1 June 2007 by Amy Sohanpaul
I’m greeted by George as i push open the heavy front door that leads into Thornbury Castle. He’s a suit of armour, very much at home in this Tudor castle. Next to the reception area is a drawing room just as redolent of times past. Panelled walls, tapestries, a fireplace with a carved surround and coats of arms add to the historical grandeur.
Admittedly, these can be found elsewhere, but not many places boast such magnificent oriel windows. They are glorious. There should be motes of dust dancing in the sunbeams streaming through their lead-lined panes, but there’s only the sense of people past. Princess Mary spent part of her childhood here, and must have sat by those windows many times, waiting for her future as Queen Mary, and for her father, Henry VIII to visit.
When Henry did turn up, it was with the stepmother Mary could hardly bear, Anne Boleyn. The Royal couple spent ten days here, sleeping in the Duke’s Bedchamber (Available to guests to this day), walking in the grounds, probably plotting away (or perhaps they forgot their worries on their minibreak).
This is the thing about Thornbury. Good hotels are as common these days as beheadings were in Henry’s time. And Thornbury is a very good hotel indeed, no doubt about it - superb service, comfort and charm a plenty - but what makes it stand-out-special is the stories the thick stone walls could tell.
The yew hedges and ancient walls that line what is said to be the oldest Tudor garden in the country could probably tell some tales too, of stolen moments between courtiers and ladies-in-waiting, of serving girls slipping away from the house to breathe in the scent of the herbs lining the narrow paths - the medieval version of a modern day cigarette break.
Sitting on a wooden bench at the bottom of the garden, all I could see beyond the centuries old garden layout was splashes of bright roses against old red brick, the steeple of the church next door and Thornbury’s turrets and double chimneys.
All I could imagine was people long gone wandering along the lawn, perhaps picking botanical remedies - this ‘Goodly Garden’ - was the Tudor equivalent of a pharmacy. All I could hear was birdsong, until the sun went behind a cloud. Then the incongruous sound of an ice-cream van in the distance burst into the stillness and brought me back to the present and thoughts of dinner. This was served in a dining room in the tower, with octagonal walls a foot thick interspersed with narrow arrow-slit windows.
Light from candles and a crackling fireplace lent further lustre to already gleaming silver platters and crystal. I choose wine from Thornbury’s own vineyard - which was rather good, light and lively. The cooking is pretty lively too - my main course of brill fillets was sharpened with capers and given some punch from spicy nuggets of chorizo.
Dessert was decadent - three chocolate filled samosas, a peach perfectly poached in white wine, saffron rice pudding sushi. After such excess, the spiral staircase that led to my suite seemed very steep. A fire blazed in the hearth (most of the bedchambers here have fires), next to a sofa offering a rest as a reward for such a taxing day. A vast, velvet-draped four-poster waited.
Henry (this spacious suite is named after him - all the rooms are named after personalities and have plenty of character of their own) and Anne stared out from their picture frames into a time they could never know, stuck in the times Thornbury allows guests to glimpse so well. The dressing room (with enough storage space for a royal retinue) and bathroom - all marble and mirrors - were emphatically from a more modern era, with a Jacuzzi big enough for Henry in his later years.
He’d have appreciated it I’m sure, as he did Thornbury, after he appropriated it. Before then he saw the creation of this grand fortified residence as evidence of a threat to his throne, so he beheaded the man who built it, Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham.