TJ and I had been driving in silence for about 30 minutes because, before that, I was driving us both nuts being a truly obnoxious passenger-side driver. It’s the type of silence that only a couple who’s been together for a long time knows is just a “Yup, you’re right, I’m being annoying, I’ll give us both a break.”
We’d started our journey earlier that day, a crisp May morning in Carmarthen, Wales. Our destination: Greystoke Castle in Cumbria, England, about a 5-6 hour drive taken through the rolling Snowdonia mountains.
So, now, late in the afternoon, we roll up to Greystoke Castle. If you live in the UK, this is probably a fairly common thing. But for two Americans, it’s always a WTF moment when you know within a few minutes, you’ll be checking in for the night in a castle.
TJ thinks we’re in the wrong spot because I haven’t told him exactly where to park and where to go in, which I normally do. But, truth is, I’m as clueless as he is because there’s a huge empty gravel lot in front of the huge castle, and we’re the only car around. Do we just knock on the also huge castle door and hope someone can hear it?
Well, it’s 2019, so a quick message via Airbnb, and our host Odette comes to greet us. And as it turns out, she most certainly would not have heard us knock because her living quarters are in the far wing of the house… errr… castle.
We enter the castle and TJ immediately laughs. It’s that’s laugh he does when he’s thinking, “My god, this is f*cking amazing.” Except this time, he doesn’t just think it, he also states it. We both walk into the grand hall, our mouths gaping at how much bigger it is than the photos looked.
Odette welcomes us in like your cousin would; we instantly feel at ease and welcome to roam around. She’s clearly a woman who is quite used to living in a castle, and says it’s “dark, damp, and dreary.” But we bloody love it, if we’re allowed to adopt the lingo.
The castle had been private until February 2019, not open to the public whatsoever on the massive estate. Lucky for us commoners, the castle is now offered as a bed and breakfast on Airbnb. We’d chosen the Silver Room. It had a private bathroom down the hall, and what sold me was the huge windows and sitting inlet overlooking the front of the grounds. The link to that room is here: SILVER ROOM on Airbnb.
There are four other rooms, which you can find HERE.
We unload our luggage from the car. A man on quite an impressive lawnmower drives up to us. He greets us stoutly with a simple, “Hi!” He’s direct, kind, and proud of the place, and we discover his name is Neville.
THE Neville Howard, as we find out later, after we have a very casual conversation with the man, and then realize he’s the most current owner of the castle. He no longer lives in the castle, however, that task of managing it is now up to Odette, his step-daughter. He spends 14 hours a week mowing the lawn, and lives in a beautiful grand house just inside the entrance of the estate.
We take a walk around the gardens, over the bridge, through the bluebells and rain, and back around to the boat house. There’s also a waterfall, and an abandoned ice house.
Odette suggests we walk down the driveway into Greystoke village itself, and eat at The Boot and Shoe Inn. It’s a 5 minute walk, so we tromp down and get reservations.
We’re greeted by a jovial man who works there, Ben, and he seats us at our table. He thinks I’m Australian, and TJ tells him that I’m originally from Idaho. Ben immediately adopts a thick cowboy accent, turns to me, and announces, “Idaho? ‘God Dammit!'” If that was the catch-phrase of Idaho, I’d missed it in my years growing up there. But, now, come to think of it, I do say “God Dammit” an awful lot.
Later, Ben checks on us, and impersonates Elvis. He eventually drops his act, and he asks us how we like Greystoke and where we’re staying. We tell him up at the castle and his eyes go wide, “Ohhhhhh, with all the ghosts, eh?”
Greystoke has quite a reputation, not only for its 1,000+ years of history (including fires, rebuilds, etc), and the long line of respectable Howards who have owned it since the 1500s, but also for its nine ghosts.
Odette’s husband Alex confirms this the next morning while we walk around the grounds with him and their dogs, but he’s only personally seen the lady in white. Apparently, he says, there’s a monk who was walled up, the Butler who likes to play tricks on people in the wine cellar, where he drowned in one of the huge barrels (what a way to go), Nasty Bastard who lives in the far end of the castle above Odette and Alex, and a few others. It’s a good laugh, nothing we’re worried about. As we’ve discovered previously on our travels to the UK, most any building can be expected to have some sort of legend of spirits. It just comes with age.
As we walk back from Boot and Shoe after saying our goodbyes to Ben, the sky glows a deep evening blue from behind the warmly lit castle, although it’s nearly 10p.
We’re invited into the library to hang out with the other guests, who are fellow Californians, a couple from San Francisco. While the rest of the castle holds onto its springtime chill, the library fire is roaring. With its red walls and dark wood bookcases, it’s hard for me not to grab my camera to snap a hundred photos of the place. But, I remind myself this is largely a family home, and we’re lucky to be invited into the library at all, so it doesn’t need to turn into a tourist photoshoot. Instead, I cement the image of the fire flickering along the walls and the dogs sitting in their loveseats, and we enjoy a few hours of drinks and company.
We jump into bed after midnight, and as I sink into the ginormous, fluffy bed, I wonder if I’ll be woken up in the middle of the night by some ghostie. But, before I know it, the morning sun is shining through the massive casement windows and it’s time for breakfast.
Breakfast is cooked by Odette in the castle kitchen. The table sits within a bay of more absolutely gorgeous windows with a window-seat. A swan is swimming out on the pond. It’s right out of a Jane Austen book, and I’m completely geeking out inside.
Oddly though, the entire trip, we’ve felt right at home. It’s actually pretty easy to get comfortable in someone else’s castle, as it turns out.
We pack up, take that last walk with Alex, and we’re on our way to Scotland.
If you only have one night to stay at Greystoke, don’t hesitate. It’s well worth it. If you’d like more information on the history of the castle, visit their website: GREYSTOKE CASTLE