Last weekend I ticked off another ‘first time in my life’: I stayed in a castle. The castle in question was Lumley Castle Hotel in Chester-le-Street, a good find of my Grandad, who has excellent taste in hotels. It dates back to the 14th-century and has an interesting history that links it with one of the men charged with conspiracy to murder Henry IV. Latterly, it was associated with Bishop Van Mildert, who used the castle as his residence before handing it to Durham University for use as student accommodation. It became a hotel in 1976, and it’s run by the No Ordinary Hotels group. And it’s certainly no ordinary hotel.
As you approach the castle by road, you see its imposing fortifications rising up from behind the trees, dominating the local skyline. As you draw near, this is the view that greets you.
The vault-like reception was through a tiny door in the corner of a courtyard of more modern rooms adjoining the castle. I apologise in advance for the poor quality of the photos in this post – we brought the big camera with us but the wrong lens, so had to make do with iPhone cameras!
The major appeal of Lumley Castle Hotel is, naturally, that it is a castle – and one is constantly aware of this fact. We had fun exploring the place, the history of which can be felt throughout; its conversion to a hotel has, thankfully, lost little of its historic atmosphere. The passages connecting different parts of the castle all overlook the central courtyard, with the battlements in view all the way around.
If one needed any more of a reminder of the hotel’s past, these spiral staircases certainly provided it. Our room was accessed via this staircase, and there was a similar one on each corner of the castle. We had fun trying to find a shortcut to my grandparents’ room via a different staircase – you had to go up a little bit to go down, which was all rather confusing, in a pleasing sort of way.
Our room was a good size and very comfortable. The bed was high, the duvet thick (which was appreciated in the biting northern climate), the pillows just the right level of softness. We also had a nice little en suite bathroom (not pictured).
Our room overlooked the aforementioned modern courtyard. There were weddings on all weekend, but mercifully the castle is well enough soundproofed that we were not disturbed.
Exploring the castle, we found various comfortable places to sit, including this little room adjacent to the library bar (which I unfortunately forgot to get a photo of).
This was the main central staircase.
At one point we braved the cold (and it was FREEZING despite being August) and went for a walk around the outside to appreciate the magnificent structure of the castle.
We found the helipad! Too bad neither of us has a helicopter licence…
Another reminder of the past – this doorstep has 19th century dates carved into it. I wasn’t sure why though.
We dined in the main restaurant on our first night, and had a lovely little table in the corner, on a raised platform away from everyone else. The restaurant was atmospheric and the food was superb.
The restaurant doubled up as the breakfast room, where one could have pastries, cold meats and cereals from the buffet, or order hot food from the menu. The buffet wasn’t great – certainly not the best I’ve seen – but the hot food seemed ok, particularly my Nan’s Eggs Benedict. I was still full from the night before, so I didn’t eat much!
Overall, the hotel was excellent. Where it fell short was in the detail. The coffee provided in the rooms was sachets of instant coffee, which was disappointing; having stayed in similar hotels previously, I was expecting freshly ground coffee and a cafetiere. There was no bottled mineral water provided either, and the glasses provided in the rooms were woefully small. Also, check out the placement of the bar on this curtain rail – we couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been placed further across, so that we could actually draw the curtain properly!
The hotel was clearly trying to cultivate a civilised, historic atmosphere by playing classical music throughout the main areas of the hotel, which was good, but they didn’t get that quite right either. In the library bar, for instance, they were belting out a stirring Mendelssohn symphony just a little too loudly; background Chopin piano preludes would have been far more appropriate for the environment.
What’s more, the waitresses were – bafflingly – dressed in some sort of bizarre dresses that were clearly meant to be period costume, but they just looked ridiculous. This tacky attempt at reflecting the castle’s history fell drastically short of the mark, particularly as the male staff were dressed in smart modern clothes.
That said, these are only niggling details and did little to impact on our enjoyment of the weekend. I would stay there again, and shall look back with fond memories of our stay in this grand old castle.