Roger St. Pierre reports from a 14thC castle in NorthumberlandHow much more magical could you want your next meeting venue to be? Set close to a fast road 30 miles west of the bustling metropolis of Newcastle upon Tyne, yet turning the clock back to the mystical days of knights of old, Langley Castle has been transformed into a wonderfully welcoming country-house-style hotel that was voted ‘Britain’s Best Small Hotel’ in 2007 and again in 2011.
It offers within its massive walls 27 individually designed ultra-luxurious bedrooms and suites – some with antique four-poster beds – plus outstanding meeting facilities for up to 70 theatre-style plus, it is claimed, resident ghosts!
Further sumptuously cosseting guestrooms are available in the Castleview and Castleview Lodge outbuildings
An increasingly popular option for corporate clients is to rent the castle on an exclusive basis. With fast rail links to London – just four hours travelling time away – and the close proximity of Newcastle Airport, the ‘location, location, location’ mantra is fulfilled. An imposing Norman fortress, with soaring towers and 7ft thick walls, this imposing bastion stands above the Upper Tyne, just five miles south of the even older Hadrian’s Wall. Langley Castle provides a step back in time while having all the modern conference amenities close at hand. Its spacious grounds are a perfect setting for team building exercises and a wide range of country pursuits are available locally.
Magical well-tended grounds
It was already dark when we arrived at the castle, which stood tall and proud above its 10 acres of snow-flecked woodland – an estate that was 13,000 acres in size back in the 14thC when the castle was built for Sir Thomas de Lucy, one of Edward III’s favourites. The estate might be smaller now - but how magical these well-tended grounds proved to be as we roamed them at leisure - perfect for al fresco summer events and product launches.
Thanks to lavish use of period furnishings and décor, four-poster beds, wood panelled or bare stone walls, tapestries, paintings and exquisite stained glass, the castle’s ambience is romantically medieval but, don't worry, it has all the modern amenities you’d expect to find in an award-winning country house hotel with a manager intent on building corporate business. Yes, our Tower Suite bedroom was located at the top of a massive 100-plus step staircase, and, as you would expect in a 14thC property, there’s no guest lift, we were able to hitch rides aboard the service elevator whenever the climb seemed too much of a challenge – as it certainly was after a sumptuous feast in the atmospheric AA two-rosette Josephine Room, a truly baronial great hall.
The light and airy conservatory style Pavilion Restaurant provides a more informal brasserie experience and has built a strong reputation for its steaks and grills. Full-on afternoon teas – finger sandwiches, cakes, scones, cream and all that – are another enticing option.
With its blazing log fire and stained glass, the drawing room is the perfect place to relax with a pre or post-dinner drink or two – or your guests might choose to be more energetic and climb that staircase to take a fascinating guided tour of the lofty battlements and private chapel.
The castle’s convivial atmosphere is largely down to staff that really care about what they see as their slice of history. It says a lot that ever-attentive manager Anton Phillips and his three key staff members have more than 100 years of combined service at this property to their credit.
There are plenty of worthy bolt-ons in easy reach, with group tour facilities and group dining available at several of the award-winning museums dotted along Hadrian’s Wall. However, my prime recommendation for a memorable corporate event would not be to roll the years back nearly two millennia to the zenith of the Roman era. Discover, instead, the more recent heritage of the Edwardian age by visiting the evocative and award-winning Beamish ‘Living museum of the North’, which stands in 300 acres of peaceful rolling County Durham countryside, attracting nearly half-a-million visitors a year.
Here you’ll meet friendly period-costumed characters – shopkeepers, tram drivers, farm workers and pitmens’ wives – as you wander through a time warp of mining village and small town life as they were a century ago.
There’s a magnificent Masonic hall to visit, along with a fully-stocked Co-operative store, a newspaper office, a dental surgery, a bank, a solicitor’s office, a pub and a working bakery shop, while the motor works has a superb collection of vintage cars, motorcycles and bicycles.
Exclusive evening museum hire
Your group can even go down a drift mine to discover the tough conditions in which coal – ‘black gold’ – was once hacked out of these hillsides, while the working home farm keeps traditional breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry and reveals how agriculture worked in less industrialised days.
Exclusive evening hire of Beamish allows event organisers to treat their delegates to the magic of a drinks reception in the Edwardian town at sunset, followed by an outstanding buffet and live entertainment, with period steam trains to transport guests into the past.
Beamish offers three dedicated meeting spaces. The Bank Board Room accommodates up to 60 theatre-style while the Collections Study Room can hold up to 100. The Roland Cookson Room can welcome up to 100 for a reception.
With more than 2,000 available spaces, parking is no problem.