Mike Laycock visits Richard III’s final resting place – while staying at a hotel fit for a king

ROYALTY is said to have stayed at Stapleford Park – and not just Hollywood and football royalty such as Joan Collins, Janet Jackson and Peter Crouch, who married Abbey Clancy there.

Queen Victoria's son, Edward, apparently liked it so much that he wanted to buy it but was forbidden by his unamused mother, who feared his morals might be corrupted by the Leicestershire hunting establishment, with Sandringham bought instead. Not that this helped with his morals…

Stapleford came a bit too late for Richard III. He was slain elsewhere in Leicestershire during the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Work on building the north wing at Stapleford started in about 1500.

I stayed at this magnificent Grade I listed mansion, now a country house hotel and sporting estate, while visiting the tomb of Richard in Leicester Cathedral, created after his remains were famously found under a nearby council car park a few years ago.

As I drove through the 500 acres of grounds, designed by no less than Capability Brown, I could not fail to be impressed, although my primary feeling was one of relief after a stressful Friday afternoon journey down a horribly congested A1.

Frost was settling on the lawns on our arrival but the hotel literally offered a warm welcome, with a log fire blazing in the foyer as we waited to be shown to our bedroom, one of 55 individually designed rooms that reflect the style of their creators: famous names such as Mulberry, David Hicks and Crabtree and Evelyn. We were in the latter room, which boasted exceptionally high ceilings, a huge bed and long drapes in the windows, from which there were excellent views of the grounds. On a corner table was a decanter of rather delicious, complimentary sloe gin. The en-suite bathroom featured regal marble, an original stone arch, and a striking ‘Trompe-l'œil’ wall painting creating a 3D optical illusion of a flowerpot.

After a rest we dined in the elegant surroundings of the Grinling Gibbons dining room: good food with attentive service.

The following morning, after a hearty breakfast, I went for a swim in the hotel’s 22 metre mosaic pool, complete with sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi, before dressing and going for a five-minute walk through the gardens to a Grade II listed former Victorian stable block, now home to a luxury spa, gymnasium and fitness studio, where I had my first ever facial. Well, in these days of sex equality, why shouldn’t men have them as well as women? And very pleasant and relaxing it was too.

We could have stayed to see Bernard the owl, have a go at archery and clay pigeon shooting, or play a round of golf on the championship golf course, but we hadn’t time. We needed to go to Leicester, less than an hour’s drive from Stapleford, to visit the tomb of Richard III in the city’s cathedral.

The monarch was the last to die in battle. After the discovery of his remains there was an unsuccessful campaign for Richard to be re-buried at York Minster, which I covered for The Press. I was fascinated to see how Leicester was marking its new found fame, which has suddenly drawn thousands of tourists to the city.

Very well actually. We received a very warm welcome from staff at the cathedral, where Richard’s tomb, made from Swaledale limestone, has been created, and a series of information panels told us about his life and times.

We found out even more about him when we visited a new visitor centre just across the road from the cathedral, which stands on the site of the medieval friary of the Grey Friars, where the king’s remains were buried more than 500 years ago.

The exhibition uses 21st century technology to chart the king’s life and death, explaining the events which led to his hasty burial and eventual rediscovery, and the way genome sequencing of ancient DNA was used to prove the skeleton was that of Richard. Visitors can see the spot where his skeleton was found through a glass floor.

Mike Laycock was hosted by Stapleford Park, a member of Pride of Britain Hotels collection. A one-night stay with breakfast costs from £180 per room (two sharing). To book, call Pride of Britain Hotels (0800 089 3929 or go to www.prideofbritainhotels.com.

King Richard III Visitor Centre, at 4A St Martins, Leicester, is open from 10am-4pm all days other than Saturdays, when it opens until 5pm. Tickets are £8.95 for adults and £4.75 for children. Information: 0300 300 0900.