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No Ordinary Hotel - but a very Ordinary Room
Lumley Castle Hotel (Durham)
Member Name: koshkha
Lumley Castle Hotel (Durham)
Advantages: A lovely bit of history and lots of authentic features in the actual castle
Disadvantages: Stable rooms were a bit of a let down
Lumley Castle was one of my Lastminute.com bargains for our trip to the north east of England at the end of June this year. I found it as a result of a rather vague search for hotels in the Durham area and of course it was hard to resist the idea of a night at a castle for the surprisingly reasonable price of £69 including breakfast. I booked about 3 weeks before we were due to go - so not very last minute at all really. Good prices are only available on the less popular nights - typically Sunday and Monday nights are quiet - and our visit was on a Monday.
I was not expecting much in the way of grandeur since I've stayed in numerous grand country house type places where only those people willing to pay a small fortune can get a room in the historic part of the hotel and we penny-pinching folk are consigned to a broom cupboard somewhere on the back of the place, next to the dustbins.
The closest town to Lumley Castle is Chester Le Street, six or seven miles north of Durham. The castle is located close to the Chester Le Street golf course and Durham County Cricket ground, up a long tree-lined driveway. Aside from the presence of what looked like an old 'travellers' bus in a layby by the entrance, the first impressions are very striking. It's not surprising - the castle has stood on the site for over six centuries and it was obviously built to deliver a very clear 'Go away, you're not welcome' message to would-be attackers. It's a massive, honey-coloured stone building that was built to impress. It started life as a rather more modest manor house but was converted to a castle back in the late 14th century. In much more recent times, it became a hotel as part of the bizarrely named 'No Ordinary Hotel' group back in 1976 - and to my eyes if I say that this place is 'dated' it's to the 1970s and not the 14th century.
~Just because it's a castle, don't assume you'll be staying in the grand bit~
Initially we parked outside the castle walls before later moving the car inside the courtyard. We didn't know where we would be given a room so we were making no assumptions. We passed through the courtyard and in through the rather unimpressive entrance to the reception area. If I recall correctly, there was a sign explaining that the hotel were aware that this didn't look as impressive as it should but it was the most practical way to get in. Once inside our check-in was friendly but took place in a room so dark that you'd probably develop pink eyes and whiskers if you worked there. The man on reception was friendly but seemed disappointed that we didn't want a wake up call or a newspaper. We'd already paid up front so there was no need to give them a credit card but I did ask if they could let us know the wi-fi code. Mr Reception knew the ten digit code for the wi-fi by heart but happily told us where we could find the details in the room since I wasn't likely to remember it. Before heading to our room we checked the menu for the restaurant to see if we fancied dinner but it was a bit too traditional 'meat and veg' to appeal and we headed out later to an Indian restaurant we'd spotted on the way to the hotel.
We were given room 33 which lies across the courtyard from the castle in the converted stable blocks. Room 33 was upstairs so the room was in the eaves of the building making it unlikely to be suitable for very tall people due to all the wooden beams suspended about a foot below the ceiling. I would recommend asking to not have an upstairs stable room if you are likely to bump your head. The room was cute in a slightly gimicky 'olde worlde' rather Disneyfied way. As someone who's lived in two converted barns, a converted stable probably doesn't appeal to me as much as it might to someone who's lived their life in a modern beam-free house.
The only natural light came from a small dormer window overlooking the court yard. The double bed was a bit soft and was collapsing a bit at the edge and had been placed asymmetrically to take up half the width of the room in order to leave space for the door to the bathroom. As a result of this lay out and the steeply sloping ceiling my husband's side of the bed had very restricted head room and no space for a bedside table and that was on my side. The bedside table on my side looked like an old-fashioned 'pot cupboard' and its partner was over on the other side of the room playing host to the coffee and tea tray. I like a bit of space next to the bed but most of it was taken up by the phone and a lamp so there was barely room for my tablets, glass of water and a book.
The other side of the room was rather cluttered with furniture. There was a nice big old wing arm chair, a tall 'pot cupboard' (matching the bedside one) with the kettle and tea and coffee stuff. Then there was a dressing table and a deep niche in the wall for your suitcases which oddly was lit with concealed lighting. Why did they do that? To make sure my poor bag wouldn't be scared of the dark perhaps. The wardrobe was tucked behind a deeply upholstered door and had a trouser press and a mini ironing board with iron. There was also a flat screen television perched on another dark wood chest of drawers. This was not a big room so if you're counting the number of different items of furniture you'll probably have worked out it was all a bit cluttered.
In contrast with the bedroom which was a bit of a squeeze, the bathroom was big and bright and there were plenty of places to actually put stuff. I realise that sounds a bit daft but I've stayed in far too many hotels this year where I've had to put my washbag on the floor or the cistern or even leave it in the bedroom. The loo was rather old fashioned but pleasantely so with a proper high wall-mounted cistern. There was a bath with a shower above it but annoyingly the bottles of toiletries on the wall were only reachable if you were having a shower and couldn't be reached whilst lying in the bath. I liked the brass towel rail and the sense of space in the bathroom.
~How do you like your eggs done?~
Finding the breakfast room was our first big challenge the next morning (after the challenge of not hitting our heads on any part of the room). Once you get inside the castle it's very impressive but very confusing. In some places it's also very dark and the old stone flooring can be quite uneven, so much so that there are signs warning you to take care. I loved the old building and the original features but in places the castle is a bit Disneyfied and worthy of a good chortle. Once we finally found the breakfast room, after laughing our way down a corridor of spot-lit heads on plinths, we grabbed a really nice table by the window. There was nobody to greet us so we took matters into our own hands. After so many dark corridors I wanted to actually be able to see my food. I think we committed some kind of offence by not waiting to be seated because I heard one of the waitresses muttering that someone had taken a particular table which I suspect was ours. There was even a table on a platform with curtains all round it which I took to be the top spot and probably reserved for special guests.
Hot food was cooked to order so I ordered a vegetarian Eggs Benedict (no ham), forgetting that I don't really like Hollandaise sauce and it was beautifully cooked although I did end up scraping off most of the sauce. My husband went for a full English which left him so stuffed that he later skipped lunch. It's rather an old-fashioned and formal breakfast service with partial 'help yourself' on the cold items which we skipped to avoid overdoing things too much. On our way back from the breakfast room we stuck our noses round the door of one of the spectacular private dining rooms which looked beautiful.
~What else can you expect?~
The grounds are well kept and you can easily take a walk around the castle to have a good look at the place. If you're a golfer, I think they have arrangements with the local golf club and if you're a cricket fan, the proximity to the stadium could be advantageous. The hotel offers lots of special deals on food and accommodation, including afternoon teas, Elizabethan banquets and romantic dinner, bed and breakfast deals. If you want to visit, it's well worth checking out their website to see what's available.
I would suggest that Lumley Castle is a fantastic venue for a big event - a wedding, a big business 'do' or similar - but it's a bit too shabby on the courtyard accommodation and a bit too 'stuffy' on the dining rooms to make it somewhere I would rush back to. There are many lovely places to sit and chat with open fires in the library (even in June) and a lovely courtyard with a lawn. However, I didn't feel entirely comfortable with some of the more caricature aspects of the place. If you just want accommodation, it's a bit second rate though bearing in mind what we paid for the night, I still think we got a bit of a bargain, especially with breakfast included.
Lumley Castle Hotel
Chester le Street
Summary: Lovely Lumley but it could have been even better