in the luxurious washroom (which was behind a great old wooden door with a pre-modern knob-and-latch), then settled in. There were fleur-de-lis everywhere, even printed on the toilet roll. I include pictures:
^^You can see the ivy-covered castle walls just outside–on the other side is the church of St. Mary the Virgin.
^^the woodwork cabinets and door, from the head of the bed (it’s a bit fuzzy, alas for phone photos)
^^close-up of drapes and what I assume are custom-made tissues (with fleur-de-lis printed on them)
^^One side of the inside garden. Just around the corner to the right is the door to reception; my phone ran out of memory before I could take a photo of the other side : / You can see that the sky shows through the window above the two shrubs–this part of the castle is obviously not in use by the hotel, either because it fell apart or was never finished.
Thornbury castle was (partially) built in the early 16th century. When its owner & builder (a descendant of the Plantagenets) was executed by Henry VIII (in 1521, I think it was), all his property, including Thornbury, came under control of the Crown (with the keep and palace only partially completed, though the wing still in use today was ready as a family residence before the project came to its sudden halt). Henry did stay in the castle when visiting Gloucester & the West, but it later fell into disrepair from neglect–for a long time, apparently, no one associated with the monarchy had anything to do with it. After changing hands a few times, a restaurateur in the 1960s turned the castle into the hotel and restaurant that it is now. But it ain’t cheap to stay! Long weekend in May for two, bed & breakfast style, costs from £330 a night. But it is amazing. The town itself is beautiful as well. When I woke up early on Saturday morning and turned in my Jewl Chamber key to the receptionist, I came out into bracing, cold country air, and walked the short distance up Castle Street to the High Street, and had a lovely coffee and Welsh cake (in Coffee #1) before catching the bus back to the city. It was so worth the initial awkwardness of not knowing at first what would become of me for the night.