St Briavels Castle near Lydney in Gloucestershire is a bona fide 12th Century castle featured in many ‘most haunted’ TV programmes. Owned by English Heritage and operated by the Youth Hostel Association, St Briavels must be one of the most unusual places that you can stay for the bargain sum of £65 for a private room for 4 – yes that’s for the whole room for 4 people, not per person. Dorm beds start at £18 per person per night. Check website for details of up to date pricing and availability – this place is popular and gets booked well in advance.
If you haven’t been youth hostelling for many years you will be pleased to know that the daily chores are history so you won’t be washing up or sweeping the floors. You will be supporting an organisation that maintains some unique buildings and gives you the chance to stay in some inspirational places. For every kid who’s dreamt of going to Hogwarts, staying the night at St Briavels may be the closest they are going to get and my children were raring to go.
The castle at St Briavels has been many things over the years, a hunting lodge for King John in the 13th Century, a courtroom, a debtors prison and an armaments store. Executions took place here and it’s easy to believe that the souls of the imprisoned and the executed may still wander the uneven stony corridors within <shiver>.
We had a family dorm room for 6 people and our friends had a family room for 4 people up a stone spiral staircase. Our room, the Oubliette, holds some ghastly secrets. The dorms are basic with bunk beds and spartan furniture. You don’t come here for luxury accommodation, you come here for the experience!
We had booked in advance for the Saturday evening Medieval banquet – again check website for availability, pricing and booking arrangements. If you are of a nervous disposition and don’t want to stay in the castle you can still book for dinner. They also do a supper club some evenings or you can self-cater using their kitchen. There is a pub next door to the castle too.
At St Briavels, you can get in the medieval mood by dressing for the occasion in period attire. They have costumes to borrow or take your own. Suitably garbed up we joined our fellow guests in the medieval dining hall. Our companions were a Canadian school hockey team on tour, 2 other families and a walking group. Wearing a wimple sure breaks down the barriers between groups. Our host for the evening was a raconteur of medieval tales – a wonderful host and entertainer. The meal was served medieval style without cutlery. If you have ever wondered how to eat potage soup without a spoon now’s your chance to find out. The food was delicious – chicken and vegatables followed the soup and then cake. All accompanied by drinks from the bar, much banging on tables and lots of medieval story telling.
After dinner there was a mystery to solve around the castle which gave the chance to explore lots of the rooms. A big hit with the kids.
And so to bed across the stone courtyard ……unfortunately I didn’t sleep very well. Whether it was a ghostly presence or just plain freezing outside I was cold even when I nabbed the duvet off one of the empty beds in our room. A restless night over, we made our own breakfast in the small kitchen the next morning with supplies we brought with us but you can opt for the hostel breakfast. A tour of the castle followed with the warden telling us the ghostly tales and history of St Briavels- absolutely fascinating. The graffiti carved into the walls by prisoners hundreds of years ago is still there, the prison tower now being a dorm. King John stayed here regularly so you also step in the footsteps of royalty. Our room, the Oubliette turned out to be the most haunted room in the castle and I had ‘slept’ in the most haunted bed #thatexplains it.
Following the tour we tried our hands at archery in the castle gardens before setting off to explore the area. With Symonds Yat, Goodrich Castle and the Wye Valley on the doorstep, the castle makes a great base. St Briavels though is a destination in itself and a truly unusual experience not to be missed.
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