Take me to the tower

Being king of your own castle is all very well, but the maintenance costs might well turn that dream into a bit of a nightmare
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An Englishman's home may be his castle - but it can't half be expensive. The sight of a castellated wall has an enduring appeal and there are usually several such properties on the market at any one time. But before you feed 'castles for sale' into Google, consider the cost.

Firstly, you need to afford the price. The cheapest on the market currently is £775,000 - and that's just for a corner tower of the medieval Devizes Castle in Somerset, which has been romantically converted into a four-storey, four-bedroom home with 100 steps leading from the front gate to the rooftop (Savills, 01225 474 543).

At the other end of the UK is the 16th-century Castle Grant in Morayshire, only partially restored so still in need of a major cash injection despite its £1m price tag (Knight Frank, 0131 222 9600).

Those are just the small ones. The much larger 13th-century Caverswall Castle in Staffordshire survived the Civil War, provided a safe haven for nuns fleeing the French Revolution and was once home to the Wedgewood pottery magnates. But now it faces its stiffest test - finding a buyer willing to pay £2m (Savills, 01952 239 500).

Yet it's a snip compared to Hampton Court, a vast 15th-century castle and estate in Herefordshire, boasting 26 bedrooms, 950 acres of grounds including two farmhouses and six cottages, its own orangery and chapel, and a price tag of £10m (Knight Frank, 01432 273087).

"There are a lot of people about who can afford this sort of money, usually looking for estates. They don't start out wanting a castle - they probably hadn't even thought about it - but if one is available it's a real draw" says Richard Addington of Savills, the estate agent who marketed one of Britain's most famous castles, Bickleigh in Devon, for £2m.

Secondly, there is the cost of restoring the castle if it is in disrepair, then maintaining it in prime condition. Replacement stonework for most castles starts at £40 per cubic foot and as walls can be four feet thick, that soon adds up. Then there is replicating iron gates weighing six tons, replacing missing battlements without months of scaffolding hire, and just guess the heating costs of rooms with 24-ft high ceilings.

"Keeping the general structure and fabric of the building sound is fundamentally important," says James Hervey-Bathurst, the chairman of the Historic Houses Association. "Then there are plenty of features such as turrets, castellated walls and chimneys. We're lucky in this country in having castles documented through history, and in possessing skilled craftsmen like stonemasons and experts in organisations like English Heritage. A lot of these issues can be addressed by these people - providing the owner has the money, of course".

He should know. His own home is the early-19th-century Eastnor Castle, set in the Malvern Hills, and he has spent about £1m repairing the structure of his castle and making it safe for the public.

Like many owners, Hervey-Bathurst has found a solution to the financial problem. He not only lives in his castle but he runs it as a business too, hiring it out for events ranging from food festivals and weddings (next year, hire from 11am until midnight will cost £6,750) as well as still-more-lucrative events like multi-day company product launches and craft shows.

Two years ago Sarah Hay, a London events organiser, bought the 14th-century Bickleigh Castle near Tiverton. Although she lives in the castle - "it's a wonderful, magical home" - she spent £250,000 refurbishing its non-family areas to become a permanent wedding venue. "I was looking for an estate but found Bickleigh and knew it would be a perfect medieval village. We can house up to 30 weddings a year" she says.

Would-be buyers need not look far to discover other possible revenue-raising sidelines for their castle. A resident spectre helps: Tulloch Castle near Inverness runs ghost tours seeking its mysterious Green Lady while Pengersick Castle in Cornwall offers bed-and-breakfast accommodation "in the most haunted location in the UK". Classic car rallies at Doddington Hall Castle in Lincolnshire and Raby Castle in Durham pull in the crowds, while a starring role in a Harry Potter film has helped subsidise Alnwick Castle in Northumberland. Typical fees for film shooting start at £750 a day rising to £10,000 if a castle's grounds and interior are used extensively.

But allowing your castle to be used as a hitching post is the most popular. The Historic Homes Association's website ( www.hha.org.uk) lists many of the UK's privately owned castles that can be visited, and gives tips to owners on how to rent them out.

If owning an entire castle is too expensive or becoming an events impresario sounds too tough, you can now buy a small part of castle life. A developer is selling flats in a former Hanoverian fortress-cum-monastery now trendily re-named The Highland Club, at the southern tip of Loch Ness (£140,000 to £380,000, Knight Frank, 01224 644272).

The integrity of the building may be lost forever, but it does give the buyers a few practical advantages over traditional castle owners - no bills for drawbridge repairs or moat cleaning.