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NOTE: The descriptions of the places in this guide were accurate at the time the articles were posted. Please be advised that you should call ahead before traveling to any of them.

Bull Run Castle

By: Michelle Harper

Bull Run CastleBull Run Castle - Because he said he would

What do you do if you don't want to commute, don't want to pay rent, and you just want to roll out of bed and be at work? According to John R. Miller of Aldie, Virginia, you build your own castle. A true follower of the "if you build it they will come philosophy", Mr. Miller quit is 16K a year job in 1986 and began to follow his dream of owning his own castle, antique store and bed and breakfast. A man with a mission, he further insured that he would not falter by telling everyone he knew of his plans. That way, according to him, he HAD to build the castle "because he said he would". At 72 years old, John R. Miller is still following his dream.

John Miller.Though it is the castle that initially attracts you, it is really only part of the story. Mr. Miller's heart and soul are such an integral part of the castle it is hard to separate the man from the creation. We knew we were in for more than just a quick trip into an unusual antique store from the moment we walked up the steps and rang the bell for admittance. Within a few minutes, we were greeted by none other than the king of the castle himself who greeted us with a hasty "Antiques? Collectibles? Trouble? What are you looking for?" Never one to be idle, apparently we caught him in the middle of working on one of the rooms of the bed and breakfast when we walked up.

Michelle and a mummy caseWhen we informed him that we wanted a tour, a true man of no nonsense, he informed us that he would be talking fast and half-jokingly said that any questions that we asked along the way would not be answered and would cost an additional dollar. At first his manner appears rather matter of fact and abrupt leaving you with a sense of not quite knowing where he was coming from, but after a few minutes, his humor shines through. Though he does have very strong opinions, I think his bark is worse than his bite and I hear it on good authority he can be won over with a batch of fresh baked cookies. By the way if you happen to be a lawyer, democrat or women's libber, I don't think I would mention that to him. Trust me on that one and for goodness sakes don't smoke in his castle (though chewing tobacco is acceptable).

He begins the tour with an explanation of how he turned a cornfield into a castle with only himself, his 2 daughters and son providing all the labor. You can't help but be impressed at the fortitude it must have taken on everyone's part as they went from living in a tent, to a small stone house, to a cabin, and eventually to a castle.

Even more amazing is the fact that they were able to accomplish these feats without any additional source of income. His labor of love came at a great personal price but not with a big price tag. Mr. Miller used his creative frugality to create a mansion from scraps and discarded items. A great example of this is one of his decorative ceilings created from a 42" diameter table top. By the way, the king of "Waste Not Want Not" will also remind you to turn off the lights as you leave each room during your tour. There is no doubt about it, John Miller practices what he preaches and is the epitome of a self-made man living in his self-made castle.

KitchenThe castle itself is as true to form as its builder. It is totally self-sufficient and defensible. It comes complete with a huge pantry - with enough stored food and supplies to last 6 weeks, a Keep - to which he can retreat to if under attack, a core - with trap doors through which he can safely move between floors, an armory - complete with enough arms to defend it, and a portcullis (a grating made of iron bars, suspended in an entranceway which can be lowered to block passage) - giving it an Indiana Jones kind of mystique. As expected, the castle also has the standard dungeon, jail, great hall and soon to be completed chapel. Other great features such as a tunnel and wine cellar are still in the works.

PortucullisIn addition to being a "working castle", Bull Run Castle is also a wonderful antique shop with virtually everything you see and touch being for sale right down to the swords on display in the receiving hall. This royal establishment is also a bed and breakfast. Eventually, there will be 4 rooms available for rent but for now, how about spending the night in the Tour la more (Tower of Love). Mr. Miller will fix "whatever you want for breakfast" and your stay includes a complimentary bottle of wine. Where else are you going to get an offer like that? The facility is also available for events such as weddings and meetings and has been known to be used by a group of local vampires.

UpstairsAs the tour progresses you begin not only to understand the castle but its builder as well. Somehow with all the craziness going on in the world today, building a totally defensible fortress in the middle of northern Virginia starts to make sense. You begin to think that in times like these, he wouldn't be a bad guy to get to know because you just never know…

The castle is an ongoing project and with its builder nearing his 73rd birthday, neither show any signs of slowing down. John Miller's vision has remained clear from the beginning and he has not wavered from it. This is truly his Magnum Opus. He states that when the castle is finally complete he will write a book on "How To Build A Castle On 16k A Year". I believe it would be more fitting to write a book on the man himself as he is at least as interesting. He truly lives the self-proclaimed motto of the castle "Fortune favors the bold and scorns the timid".

Bull Run CastleAll too soon the tour comes to an end, but he kindly reminds you that if you liked the tour pay $2.50 or be placed in the dungeon and if you are not satisfied, he guarantees that he will happily give you $10 each. After this unique experience, I can't imagine anyone ever asking for a refund.

 

NOTE: It has come to our attention that since this article was written the castle ownership no longer the same.

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