Talk about an understatement. The sign at the top of the puffing spiral staircase read “Dormitory.” But this was no dormitory. On the upper level of the 110ft Norman keep of Hedingham Castle in Essex, this room looked fit for royalty.
First, an ornate four-poster bed in dusty rose and gold stood majestically on a raised dais beneath a beamed ceiling. Deep alcoves with stunning views across the countryside reached 12 feet into walls steeped in history – Matilda, wife of King Stephen of England, died in the castle in 1151 and Henry VII visited for a week in 1496.
But there were also modern conveniences, cleverly hidden so as not to look anachronistic. A huge carved closet at the foot of the bed opened to reveal a bathtub, behind which a push of a button opened a coat of arms on the wall to reveal a flat screen TV. To one side of the chamber, a wardrobe concealed a fridge stocked with goodies, including smoked salmon and charcuterie for breakfast, and half a bottle of English sparkling wine. A modern loo was tucked away in a small room on the other side (no old wardrobes here).
Could this be Britain’s classiest B&B? “It is probably the noblest and possibly the most majestic,” was the humble reply of Demetra Lindsay, who runs the castle with husband Jason, a descendant of Charles II’s bastard son and Nell Gwynne. “How many places can you sleep in a 900-year-old Norman keep?”
The newly opened Royal Chamber is certainly exclusive: it’s the only bedroom in the five-storey Hedingham Castle, a textbook example of a Norman keep built in 1140 on land given by William the Conqueror to Aubrey de Vere, whose descendants became the powerful Earls of Oxford . While it can be booked as part of a wedding on the lower floors of the castle, it is also available as a B&B if you fancy having an entire castle to yourself.
I did, and was the first journalist to come through the wooden door – a knight in a castle – and drag my sister (born a knight, now demoted to a court) up the winding brick steps with me.
The room has long been the dream of the Lindsays, who have lived here since they moved into the 18th centuryth19th century manor house just across the Tudor Bridge from the Castle in 2004. Then came Covid which effectively stopped the clock while cash was provided through a government heritage grant.
It hasn’t been easy, although art dealer Jason is doing much of the construction work, while Demetra, an architect, liaises with the relevant authorities to obtain the plethora of permits required to work on such a historic building.
“It was a never-ending project,” said Jason, describing the challenges associated with insulating, heating and installing a bathroom on top of the keep. Not to mention getting everything up that spiral staircase; Particularly problematic was the bath, which was carried by “very grumpy men who needed a lot of chocolate afterwards,” Demetra said.
Look closely at the carvings on the front of the wooden cabinet and you can see the profile of someone who looks like Cleopatra staring at a more Georgian-looking gentleman. It’s just one example of the couple’s use of antiques, bargain hunters, upcycling and a bit of know-how; the wood came from another piece of furniture but was only partially carved, so Jason added what should be Demetra’s profile.
They found the bed on eBay and Jason built the pedestal underneath using timber from Southend Pier after being tipped off by Jamie Oliver, who was filming in Hedingham, that it might be available.
As an unusual extra, the chamber shares the top floor of the keep with an escape room, a game in which participants fight to solve a series of clues. It was a topical pre-dinner exercise for my sister and I to try out the Magna Carta game while learning that King John besieged the castle in 1216.
Dinner is a short walk away at one of the pubs in the charming village of Hedingham Castle. However, you can opt for an even more exclusive experience, with a feast for two on the castle’s main floor beneath an enormous Norman arch, said to be the tallest in Britain at 28ft wide and 20ft high.
Don’t drink too much – I counted 106 steps to the room where the bath and champagne beckoned, with the TV screen displaying a roaring fire to add to the atmosphere. The bed proved extremely comfortable, although I could swear I heard a ghost rumbling through the Escape Room, although my sister pointed out it was just the heater.
If the Royal Chamber has one downside, it’s that it’s only separated from the Escape Room by huge floor-to-ceiling curtains and not a solid wall. While you won’t notice this from the bedroom, it lacks grandeur when you approach it via the Escape Room.
However, it’s a small price to pay for a night in a castle. The next morning we enjoyed a private tour, taking in the intricate chevron shapes of round window arches and old graffiti on the walls of the minstrel’s gallery, before exploring the grounds that were once home to castle buildings, including an octagonal Tudor tower .
In the past I have stayed in the room where Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn are said to have slept at Thornbury Castle in Gloucestershire, in a room with a loophole in the bathroom at Amberley Castle in Sussex and in the Tudor village next to Hever Castle in Kent . But I’ve never had a whole castle to myself. As far as chic B&B stays go, this one has really reached the heights.
Jane Knight was a guest at Hedingham Castle. A night in the King’s Chamber costs £595, including half a bottle of champagne and breakfast. With dinner for two, the price is £1,195. See hedinghamcastle.co.uk.