A FORTY year mystery over what happened to an ancient hotel key has finally been solved.

Staff at Lumley Castle Hotel, at Chester-le-Street, have been trying to find the key to its historic banqueting hall since the 1970s.

But the the key turned up in the post this week with a letter from a man called John, confessing to taking it.

“Back in the 1970s, to my shame, I arrived home with the enclosed key after an intoxicating evening at Lumley Castle,” said the letter.

“The key, to the best of my memory, fits the outside door in the banqueting hall.

“It has been on my bookcase for around 40 years, I have moved house four times since that time and now reside back in the south of England.

“Over the years my conscience reminded of those good days in the North-East but it is time to correct matters, so with sincere apologies I duly return the key to you.”

The letter has no surname and no address, so hotel staff have no idea who “John” is – but hotel staff are very happy to have the key back.

Lauren Colledge, sales manager at Lumley Castle said: “We have no idea who John is but are very glad that he’s finally had an attack of conscience and returned it to its rightful home.

“We hope that someone will know who he is so we can tell him that we forgive him and are very grateful that it’s back at Lumley.”

Lumley Castle is a 630-year-old castle and is now a four-star hotel which has retained many of its original features, including a dungeon, crenelated towers and more than 50 bedrooms decorated in period style.

The hotel is also famed for its medieval banquets and is a popular choice for weddings, conferences and events.

For further information visit www.lumleycastle.com.