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Who hasn't dreamed of staying in a castle? That fantasy can become reality at Thornbury Castle near Bristol, in England. What better setting to pamper yourself than a romantic castle tucked away in the English countryside? A hearty welcome, dedicated service and royal treatment await.

The castle history began in the year 1509. At that time, Edward Stafford laid elaborate plans to construct a castle at Thornbury. Little did he know what fate held in store for him or his castle.

Stafford was the oldest son of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Edward had succeeded his father to become the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, playing a significant role as High Constable during the first years of King Henry VIII's reign. Because they were on such cordial terms, the King granted Edward permission to locate at Thornbury, just five miles from the River Severn. The actual building commenced in 1511.

Unfortunately, ten years later, in 1521, all work on the castle came to an abrupt halt. Apparently, the Duke was accused of treason by King Henry for "certain words spoken." Guilty or not, the once-mighty Duke fell by the hand of the executioner on Tower Hill in London in May of 1521.

The castle was then appropriated by the infamous King Henry. It's said he visited the castle in 1535 with Anne Boleyn, savoring the peace and quiet of the countryside for ten days. Later, when Mary Tudor became queen, she returned the castle to the descendants of the Duke of Buckingham. The castle then sat unoccupied from the 1550's to the mid-nineteenth century. Luckily, it had a re-birth.

Though neglected for three centuries by its subsequent owners, Buckingham's original concept of a grandiose castle in the late-Medieval style is clear. Befitting the changing times, the castle design was intended to serve more as an impressive, comfortable residence, rather than a fortress. However, it could have been defended if the need arose.

The castle today has eighteen bed chambers, created from the main apartments. Staying at Thornbury feels quite unlike a typical hotel. The words stately, regal and luxurious immediately come to mind. Other guests are rarely seen, or heard. The staff is inconspicuous, though always eager and accommodating.

Each chamber has been restored to include color TV, central heating and telephones, while still retaining the original features of the castle. The rooms are individually decorated, some with carved, canopy beds. Others have large Tudor fireplaces and oriel windows overlooking the gardens. A crystal decanter of sherry and fresh fruit basket greet the weary traveler.

Each chamber is a pleasing combination of elegant Medieval past, with all the conveniences of the present.

The walled garden lends itself to a relaxing, sunset stroll. Rectangular in shape, narrow paths take you through a rainbow of exotic purple, orange and yellow blooms. The fragrance is spell-binding. Thornbury Castle also has it's own vineyards.

But, flowers are not just limited to the formal garden. All along the castle wall, wisteria grow right out of the stone, boldly defying gravity and holding their fragile heads to the sunshine. White and red roses are also in abundance, framing the stone archways.

The enclosed castle courtyard, with its perfectly trimmed grass and white wrought-iron furniture, offers a proper English location for afternoon tea. Tea time never felt more rejuvenating!

Guests can enjoy lunch and dinner at the castle. Two dining rooms are available, both baronial in style. Known for its fine cuisine, the restaurant has been the recipient of numerous dining awards. Every effort is extended to assure an unequaled dining experience. The service is flawless.

The castle lies on the northern edge of the tranquil hamlet of Thornbury, a town happily situated off the usual tourist itinerary. The village is an easy ten-minute walk from the castle. Along the path toward town, you'll pass St. Mary's Parrish Church. In the center of town sits a monumental water pump, reminiscent of earlier days when the pump was essential to the local inhabitants.

Thornbury Castle is a good home base for exploring the region. South Wales, the Cotswolds, Bristol, Wye Valley and Somerset are all within easy reach. If you haven't had your fill of castles, and who has, both Berkeley and Sudeley Castles are nearby.

Those seeking other adventures in the area will find golf, Romans villas, a bird sanctuary, safari park and hot-air ballooning. This list represents just a few of the diverse activities which can be arranged through the reception desk.

The castle offers special programs during Christmas and New Years. Children under 12 years old by prior arrangement only. Thornbury is approximately two-hours drive time from Heathrow Airport, London.