Christine Chau, one half of the team behind luxury dog bed brand Charley Chau, gives us a tour of the award-winning, dog friendly Astley Castle in Warwickshire.
Staying in a ruin is not everyone’s idea of a holiday but Astley Castle is a very special kind of ruin. In 2013, following its breathtaking and brilliant restoration by the Landmark Trust, Astley won the RIBA Stirling Prize, the UK’s most prestigious prize for architecture. As with all Landmark properties, Astley is available to rent as a self-catering holiday home and it’s dog friendly too!
Technically a moated manor house, Astley Castle dates back to the twelfth century and has associations with three queens of England through the Grey family, including Lady Jane Grey, queen for just nine days before being tried for high treason and beheaded. Despite its royal connections, Astley fell to ruin and by 2013 was on English Heritage’s top 20 “most endangered” list of historic buildings in the UK. The Landmark Trust took on the restoration of Astley, with a bold and brave approach to the project. The results are what stands today as a unique and inspiring building.
Guests enter the grounds on foot through a small iron gate and approach the main house through an impressive courtyard formed by the outer ruins of the Castle. It’s only when you step through the doors into the main house that you are struck for the first time by the seamless marriage of modern and medieval.
The main house is spacious, the simple gardens extensive, and the moat is still there to keep intruders out – this is the perfect place for spending a long weekend, or even a week, just pottering about with the dogs.
Astley sleeps eight humans (two doubles and two twins) and up to two dogs. The four bedrooms and three bathrooms are accessed from the large and impressive entrance hall on the ground floor.
An incredible geometric staircase leads from the hall on the ground floor up to the first floor – it’s a beautiful piece of design but doggies beware … there are gaps between the stair treads and some dogs may find going up and down a little spooky! There is a lift for wheelchair access so if your dog doesn’t like the stairs there’s an alternative.
On the first floor is a vast, open-plan living space and it was in this room that we spent most of our time. It is a spectacular space – light, airy, calm and peaceful. There’s also a rather impressive wood burning stove for cold winter evenings and logs can be arranged via the housekeeper in advance.
Astley has been restored to provide very comfortable, modern living accommodation. Bed linen, towels, etc. are all provided. However, as with all Landmark’s, Astley is a place of escape so there is no television, radio, telephone or wifi, and mobile phone signal is patchy – it really is a place to switch off and tune out!
The gardens at Astley are surrounded by the former moat. It’s no longer filled to the top with water but it is steep and overgrown. That was enough to keep our dogs safely “in” as Italian Greyhounds are not known for being intrepid explorers. More adventurous dogs may be able to scale the moat and head off in to the surrounding fields so we’d advise all dog owners to have a good ‘rekkie’ and decide whether your dogs are safe to run around unsupervised. We were more than happy for our dogs to run in and out as they wished and basically left the front door open all day, every day during our stay.
A word on parking … guests park in a gated stable yard that is one minute’s walk from the main house. Wheelbarrows are provided to transport gear from the stable yard to the main house. All very charming!
FOOD & DRINK
Astley Castle is a self-catering property so either stockpile the car before you leave home or arrange a grocery delivery to Astley – and get ready with the wheel barrows! We organiSed two separate deliveries through Ocado and all went smoothly. There are a couple of small convenience stores a short drive away in Stockingford if you need to pop out for essentials.
The kitchen at Astley is well equipped – range cooker, microwave, two fridges, dishwasher and all the implements you would expect. There is plenty of crockery and glassware too – enough to have a couple of guests over for dinner on top of the eight guests. In terms of dining spaces there is a huge dining table in the main room and an al fresco dining space in the courtyard which we took full advantage of to have supper by candlelight – a truly memorable evening.
THINGS TO DO
We were in total escape mode when we went to stay at Astley and spent most of our time within the grounds of the castle. The gardens are simple but lovely, and it’s fascinating to amble around and look at the ruins – there’s always something new that you haven’t noticed before.
We also spent a lot of time walking with the dogs in the neighbouring fields. Look out for the neighbours – a herd of cows – they move from field to field each day so it is still possible to walk the dogs off lead.
There are some interesting things to do nearby if you do feel the need to be active. Astley Book Farm (an amazing second-hand book store and coffee shop) is five minutes away or, if you want to go further afield for a day trip, Warwick Castle, Royal Leamington Spa and Stratford-Upon-Avon for all things Shakespeare are all within a forty-five minute drive.
WHAT TO BRING
Astley Castle falls more into the ‘dogs-allowed’ category rather than being set-up to be all about the dogs so you will need to bring all of your own dog gear – dog bowls, beds, etc.
When we go away with our dogs we take a selection of beds for them to hang out in as they are much easier to manage if they can get comfy. When we went to Astley we took a lot of dog beds because it’s a big house and we didn’t want to have to lug them from room to room several times a day.
Aside from all the standard dog essentials we also packed house collars (fine leather collars that we put their ID tags on and that are more comfortable to wear 24/7) and LED light collars so we could see our dogs when they were running around the garden at night.
WHEN TO GO
With Astley it’s a case of go as soon as there is availability as Astley is one of Landmark’s most popular properties and is often booked up two years in advance. We managed to book the house as a result of a cancellation – and they do happen fairly regularly. Keep your eyes peeled on the Landmark site for availability, or sign-up to Landmark’s newsletter for advance notice of when new booking slots are released.
The Landmark Trust also hold open days at Astley Castle throughout the year (entry is free of charge) so you can still visit even if you don’t book a stay.
WHAT WE LOVED
- A stunning building – breathtaking modern architecture woven into awe-inspiring ancient ruins
- Peace, calm, space and light
- The dogs were able to run around freely and treated it like a home away from home
Utterly unique and spoiling – a real treat to stay in this incredible building with the dogs.
PRICES & BOOKING
A four-night stay is priced from £998. For availability and to book, visit Landmarktrust.org.uk. And if Astley is not available, Landmark has a huge selection of quirky and unusual dog friendly properties all over the UK.
More info: www.landmarktrust.org.uk/astley-castle