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Inside flamboyant new Northumberland hotel The Tempus – inspired by Alice in Wonderland and full of surprises

Quirky. Bohemian. A little bit bonkers. That’s my summing up of The Tempus, a new hotel on an expansive Northumbrian country estate a few miles from Alnwick.

The property is inspired by Lewis Carroll’s fantastical Alice-in-Wonderland world, but it’s not Alice themed.

I flew my drone up over the hotel’s grounds in the early evening, but all I could see on my screen were sheep. No white rabbits. Or Cheshire cats. Or mock turtles.

And there are no Queen of Hearts suites or hookah-smoking caterpillar statues in dimly-lit corners.

Instead, this is Alice in Northumberland, an altogether different kettle of crocodiles, not so much Jabberwocky as Geordiewocky.

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Carlton Reid checks into The Tempus, a new hotel on an expansive Northumbrian country estate a few miles from Alnwick Carlton Reid checks into The Tempus, a new hotel on an expansive Northumbrian country estate a few miles from Alnwick

Carlton Reid checks into The Tempus, a new hotel on an expansive Northumbrian country estate a few miles from Alnwick

The Tempus is inspired by Lewis Carroll¿s fantastical Alice-in-Wonderland world, but it¿s not Alice themed, Carlton notes The Tempus is inspired by Lewis Carroll¿s fantastical Alice-in-Wonderland world, but it¿s not Alice themed, Carlton notes

The Tempus is inspired by Lewis Carroll’s fantastical Alice-in-Wonderland world, but it’s not Alice themed, Carlton notes

The hotel complex is mainly new-build, but it also incorporates some original 18th-century farm outbuildings The hotel complex is mainly new-build, but it also incorporates some original 18th-century farm outbuildings

The hotel complex is mainly new-build, but it also incorporates some original 18th-century farm outbuildings

The hotel opened in May and fizzes with flora and fauna wallpapers by Manuel Canovas and ‘Fabulous Ruby’ zigzag-striped woollen carpets from rug and flooring specialist Crucial Trading. The restaurant has leaf-covered cocktail tables with glittery floral walls, sports curved couches upholstered with flamboyant prints, and there’s a bar with disco balls.

The complex is mainly new-build, but it also incorporates some original 18th-century farm outbuildings, including a roundhouse that would have once featured a plodding horse powering a threshing machine. This roundhouse, known as a gin gang, is the hotel’s reception today, and instead of a bored, dizzy horse, there’s a circular couch hugging a room-filling tree adorned with LED lights.

There’s an original stone fireplace in room 203.

The 15-room destination hotel, just a mile from the A1 as the crow flies, is a satellite of Charlton Hall, a luxury wedding venue owned by 30-something property developer Richard Shell. He lives on the estate in a stable cottage with his wife and two young children. ‘We live at Garden Cottage,’ says the hotel’s welcome letter, ‘give us a wave when you drive past!’

Shell grew up on the tenant farm next door. His father, Tom, owns the sheep I saw on my drone flight.

Studying business studies at Edinburgh University, Shell did an MA dissertation on how farmers can maintain viable businesses.

The 15-room destination hotel, just a mile from the A1 as the crow flies, is a satellite of Charlton Hall The 15-room destination hotel, just a mile from the A1 as the crow flies, is a satellite of Charlton Hall

The 15-room destination hotel, just a mile from the A1 as the crow flies, is a satellite of Charlton Hall

The hotel fizzes with flora and fauna wallpapers by Manuel Canovas and ¿Fabulous Ruby¿ zigzag-striped woollen carpets from rug and flooring specialist Crucial Trading The hotel fizzes with flora and fauna wallpapers by Manuel Canovas and ¿Fabulous Ruby¿ zigzag-striped woollen carpets from rug and flooring specialist Crucial Trading

The hotel fizzes with flora and fauna wallpapers by Manuel Canovas and ‘Fabulous Ruby’ zigzag-striped woollen carpets from rug and flooring specialist Crucial Trading

Prices for King rooms start at £195 for bed and breakfast and £285 for dinner, bed, and breakfast based on two people sharing Prices for King rooms start at £195 for bed and breakfast and £285 for dinner, bed, and breakfast based on two people sharing

Prices for King rooms start at £195 for bed and breakfast and £285 for dinner, bed, and breakfast based on two people sharing

Carlton writes: 'The Tempus is very keenly priced, especially for anybody used to paying for luxury gaffs in many of Britain¿s big cities' Carlton writes: 'The Tempus is very keenly priced, especially for anybody used to paying for luxury gaffs in many of Britain¿s big cities'

Carlton writes: ‘The Tempus is very keenly priced, especially for anybody used to paying for luxury gaffs in many of Britain’s big cities’

Carlton writes: 'The bright, brash, clashing decor is hip but could repel those who favour beige in all things' Carlton writes: 'The bright, brash, clashing decor is hip but could repel those who favour beige in all things'

Carlton writes: ‘The bright, brash, clashing decor is hip but could repel those who favour beige in all things’

Suite life: Carlton describes his stay at the luxurious hotel as 'mood-enhancing' Suite life: Carlton describes his stay at the luxurious hotel as 'mood-enhancing'

Suite life: Carlton describes his stay at the luxurious hotel as ‘mood-enhancing’

Starting his post-university career in a customer experience division for part of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Shell left to progress in property development following the sale of his Edinburgh flat. He made yet more money from Bitcoin trading. In 2014 he converted part of the family farm – Doxford Farm – into a rustic yet hip wedding venue after noticing the Southern England trend for barn weddings. Doxford Farm’s large oak-beamed barn quickly became one of Northumberland’s most magical tying-the-knot spots.

Three years later, nearby Charlton Hall came on the market. Shell bought it for £1million, commissioning his Edinburgh designer friend Jo Aynsley to give the Grade II listed Georgian mansion an off-the-wall makeover.

Aynsley is head of design at Jeffreys Interiors of Edinburgh, and she and her colleagues were given free rein to turn what had been a fusty stately home into a funky wedding venue with rooms. The playful aesthetic can be best described as eclectic: urinals are red kissy lips and there’s a steampunk-hatted stuffed giraffe called George sticking out of the wall above the main staircase. Out of Africa? Nope, Clitheroe.

The hotel opened in May and lies three miles from the A1 on twisty country lanes The hotel opened in May and lies three miles from the A1 on twisty country lanes

The hotel opened in May and lies three miles from the A1 on twisty country lanes

Alnwick Castle, parts of which played Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, is nearby Alnwick Castle, parts of which played Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, is nearby

Alnwick Castle, parts of which played Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, is nearby

'The Tempus has yet to be graded,' writes Carlton, 'but it¿s possibly a four-star property, and once the gardens mature and a planned spa is added, it could garner five stars' 'The Tempus has yet to be graded,' writes Carlton, 'but it¿s possibly a four-star property, and once the gardens mature and a planned spa is added, it could garner five stars'

‘The Tempus has yet to be graded,’ writes Carlton, ‘but it’s possibly a four-star property, and once the gardens mature and a planned spa is added, it could garner five stars’

Room with a loo: Urinals at sister property Charlton Hall are styled as bright red 'kissy lips' Room with a loo: Urinals at sister property Charlton Hall are styled as bright red 'kissy lips'

Room with a loo: Urinals at sister property Charlton Hall are styled as bright red ‘kissy lips’

Playful paintings on display at Charlton Hall, which lies just a few metres away from The Tempus Playful paintings on display at Charlton Hall, which lies just a few metres away from The Tempus

Playful paintings on display at Charlton Hall, which lies just a few metres away from The Tempus

Original hall cabinetry and artefacts — such as auction notices from the 1870s and sports trophies — are mixed with bold artworks and furniture from designer names such as Diane von Furstenberg, Mulberry and Edinburgh-based textile designer Lynsey Jean Henderson.

The hall was reimagined as a kind of cheeky Kinder egg: plain on the outside but full of surprises inside.

Charlton Hall was the first part of Shell’s property empire inspired by Alice in Wonderland. The aesthetic was extended to The Tempus, steps away from the mothership. Charlton Hall’s logo is a top-hat-wearing owl, and the owl weathervane atop The Tempus’s clocktower continues the crossover.

‘Imagination is the only weapon in the war with reality,’ the Cheshire Cat told Alice, and at both Charlton Hall and The Tempus, Aynsley has used this weapon to great effect. The nearby Alnwick Castle and Gardens have been the area’s honeypots to date, and they are now joined by The Tempus, a country estate hotel coursing with colour-clashing nervous energy. Staying there was mood-enhancing.

TRAVEL FACTS

Carlton and his wife were hosted in one of two junior suites at The Tempus. These look out over to the newly-planted hotel gardens. The Tempus also has a larger suite suitable for honeymoons and other special occasions.

Prices for King rooms start at £195 for bed and breakfast and £285 for dinner, bed, and breakfast based on two people sharing. B&B in a junior or boutique suite starts at £325. A small King room in Charlton Hall costs from £150 per night.

The restaurant at The Tempus serves generous portions of comfort food, including fish and chips (£19), lamb shank shepherd’s pie with gruyere (£18), and sticky toffee pudding (£7.95).

The restaurant’s bar has the hotel’s most direct reference to Alice in Wonderland: the signature cocktails include The Duchess The Duchess (sic), a mix of rhubarb gin and lemon juice (£8.95), and Shrink Me Potion made from whisky, Disaronno, butterscotch and cream (£8.95).

The Tempus is three miles from the A1 on twisty country lanes. It’s a magical place, as is nearby Alnwick Castle, parts of which played Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films.

The Tempus has four charging points for electric cars.

Fancy a wedding at Charlton Hall? Better be quick: the venue has bookings through to 2026.

PROS: ‘All the best people are entirely bonkers,’ Alice told the Mad Hatter, and The Tempus is certainly a bonkers place to stay. Yet, for all its bohemian spritz, this is one boutique hotel that won’t break the bank. The Tempus is very keenly priced, especially for anybody used to paying for luxury gaffs in many of Britain’s big cities. The Tempus has yet to be graded, but it’s possibly a four-star property, and once the gardens mature and a planned spa is added, it could garner five stars, making it unique in this part of rural Northumberland.

CONS: The bright, brash, clashing decor is hip but could repel those who favour beige in all things.

Rating out of 5: *****

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