It wasn’t until I prepared to book my train ticket that I discovered my mistake. I had been asked to Hampton Court Castle in Hereford, not Hampton Court Palace outside London.
But the moment I spied the other Hampton Court, I wished I had packed my tiara anyway. This is a proper 15th-century castle — a sprawling, crenellated edifice presiding over an expanse of lawn and a pond with resident swans.
Henry IV granted the estate to Sir Rowland Lenthall in 1410 when Lenthall married the king’s cousin, Margaret Fitzalan.
Despite its blue-blooded beginnings, by the 1970s, Hampton Court had fallen into such disrepair that it was used as the crumbling manor in the dystopian BBC series Survivors.
“It needed a fairy-tale prince,” said tour guide Gill Linscott.
In 1994, it got one in the form of American millionaire Robert Van Kampen, who renovated and furnished it. After Van Kampen died, it was swept up by hotelier Graham Lacey, who opened the castle for tours in April 2009. Folks also continue to rent it for their own exclusive use, for weddings, family reunions and the like. Of course, the royal treatment doesn’t come cheaply, with rates starting at more than $7,700 per day.
It’s hard to beat the feeling of passing through the castle’s oak arrow-proof doors. I half expected to be greeted by livery-clad buglers upon my arrival.
Instead, a member of staff, casually dressed in blue jeans, led me inside and through a maze of stone hallways flanked by glinting suits of armour, artfully arranged weapons, faded tapestries and enough taxidermied animals to fill several of Noah’s arks. My room, Kite, nestled in the ramparts in converted servants’ quarters, is one of two bedrooms that have no windows, only skylights, although sturdy wooden trusses supporting a vaulted ceiling lend it character. There are far more luxurious quarters within the castle — some with canopied beds, gilded mirrors and splendid views.
The ground floor boasts all the grand spaces you might expect from a castle — a great hall with a massive stone fireplace, intimate chapel with a portion of its painted medieval ceiling still intact and a stately wood-panelled dining room.
The library, with a roaring fireplace flanked by shelves of dusty old leather-bound tomes, has a fine drinks cabinet.
There are acres of gardens, including wisteria-draped arches, eight-sided pavilions floating atop placid ponds and a labyrinth that leads to a Gothic-style tower.
And you can even explore the secret passage.
Hampton Court Castle is in Hope-Under-Dinmore, Leominster, Herefordshire. For details call 011-44-1568-797676 or visit Hampton Court
Source: Times Colonist