Travel review: Stepping back in time at a Northumbrian castle

The modern extension at the rear of the castle
The modern extension at the rear of the castle
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THERE’S nothing quite like curling up in front of a roaring log fire to make you feel regal - especially in the surroundings of a 14th century castle, as Lindsay Pantry discovered.

As autumn takes a decidedly more wintery turn, there was something warmly comforting about the candle-lit tables, spiral staircases, and four-poster beds of Langley Castle - or perhaps it could just be the 7ft thick walls that were holding out the chill.

One of the castle's nine bedrooms

One of the castle's nine bedrooms

My family and I arrived for a short break just as dusk had fallen. Driving up the private driveway, Langley presented an imposing - yet welcoming - sight.

A five-time winner of the North East’s Small Hotel of the Year, our expectations of the four star castle were high, and the friendly welcome, including help with our array of luggage, meant we got off to a great start.

Up the aforementioned spiral staircase, complete with uneven steps, which we would later find out, was a defence measure to halt attacking soldiers, we were taken to our room, one of four deluxe rooms in the castle.

The castle itself has nine rooms, each named after a figure from its history, and a further 18 rooms at Castle View, a collection of mini suites set in the 10 acre grounds.

Relaxed fine dining at the Josephine Restaurant

Relaxed fine dining at the Josephine Restaurant

Named after Henry Percy, the first Earl of Northumberland immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, The Percy Room is dominated by a Queen-size four poster bed, and beautiful window seat, set in the deep castle walls, which seemed the perfect place to relax with a good book.

Percy’s connection with Langley is down to his wife, Lady Langley Maud de Lucy, who inherited the castle after the death of her father in 1365. Maud died in 1389 and Langley was added to Percy’s bustling castle portfolio, which also included Alnwick and Warkworth.

But it was under his care that in 1405, while Percy was part of the revolt against King Henry VI, that his titles and estates were forfeited, and Langley Castle was gutted by fire.

More fool Percy for not keeping a closer eye on his castle, but luckily for us, the many twists and turns of the castle’s history would mean it was still here for us to enjoy over 600 years later.

Langley Castle

Langley Castle

But more on the the castle’s history later, now for the present.

One of the main draws of Langley today - other than its impressive history - is its restaurant.

The Josephine Restaurant has achieved a two Rosette status from the AA since 2009, and the dinner package included with our room had us hungrily skipping down the castle stairs ready to try head chef Mark Percival’s menu.

We were seated in the Drawing Room to peruse the menu in front of a roaring log fire. A selection of nibbles were offered as we had a quick drink while we waited to be shown to the restaurant. It was a lovely touch, relaxing on the large comfy sofas rather than being sat waiting at a table - though it wasn’t long before we were taken downstairs.

The Castle View suites, set in the grounds.

The Castle View suites, set in the grounds.

The restaurant itself is intimate and very in keeping with the rest of the decor of the castle. Despite its four star status, there is nothing stuffy about the atmosphere, and even with a raucous one-year-old, the staff ensured we felt welcome and at home. Dinner began with a complimentary amuse bouche of ham hock - very Northumbrian. We’d specifically asked if our child’s food, chosen from the tasty looking children’s menu, could come out as soon as possible, and the kitchen obliged.

The food lived up to its fine dining reputation, but with a Northumbrian touch. You certainly won’t go hungry.

The menu is seasonal and changed each night of our stay - but we particularly enjoyed lobster risotto and wood pigeon to start, and the beef two ways - short rib and fillet, served with shallot and foie gras jus, and the stone bass, served with lentils and Toulouse sausage, over our two nights dining at Langley.

After a restful night, we indulged in a full - and very tasty - Northumbrian breakfast before joining other guests for a battlements tour. The short trip took in some of the castle’s highlights before heading up to the roof to admire the view before settling to watch a film about the castle’s history.

Built in 1350 by Sir Thomas De Lucy, the castle and its baronry have had multiple owners, notably Percy, and James, Earl of Derwentwater, who was beheaded at the Tower of London for his role in the Jacobean rebellion.

After being reclaimed by the crown in 1749, Langley was given to the Governors of the Royal Hospital for Seamen in Greenwich as a source of income, and in 1882, it was sold to a local historian who began an extensive restoration. After his death, the work was completed by his wife Josephine d’Echarvines, who used it as a private family home until 1932.

During the Second World War it became a barracks, and in the 1950s a boarding school, before becoming a medieval banquet hall in the 1970s.

In 1986 it was bought be American Dr Stuart Madnick, who set about converting it into the hotel it is today.

After the tour we headed outside for a change of pace - a bushcraft and firelighting session in the castle grounds.

Ran by Wild Dog Outdoors, a tour company set up by a former Langley Castle employee, the short session had us feeling like Bear Grylls as we learnt the best firelighting methods and even crafted our own throwing arrows.

The company also runs tours of nearby historical sites, including Hadrian’s Walls and forts, the Stone Circles of Cumbria and castles on the Northumbrian coastline.

Langley, situated in Hexham, is just around 30 minutes drive from Newcastle Airport and ideally placed for exploring wider Northumberland, Newcastle and Durham.

If you’re wanting to stay locally, the castle staff can also arrange for clay pigeon shooting in the grounds, archery and other activities.

But for us, the rest of our stay was for relaxing - and indulging yet again in the restaurant.

GETTING THERE

Langley Castle is at Langley-on-Tyne, Hexham, Northumberland.

A range of breaks are available, with different dining options at the two AA Rosette restaurant.

The booking information can be found at www.langleycastle.com or by calling 01434 688888.

For information on tours with Wild Dog Outdoors, visit www.wilddogoutdoors.co.uk

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