There are not many places where you can walk in the footsteps of major players of the Tudor era.
But Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire can boast just that honour. A honey-coloured beauty nestled in a valley just north of Cheltenham, it really is a gem.
The castle itself is a stunner. You could easily forget how close you are to civilisation. And even for those who aren’t fussed about history, there’s plenty to absorb you on a day out.
Fabulous gardens featuring magnolias, yew trees and an awesome Cedar of Lebanon, a stunning collection of unusual pheasants, a healing herb trail complete with information on how each plant would have been used, a wooden playground castle featuring a zip wire and a pond full of koi carp.
But if history is your bag, there’s a chance to walk in the footsteps of Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, visiting her chamber and seeing her privvy (red velvet-lined).
A newly-opened exhibition features Katherine’s letters and books – but if anything, they are a little underplayed, because when you do read them you quickly realise how important they are. For someone like me (who knows the basics and not much more) it literally was an education.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Katherine was the least exciting of Henry’s wives. Less glamorous than Anne, lacking the dignity in exile of Catherine of Aragon, the romance of Jane or the drama of poor rejected Anne of Cleves, Katherine is famous only for being the wife who survived.
But as Sudeley’s archivists are trying to show, Katherine was far less dull than history has painted her.
For starters, there’s a secret marriage to Jane Seymour’s brother within weeks of Henry’s death.
She was the first women in the 16th century to write a book (two, in fact).
And there’s the influence she had on a young Elizabeth the First, who learned that women could rule in their own right from her stepmother.
Throw in some scandalous advances by Katherine’s husband to the young Elizabeth, a whopping shoe collection to rival any of today’s young royals and the mystery of her missing daughter Mary – oh, and the fact that she’s actually buried in a chapel in the grounds – and you have an enthralling story that Sudeley does its best to tell.
We stayed at the castle cottages, a 10-minute walk over fields to the castle itself and a hop, skip and a jump from the town centre.
They’re quirky, with all the basic facilities you need, including a kitchen – but if you’re hungry, there’s plenty of choice for places to eat.
We chose Wesley House, a two-minute stroll from the flat and it was a real treat.
The service was great, the wine list comprehensive but not intimidating and the cooking spot-on.
We squeezed in three courses, a particular star being the starter of soft belly pork with a black pudding croquette and apple.
A main of seabass with crushed potatoes was a masterclass in showcasing simple flavours.
And the cheeseboard featured six perfectly pitched cheeses, quince jelly and a beetroot chutney and was utterly delicious.
For those that want to explore further afield, Sudeley’s cottages are also a great base from which to explore Cheltenham and the Cotswolds.But it’s Katherine and her fascinating life that are the star attractions – go and meet her, before everyone catches on.