We spoke to Margaret Livingstone-Evans, General Manager at Langley Castle Hotel, about winning a North East England Tourism Award last year.
What does it mean to Langley Castle Hotel to be shortlisted for, and win, awards such as the North East England Tourism Awards?
Langley Castle is very much a delightful hidden gem, in a less-discovered part of rural Northumberland. Having the kudos of winning a North East England Tourism Award is a great boost for our business, profile and team – who are extra-motivated knowing the castle has made its mark. The award has given us much to shout about, in an ambassadorial way, as we try to lure people not just to Langley, but to our very special part of Northumberland and Hadrian’s Wall Country.
The award has acted as a beacon, showing our guests and customers that a castle that is six-centuries-old can still be contemporary and stylish, while having the advantage of being unique and impossible to copy or emulate. The award recognised that we are a wholly distinctive and memorable venue, still making its mark as the only castle in Northumberland in which it is possible to stay, but also somewhere that is trying new things to excite, engage and entertain the 21st century visitor.
What impact has winning at Hotel of the Year at the North East England Tourism Awards 2018 had?
It has boosted our business considerably, adding a new element to our marketing mix and enabling us to entice various high-profile national and regional journalists and vloggers to the castle. Our year-on-year numbers are up considerably, giving us a new impetus to try to do things even more differently. With this confidence, we are launching new and exquisite woodland weddings in stunningly created glades within our glorious wooded areas on the Langley Estate and incorporating a wow-factor ‘Cathedral of Trees’. We have also managed to entice international Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts from Canada and the USA, who will be staging various events with us this year – a brand-new experience here, but wholly suitable and in keeping with our Game of Thrones events, dinners and weddings. We can’t wait for the medieval tents to be pitched!
We have created extra-special star-gazing Starry Knights experiences, involving Kielder Observatory supremo, Gary Fildes, to capitalise on our amazing dark skies. We have also boldly made New Year’s Eve 2020 available for a couple wishing to have an exclusive wedding here like no other, metaphorically pulling up the drawbridge and keeping everyone but close friends and family out, at a most atmospheric time of year and iconic date in the calendar. I also feel that the kudos of the award has enabled us to attract our high-flying new head chef, James O’Brien, who has built an incredible reputation north of the Border, but who is now nicely ensconced in Langley’s kitchen.
What makes Langley Castle Hotel stand out in a crowded market?
Langley is simply unique – that is a much-used description but in this case, it is truly apt. It is rare to be able to sleep in a true medieval, fortified hotel, but when you add seven-feet-thick walls – the feature that enables us to have our captivating window seats from which you can gaze down on the grounds like Rapunzel – it is something else, taking awe-inspiring and breathtaking up a notch on the spine-tingling gauge. Where else can you find medieval garderobes (posh loos) that are considered the best example in Europe, or a chapel on a castle’s battlements? Where else can you stay that is a venue built from stones dragged from Hadrian’s Wall? Where can you not just get on the trail of Jacobite history, but stay in a castle owned by two leading Jacobites who paid the ultimate price for their support of the exiled Stuart monarchy?
All of this provides us with unique architecture and a rich tapestry of history that enables us to offer brilliant daily Battlement Tours, whilst also appealing to an army of Game of Thrones fans worldwide, who view Langley as the perfect backdrop against which to play out their Game of Thrones fantasies. We are so lucky to have a venue like Langley in Northumberland which has stood the test of time and been relevant, exciting and appealing to generation after generation of visitor.
What is your favourite part of the North East and why?
I am passionate about Northumberland, which is just a fabulous county that offers everything; amazing coastal scenery, dramatic landscape of the Cheviots, the National Park and the calm pastures of Lower Tynedale. With the rich history of places like Hexham and its Abbey, juxtaposed with new and much-talked-about features like Northumberlandia – our unique and slightly naughty Lady of the North – it holds a story waiting to be unravelled by a wide variety of visitors. I have recently become an Ambassador for Discover Our Land and Langley has also become part of the China Forum, so that we can spread the word far and wide and entice independent travellers, groups, international visitors, and even cruise liners, to drop by and uncover the wealth of things we have to do and see.
Are there any hidden gems in the North East that you would encourage people to visit?
Longstone Island boat trip is an incredible experience that can be enjoyed by anyone wishing to celebrate a female of enormous courage, endowed with an incredible passion for helping others. The trip sails out of Seahouses to visit the place where the heroic Grace Darling lived with her father. Just visiting the remote lighthouse is an experience in itself and only one boat is licensed by Trinity House to land on the island. When you actually arrive and then hear what Grace did, way back in the 19th century, to rescue those shipwrecked on the rocks, in the most violent of weather, it really makes you think about human accomplishment and bravery. As a woman, I am incredibly proud that this county has produced a role model like Grace and that people as famous as Princess Anne have recently made the trip to find out more about her.