Weekend breaks

Centuries ago, Britain seemed to get into an awful lot of fights. When England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales weren’t scrapping with each other with each other, they were defending themselves from the hostile intentions of overseas invaders including the Danes, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and the Normans.

Fortified towns with castles were the preferred means of defence against prospective pillagers and looters and – particularly from the tenth century onward – the Brits built castles all over the place. In the eleventh century those pesky Normans succeeded in their conquest of England and celebrated by building loads more castles. But enough of the history lesson. The upshot of all this castle-building is that there are stacks of amazing and historic castles all over the UK, and the really good news is that, since they’re no longer needed for battering invaders, many British castles provide guest accommodation.

What could be more romantic (or fun!) than following in the footsteps of the knights and princesses of old and spending the night in the beautifully-furnished turret of an ancient British castle? Here is a selection of some of the UK’s best castle stays (dragon-slaying is optional):

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Thornbury Castle, Gloucestershire

Thornbury Castle in the beautiful English Cotswolds is the real deal. Once owned by King Henry VIII and more than five hundred years old, Thornbury is the only Tudor castle in England that is now a hotel. Once you’ve admired the castle’s beautiful gardens and working vineyard, you’ll have no problem getting comfy in one of the twenty-seven rooms which feature open fires, four-poster beds and lashings of historic décor.

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Lough Eske Castle, Donegal

There’s been a castle at Lough Eske in Northern Ireland since the fifteenth century, and whilst the current building originated in the mid-1800’s, this gorgeous Tudor-baronial castle still has the wow!-factor in abundance. Fully refurbished in 2007 and set in magnificent grounds, Lough Eske Castle has ninety-two guest rooms that combine authentic Irish history with a comfortable modern twist.

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Hazlewood Castle, Yorkshire

You want ancient history? Hazlewood Castle, near Leeds, is mentioned in the Domesday Book, a survey compiled in 1086. The War of the Roses took place virtually on the castle’s doorstep in 1461. Nowadays things are a little quieter and the castle offers twenty-five sumptuously appointed guest rooms. Set in seven acres of grounds, Hazlewood Castle is a beautiful place to stay… as long as you don’t mind the occasional ghost (it’s reputedly haunted).

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Ruthin Castle, Ruthin, North Wales

Ruthin Castle was originally a wooden fortress until 1277 when King Edward I sensibly decided it should be rebuilt in local stone (wooden castles had a tendency to be burnt down; Nottingham Castle was twice destroyed by fire). Associations with King Arthur, the Civil war, historic romance, intrigue, torture and execution all add to Ruthin’s remarkable story and today guests can stay in one of the castle’s highly individual and luxuriously appointed rooms and enjoy their own memorable taste of history.

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Langley Castle, Northumberland

There are more castles in Northumberland than in any other English county; a consequence of historic skirmishes with Scotland the border of which is nearby. Built in 1350, Langley Castle is the textbook image of a medieval British castle but today offers twenty-seven exquisite guest rooms, many with original architectural features. Set in ten acres of wooded grounds, all that Langley Castle seems to lack is a jousting arena…

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Dalhousie Castle, Bonnyrigg, Midlothian

This thirteenth century Scottish Castle has it all; a scenic location in its own land on the banks of the River Esk, the classic good looks and character that only five hundred years of rich  history can bring to a castle, twenty-nine superbly appointed bedroom, an award-winning restaurant and a spa. Guests keen to indulge in a traditional medieval pastime can even try their hand at a spot of falconry in Dalhousie castle’s woodland estate.

Main image shows a luxury room at Thornbury Castle

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