Stuart Forster reviews a stay at Lumley Castle Hotel in Chester-le-Street, County Durham.
Like the idea of a stay in an English castle? It’s possible at the Lumley Castle Hotel, a four-star property with a state-of-the-art escape room and a restaurant serving modern British cuisine.
England’s north-east is dotted with castles. They stand as a legacy of turbulent times centuries ago when English and Scottish forces clashed frequently. Lumley Castle was constructed from 1389 for Sir Ralph Lumley, who just a year earlier had been taken prisoner by Scots while fighting at the Battle of Otterburn.
Three centuries ago, the castle underwent renovations by one of England’s most celebrated architects, Sir John Vanbrugh. It later became a residence of the Bishop of Durham and has been utilised as place of learning by Durham University. In 1976 the Grade I listed building opened as a hotel, presenting guests with opportunities to stay overnight in a castle.
Rooms at Lumley Castle Hotel
Lumley Castle Hotel has a total of 73 guestrooms in seven categories. They range from Courtyard Classic rooms, in the converted stable block adjacent to the castle, to the King James Suite. The suite is named after King James I of England who stayed in the castle in 1603, the first year of his reign.
Accompanied by my partner, I spent a night in one of the Courtyard State rooms. Comfortable and spacious, the classically furnished room featured a four-poster bed and Nespresso coffee making machine. Framed prints of woodcuts depicting characters from British history, including Mary Queen of Scots and Oliver Cromwell, hung in the bedroom and bathroom.
The bathroom featured a bathtub and shower. It was stocked with Bulgari toiletries and bathrobes hung in the wardrobe.
Food at Lumley Castle hotel
Lumley Castle’s Knights Restaurant and Library Bar underwent refurbishment early in 2020. The lengthy closure of British hospitality venues, due to the coronavirus pandemic, means that many locals are yet to visit and experience what they can offer since reopening. Dinner sittings are from 6.30pm.
Prior to dinner, we were shown to seats in the bar to peruse the menu over drinks. I opted for a classic gin-based Bramble rather than one of the seasonal cocktails. Impressed by the mixologist’s work, I ordered a second.
The dining concept is based around a comfortable interpretation of a cathedral-style refectory with handcrafted pottery. The vaulted arching of the restaurant’s ceiling is a natural fit.
Executive chef Craig Sherrington has developed a modern menu incorporating locally sourced ingredients and regional dishes such as Northumberland vegetable broth and roast Lakeland lamb.
A beautifully present starter
The cured and torched mackerel proved a beautifully presented starter. Following our server’s recommendation, we also ordered a spring onion bhaji. Served with a smoked cheese sauce, the lightly spiced bhaji was impressively flavoursome and succulent.
The choice of mains included blackened salmon and braised pork belly but neither of us looked beyond the temptation of a rib eye steak. The 28-day aged steaks were served with a roast tomato and a flavour-packed field mushroom plus a choice of two side dishes.
To accompany the steaks we selected two glasses of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve des Argentiers from the hotel’s Priority Wine List. Its options are served in sizes from 125-millilitre glasses upwards.
Service in the Knights Restaurant was attentive and the food enjoyable.
Measures to combat Covid-19
The pandemic is having a major impact on leisure travel and businesses in the hospitality industry. With people favouring staycations over holidays abroad, hotels in north-east England may be able to attraction clients who normally favour far-flung destinations for weekend breaks.
Reassuringly, Lumley Castle Hotel has introduced visible measures to minimise the risk of infection during the coronavirus pandemic. A one-way route has been introduced in corridors. Face masks are provided and wearing them is mandatory while walking along corridors.
While checking in, I noticed that the pens at the reception had been disinfected and placed in small bags.
One potential downside during the COVID-19 pandemic is that luggage is not being stored in the hotel. The capacity of the restaurant and bar have also been cut.
A stroll through the hotel
The first photograph that I ever developed (on film, in a darkroom) was of one of the Roman-style busts in one of the corridors of the Lumley Castle Hotel. Many years on, I was pleased to see that the heads are still present. This time my photos were digital.
According to legend, the woman who had a relationship with Sir Ralph Lumley before his marriage was bundled down a well by priests. The ghost of Lily of Lumley is reputed to haunt the castle. She features as a character in the escape room, which lays claim to being the first in any English castle.
I’m grateful to general manager Gordon Cartwright for taking the time to walk us through the grand function rooms usually used during wedding receptions and corporate events at Lumley Castle Hotel.
The castle proved a pleasant base for a romantic night away with dinner.
Things to do near Lumley Castle Hotel
Lumley Castle is ideally placed if you’re looking for a base to attend a cricket match at the Durham Riverside ground. The ground, where England won the Ashes in 2013, is less than a mile from the hotel.
The footpaths of Chester-le-Street’s Riverside Park are well-suited for a relaxing stroll or run. A five-kilometre parkrun takes place each Saturday morning at 9.00am. The park is across the other side of the River Wear to the hotel.
Play golf? Chester-le-Street Golf Club is next to Lumley Castle Hotel. The two collaborate to offer morning tee times to guests staying at the hotel. The 18-hole course was laid out in the early part of the last century to a design by two Open Championship winners.
A market is held in Chester-le-Street on Fridays and Saturdays.
From Chester-le-Street it’s a 15 minute drive to Durham City, less than eight miles to the south. It takes five minutes on a train to get to Durham, whose UNESCO World Heritage Site castle and cathedral count as the headline attractions.
Another option is to park at the foot of Penshaw Hill, six miles away, and visit Penshaw Monument. Reminiscent of a Greek temple, the National Trust-operated memorial to the Earl of Durham counts among reasons to visit Sunderland.
Newcastle upon Tyne, 11 miles from Chester-le-Street, is an eight-minute journey by train. Known for its nightlife, Newcastle has several museums and art galleries that warrant visiting.
See the Lumley Castle Hotel (Ropery Lane, Chester-le-Street, DH3 4NX; tel. 0191 389 1111) website for more information about the hotel, castle’s history and rooms. The website also has information about the Lumley Castle afternoon tea, weddings at the castle, special offers and events such as whisky tastings.
Interested in getting a good deal for a weekend break? Registering for membership of the Lumley Castle Priority Club provides access to offers including discounted stays and meals. It also means being able to select wines from the Priority Wine List while dining in the hotel’s Knights Restaurant.
The escape room at Lumley Castle Hotel can be booked for between two and six players.
Lumley Castle Hotel has free onsite parking and free access to wi-fi.
Take a look at the This is Durham website for more information about things to do in County Durham.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography, which is available for to undertake travel and food photography shoots across north-east England and beyond.
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