Back in March, my friend Clare and I took a ‘Thelma and Louise’ style Cotswolds tour. We’d both just gone freelance and were embracing our new found freedom. I laughed so much I practically bruised my ribcage. But it’s not everyday you get a guided tour round Berkeley Castle, by the current custodian Charles Berkeley. The 26th generation to run the estate, which has been in his family for nearly 900 years.
It’s a little bit like the two princes in the tower,’ I remark as Charles points up to the bedroom he and his brother slept in as children. It must have been the ultimate playground for two little boys. Very Dungeons and Dragons!
An ancient fortress, with stairs where boiling oil was poured on intruders. A dungeon pit, where rotting human and animal remains putrefied. Note the hunt ball guest who once stayed in the bedroom next to the dungeon, ‘got the willies’ one night and had to push the furniture against the door for fear of ghoulish visitors. Whilst Charles’ mother has seen a ghost or two in her time. Although Victorian ladies drinking tea that vanish on approach sound like my kind of ghosts.
Charles has none of the weariness sometimes attached with inheriting a vast historic estate. His love and knowledge of all the objects, rooms and history of the Castle positively brims over. So much so we make him late for the school run! He often personally takes groups on tours round. The castle was first opened to the public on Easter Day in 1956. Having spent a childhood sharing his home with visitorsI get the impression, Charles delights in seeing Berkeley come alive with those who enjoy it as much as he does.
Isn’t this the most decadent and glamorous bathroom you’ve ever seen? Molly Lowell, the 8th Earl’s wife from Boston had the marble panels with bronze relief taken from the Waldorf Astoria in New York and reinstated here in their private quarters. I love the bright plastic beakers and the brass wire rack over the bath.
These are also some of my favourite photos I’ve taken this year. I love the mustard yellow hunting livery worn by all the various members of the Berkeley family. Their portraits surveying those who dine in The Billiard Room. Chasing across the mantelpiece are tiny hunting toys and figures below in matching coats.
Pearing into the Guard Room where according to tradition, Edward II was murdered in 1327.
The Cypress chest, which may have belonged to Sir Frances Drake.
The magnificent carved four poster bed where Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn slept…..
It would tempting to never change a thing at Berkeley. It is perfection. The BBC knew it too -they filmed Wolf Hall here. The Small Drawing Room looks like something out a Robert Kime’s interior. Every custodian has left his own mark and the 8th earl made plenty of alterations inspired his love affair with Italy during the 1920s. I’m looking forward to seeing Charles’ own stamp on Berkeley.
Charles especially loves meeting experts in speciality fields, who help unravel further layers of the castle’s history. So contact Berkeley if you would like to arrange a niche tour of particular interest. It will make the loveliest backdrop for a Midsummer Night’s Dream- which they are staging in July 2016. And have a cream tea on me.