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A real castle for Christmas: 5 places to explore and stay this festive season

Following the release of Netflix’s romantic comedy A Castle For Christmas, discover five real castles you can stay in this festive season. From a hotel stay in a room occupied by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, to an exclusive-use castle for all the family...

A woman on a bike cycles in front of a castle
Published: December 3, 2021 at 12:26 pm
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In Netflix’s latest romantic comedy spectacular, A Castle For Christmas, acclaimed American novelist Sophie Brown (Brooke Shields) travels to a small town in Scotland for the holiday season after receiving backlash for killing off one of her much-loved characters. She becomes quickly enamoured with the nearby (and fictional) Dun Dunbar castle, although is less taken with its grumpy owner – Myles, Duke of Dunbar (Cary Ewles) – whose financial difficulties mean that he will soon have to sell his beloved home and its extensive grounds. On a whim, Sophie decides to purchase the castle – a decision that puts her at loggerheads with the duke, but establishes that irresistible ‘enemies-to-lovers’ dynamic that is a staple of rom-coms across history.

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As with most Christmas rom-coms, the plot of A Castle For Christmas is unashamedly saccharine and unquestionably unrealistic. It is nonetheless a bit of escapist fun – and is sure to prompt many to fantasise about what they would do were they to buy a castle on a whim.

Which raises the question: can you buy simply buy a castle in the UK? It is certainly possible – although it is likely to cost a small fortune and come laden with a series of burdens not typical of ordinary property purchases, from stringent planning restrictions to commitments to maintain the historical integrity of the grounds. Forget knocking down a wall or changing a window at the drop of a hat, these properties are typically listed buildings and subject to protections overseen – depending on where it is – by Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, Cadw (in Wales) or the Historic Environment Division of Northern Ireland's Department for Communities.

If none of this deters you, there are options on the market for a would-be castle owner. On sale right now – for an eye watering £1,700,000 – is this six-bedroom 14th-century castle in East Lothian, Scotland, which retains plenty of its original features (including an original stone toilet called the Laird’s Lug) as well as its own Great Hall. Or, perhaps you could be tempted by the 16th-century Earlshall Castle in St Andrews, Fife, which is currently on the market (price available on application) and boasts a magnificent walled garden. It is a truly a home fit for a king (or queen); both Mary, Queen of Scots and James VI of Scotland hunted at Earlshall.

Purchasing a castle is no doubt a huge responsibility, as you’re not simply buying a potential place to live, but also committing to maintaining a piece of history. They can be extremely costly: aside from the original price, the yearly maintenance and upkeep is likely to set castle-owners back tens of thousands of pounds.

So what is an ordinary castle-loving person to do? For those wanting a spectacular castle experience this Christmas to rival Sophie Brown’s, there are plenty of alternatives that won’t necessarily require a lottery win (although, admittedly, many of the options are still pretty costly). Here, we’ve rounded up a selection of places to explore this festive season and beyond – from a hotel stay in a room occupied by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, to hiring an exclusive-use castle for all of your family and friends to enjoy…

1

Thornbury Castle, South Gloucestershire, England

Where Henry VIII stayed for 10 days with Anne Boleyn

Black and white image of castle
Thornbury Castle, South Gloucestershire. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Looking for a historic experience without the associated costs of buying or hiring an entire castle? Thornbury Castle in South Gloucestershire is the only Tudor castle in England currently used as a hotel – and you can even stay in a suite once occupied by one of history’s most well-known couples, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

Henry and his second wife stayed in the ‘Duke’s bedchamber’ at the castle for 10 days in 1535 following an outbreak of the plague in the nearby city of Bristol. Guests at the hotel are able to book the very room that Anne and Henry slept in, which is octagonal in shape and overlooks the oldest Tudor gardens in England. Prices start from just £419 per night, inclusive of dinner, bed and breakfast.

Find out more

2

Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, England

Where Edward II met a grisly end

Sepia illustration of castle with people walking in front of it
Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire. (Photo by: Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Just a short jaunt away from Thornbury sits a castle with a slightly more gruesome historical association. Berkeley Castle, built to keep the Welsh out of England, has long been reported to be the place where Edward II died, with legend suggesting he was brutally murdered on 21 September 1327 with a hot poker.

In 2005, the bestselling historian Ian Mortimer caused a storm when he argued that Edward had not been assassinated at Berkeley Castle – the received opinion for almost 700 years – and was instead still alive in 1330. His assertion raised a few eyebrows, not least from historian Nicholas Vincent who wrote, in an article for HistoryExtra: “In my opinion, it has not been proved that Edward II cheated death in 1327 any more than Elvis Presley can be proved to be alive and well and living in Hemel Hempstead.”

Whatever your thoughts on the matter, the castle is an impressive place to visit. It is open for general admission to the public from April to October, but also serves as an exclusive-use wedding venue that can be hired all year around (packages start at £12,400, including two nights’ accommodation for up to 36 guests). For those seeking a slightly cheaper castle experience, a Christmas concert will be held at the castle on 12 December 2021, featuring a programme of music spanning over 200 years and played by a professional orchestra.

Find out more here

Who owns castles in the UK?

Castles in the UK are owned by a variety of different groups and individuals; some are owned by the Crown, some are privately owned and some are in possession of the state. Bamburgh is an example of a castle that is privately owned; it is in the possession of the Armstrong family, although it is open to the public most days of the year.

3

Glin Castle, Co Limerick, Ireland

An exclusive-use castle for 30 guests

View of castle through trees
A general view of Glin Castle, a manor house in County Limerick, Ireland.(Photo by RDImages/Epics/Getty Images)

For those wanting to live like a king or queen for an entire weekend, what better way to do it than to hire an entire castle for your friends and family to enjoy? Glin Castle in Ireland, built in the late 18th century as the ancestral home of the Knights of Glin (a hereditary title given to the FitzGerald and FitzMaurice families of County Limerick) fits the bill perfectly.

Guests can enjoy exclusive use of the entire castle, which is large enough to accommodate 30 guests across 15 ensuite bedrooms. It is a pricey option, with the cost of a minimum three-night stay – including breakfast and dinner – around €13,500 per night. For those looking to book in 2022, prices come in slightly cheaper – around €5,000 per night.

Find out more here

4

Borthwick Castle, near Edinburgh, Scotland

Refuge of Mary, Queen of Scots

Sunlit view of castle
Borthwick Castle, Scotland. (Photo by Getty Images)

Borthwick Castle – known as ‘Scotland’s Greatest Keep’ – was built in the 15th century and was once the refuge of Mary, Queen of Scots. The Scottish queen stayed there shortly after her marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, amidst rumours that the latter was involved in the murder of Mary’s late husband, Lord Darnley. According to a letter addressed to the Archbishop of Glasgow, Mary fled the castle in June 1567 wearing a disguise (possibly as a page) to escape a group of Scottish barons and their 1,000-strong army.

The castle has a tumultuous 600-year history. It was built in 1430 by Sir William Borthwick, whose father (of the same name) was among the nobles that volunteered as a substitute hostage for the ransom of James I of Scotland in 1425. According to the website, “one of Borthwick castle's most striking features is a large gouge in the stonework of the east wall”, which historians believe to have been inflicted by Oliver Cromwell’s parliamentary forces as they marched en route to nearby Edinburgh in 1650.

Today the castle is available to hire for a variety of different functions – from weddings to festivals – and can sleep up to 26 guests. Prices start from £12,000 for one night, although a minimum two-night booking is required for weekend functions.

Find out more here

5

Augill Castle, Cumbria, England

A picture-perfect fairytale location

Intriguingly, the castle at the heart of A Castle For Christmas isn’t actually a castle at all – although you would be forgiven for thinking it looks like one. Dalmeny House, located in South Queensferry, Scotland, is a 19th-century Gothic revival mansion and family home of the 7th Earl and Countess of Roseberry. It is a beautiful estate, although due to Covid-19 restrictions and ongoing repairs it is not currently open to the public.

Where, then, might someone go if they want to live out a real Castle for Christmas fantasy? Augill Castle, nestled in the pretty Eden Valley on the edge of the Lake District, offers guests an exclusive-use three-night stay over the festive period, arriving Christmas Eve. The 19th-century castle, which serves as both a family home as well as a hotel, is charmingly picture-perfect. You don’t have to fear feeling like you’re in a hotel either – the owners have made every effort to make the experience more authentic (it does not, for example, have a reception desk). Hire of the castle starts at £5,400 per night midweek and £5,800 at weekends, including dinner, bed and breakfast.

Find out more here

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Rachel Dinning is a digital section editor at HistoryExtra

Authors

Rachel Dinning
Rachel DinningDigital Section Editor

Rachel Dinning is Digital Section Editor at HistoryExtra.

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