Britain at its best: Thornbury Castle, where Henry VIII romanced Anne Boleyn
Thornbury is a market town with its roots in farming and cider making (Riddle’s has been made on a wooden apple press by the Riddles family for over a century).
Surrounding Severn Valley, once Henry’s VIII’s deer park, are farms and fruit orchards with views across the water to the Welsh hills.
The town was first mentioned as ‘Thornbyrig’ in the Domesday Book in the 11th century, although it is most likely older as a staggering 11,460 Roman coins, dating from AD 260-348, were found in 2004 while a pond was being dug.
Keep it royal: Thornbury Castle – the whole of which is now a hotel – dates back to 1511 and was once owned by Henry VIII
Thornbury Castle is surrounded by the Severn Valley, which was once the deer park of Henry’s VIII. The grounds of the castle are shown here
Edward Stafford began building the castle in a “display of ambition” that enraged Henry VIII, Kate reveals. Pictured is one of the hotel’s beautiful bedrooms
Thornbury Castle’s lounge, pictured, after the estate had undergone restoration supervised by English Heritage
In the Privy Garden of Thornbury Castle hotel I discover woven beehives (beehives) in corners that sit within the ancient stone walls, just as they would have done when Henry walked the grounds with Anne Boleyn in 1535.
“Henry had a sweet tooth and loved his honey,” a passing gardener says, as if talking about someone we both knew. And it’s not hard to conjure up an image of the Tudor king in such an environment, perhaps enjoying a glass of mead.
Edward Stafford (the only man to rival the king’s wealth) began construction on the castle in 1511. It was a display of ambition that rekindled Henry’s support.
Found guilty of treason, Stafford was beheaded and Henry confiscated the castle. And no wonder. Although small, it is a beauty.
Arrow slits cut through the 1.2 meter thick stone walls; an octagonal tower houses Henry’s huge bedroom; it has ornate bay windows, swirling gargoyles and towering red-brick chimneys that predate those at Hampton Court.
Pictured is one of the bathrooms in the hotel. ‘Although small, it’s a beauty,’ says Kate of Thornbury Castle after visiting the grand estate
The castle has “ornate bay windows, gargoyles and towering red brick chimneys,” notes Kate.
Henry wandered the grounds of Thornbury Castle with his wife Anne Boleyn in 1535, pictured above
Pictured is Thornbury Castle’s ‘royal restaurant’ where Kate ordered a saddle of lamb ‘fit for a king’
It has recently reopened following an English Heritage-supervised restoration, but it is not the oldest of Thornbury’s buildings. You will find it here. The attractive Grade II listed church of St Mary’s was built in 1340, on the site of a Norman church.
Through a graveyard of tumbling tombstones, I tiptoed to read inscriptions from the 15th century and beyond.
Older carvings are either worn or covered in thick green moss, and in one of these lies the entrails of Henry VII’s beloved uncle and mentor, Jasper Tudor (the rest of him is buried in Keynsham Abbey).
Pictured is one of the 26 rooms in the hotel. Elsewhere on the estate, an octagonal tower houses the bedroom that belonged to Henry VIII
Kate admits: ‘It’s not difficult to conjure up an image of the Tudor king in such an environment’
The bed and breakfast double rooms at Thornbury Castle cost £229. Pictured here is the hotel lounge
Kate recommends visiting the Grade II listed church of St Mary’s, pictured, next to the stone walls of the castle grounds
Thornbury, pictured, was first mentioned as ‘Thornbyrig’ in the Domesday Book in the 11th century
Fans of TV’s Open All Hours should head to LE Riddiford – a provisions store founded in 1928 that inspired writer Roy Clarke for Arkwright’s store.
In The Plain (which was home to a cattle fair in the 1900s), you’ll find a flower-adorned replica of the pump installed in 1857 by the bankers, Messrs. Harwood, Hatcher and Sams.
I meander along Castle Street, lined with impressive historic buildings such as the medieval Porch House and The Chantry (dated by English Heritage as 16th century), where priests once prayed (at a cost) for the souls of Thornbury’s departed.
Records show that it was bought in 1699 by a farmer of grandiose designs – as the large wooden door is believed to have come from the castle; repurposed in the years when the castle was dilapidated.
Back at the castle, I sit on a throne-like chair covered in red brocade in the hotel’s regal restaurant and order the hearty saddle of lamb that turns out to be a king’s meal.