We started out from the hotel on a miserable, wet and windy day, travelling through the Howardian Hills. On the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park was Castle Howard, an ornate gilded 18th century stately home set in landscaped grounds with fountains , trails and lakes. When we arrived at the estate it was still very damp underfoot but the skies were no longer dark foreboding and grey. A glimmer of brightness was on the horizon.
We entered the estate via the Stable Courtyard, where cafes, shops and conveniences were located. As we walked towards the Manor House, a bedraggled Jackdaw stared at us from his perch on an old Oak tree.
To our right was the Walled Garden, which we entered through an ornate gate. Imposing Satyr and Lion masks were inscribed on the pillars, while pots of what looked like broccoli, green with algae, adorned the top of the gateway, I think they represented ornamental flowers. This gate was built by mason Samuel Carpenter and the ironwork by John Gardom in 1705.
The Walled Garden had four quadrangles, separated by Yew hedging. The three rose gardens were Lady Cecilia’s Garden, the Sundial Garden, Venus Garden, and the Kitchen Garden. These Rose Gardens were dedicated to the memory of Lady Cecelia Howard (1922 – 1974).
Looking backwards after entering the Garden we could see a mirror image of the ornate gate, flanked by climbing roses and Smoke Trees.
To enter each “room” we passed through and under beautifully sculptured archways in the Yew or Hornbeam hedging. We trod on paths of manicured lawns. The paths led onwards. An imposing statue of a gentleman was our first introduction to the gardens.
The Canterbury Bells were dripping with rain drops from a recent shower. Giant alliums towered above them. The lanceolate leaves and purple flowers of an Iris also punctuated the borders while Roses in white and pastel shades and an evergreen Hydrangea clung to the surrounding brick walls behind them.
On the approach to Cecelia’s Garden was a bench set in an arbour of Hornbeam, overlooking an extremely large Urn mounted on a plinth. The Garden itself had a pond with a fountain of a cherub carrying a fish with beds of Japanese roses, Gallica roses, Alba roses and English roses surrounding it. A heavenly scent hung in the air as we walked around admiring the planting within the quadrangle. Several different flowers including deep purple Salvias, and Foxgloves in various colours were dotted among the roses. A few Silver Birches were planted to provide shade along the sides of this garden. However, today they only provided droplets of rainwater as we passed underneath them. In the brick wall, at the back of the Garden, was an ornate gate which led from the garden onto a path through the Lime Walk. We didn’t venture through it, so we missed the statue of Apollo which was erected at the end of the walk.
The Venus Garden had a wonderful nude statue, much admired by my husband. Here again roses were the predominant flowers, and again there was an intoxicating perfume. This Rose garden also featured a magnificent pergola which was festooned with White Roses. Rain drops kept falling on my head as I walked underneath. Yes, I did feel like a song about to burst from my lips. From a vantage point on the path, between the Venus Garden and The Kitchen Garden, the distinctive Dome of Castle Howard could be seen through one of those sculptured Yew archways. This was our first glimpse of the house.
The Sundial Garden had flower beds set out as if they were quarters of the sundial, with the actual Sundial at the centre. The flowers here were more varied and included the obligatory roses, Foxgloves ,Lamb’s ears, Round-headed Garlic, Burnet Saxifrage, Fennel, Lupins, Delphiniums, Sea Holly and Cat mint. The Delphiniums formed a striking contrast, with their tall, vivid blue spires, to the muted pastel shades of the other flowers.
Several of the beds in the Kitchen Garden were partitioned with low box hedging which enclosed a variety of vegetables:alliums, spinach and cabbages. Pots of Geraniums and Forget-me-nots were arrayed around the edges, as were a variety of fruit trees.
Throughout the tour of the walled Garden we were accompanied by several birds: Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Pied Wagtails and Robins. In fact, the Song Thrushes were intent on breaking snails out of their shells. We sat enthralled watching them for some time. There were some bees and other insects, but they only ventured out when the sun occasionally peeped from behind the clouds.
We left the 18th century Walled Garden through the Satyr and Lion gate just as the sun was really trying to part the clouds. We followed the path along the walls of the Garden, the very end of which had a stone pillar tapering to an urn made of carved leaves with what looked like a Pinecone in it.
From here, we could see the left corner of the house. And in the opposite direction the parterre with the Atlas Fountain in the centre and beyond that the Dancing Faun statue. We walked past the Atlas Fountain and viewed the back of the house. There were several statues behind the fountain. In fact, statues, temples and follies were dotted throughout the Castle Howard Estate.
Statues in the grounds of Castle Howard Estate
Then we proceeded past the house in the direction of Ray Wood. We crossed over the Time Capsule which was buried in the ground and then along the Temple Terrace, skirting Ray Wood on our left.
Ray Wood has many nature trails and serpentine pathways within it. We only had a glimpse of trees of Maple and Rowan with shrubs like Rhododendrons, Peris, Azaeleas and Magnolias and an understorey of ferns.
The Temple Terrace led us to the Temple of the Four Winds, designed by Vanburgh and completed in 1738. From here we could see the New River Bridge and a tantalizing glimpse of the Mausoleum. Built in the 1740’s, it is still the burial place of the Howard Family.
Having walked this far we needed to return quickly to the House where a tour of this magnificent building awaited us.
Ten generations of the Howard family have lived at Castle Howard since it was built in the early part of the 18th century by Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle. The Hon. Nicholas Howard manages the estate today. He is the grandson of Geoffrey Howard, the youngest surviving son of the 9th Earl and Countess of Carlisle.
A self-guided tour of the house then began. Information on each aspect of the house was readily available, with helpful personnel scattered about. Unlike the other Great Houses we visited on this trip, where no photography was allowed, surprisingly here it was permitted. So, you are in for a treat. We ascended the Grand Staircase, passed portraits of the first six Earls of Carlisle, to the China Landing. The mahogany cabinet here houses hundreds of pieces of china: Meissen, Sevre, Chelsea and China Blue.
From here we entered the bedroom of Lady Georgiana. Then on to the Castle Howard Bedroom. Both bedrooms were lavishly attired with Georgian furniture, landscape paintings and 19th century portraits of the Howard family.
Next was the long Antique Passage which was lined with busts, statues, marble table-tops and urns.
Next was the long Antique Passage which was lined with busts, statues, marble table tops and urns
From this corridor we arrived at the Great Hall. Wow! Vanbrugh’s design is magnificent. The dome rose 70 feet into the air, with Pellegrini’s “Fall of Phaeton” its crowning glory. Apollo’s son Phaeton falls from a chariot and plunges to earth, it seemed, as we stood in awe of the spectacle, to be falling directly onto our heads This is only a reconstruction as the original was destroyed by a fire in 1940. A balcony traversed the upper level and below this was Pellegrini’s “Four Elements”, Earth, Fire, Air and Water
“The Twelve Figures of the Zodiac” and “Apollo and the Muses” also decorated the walls. In the Hall, on opposite sides was a marble fireplace and a marble alcove. Busts and stauary were dotted throughout.
Some of the “Twelve Figures of the Zodiac” and Apollo and the Muses can be seen to the side of the Dome
We climbed to the first balcony and looked down at the Great Hall and salon below, then across it toward an arched window that framed the park and Great Lake beyond. Also, in the window was a statue of a reclining “God”. A dark imposing figure silhouetted against the light coming from the window. We stood and appreciated the Great Hall from three different vantage points: the ground, halfway up the staircase and on the balcony, each with its own perspective. The stonework, ironwork, painted decoration and the light from the dome made the Great Hall feel like a theatrical experience.
Arched Window and Reclining “God”
Off the balcony were three rooms: The High Salon, the Garden Room and the Cabinet Room. All of which were redecorated in the 1970’s and again in 2007 having been left derelict since the fire of 1940. Originally these rooms were decorated by Pellegrini. The reasons for the redecoration was because the rooms were used for making a Television production and a movie, which I will mention later. Following on from here we passed through the Music room, then the Crimson Dining Room, the Turquoise Drawing Room and at the very end of this wing of the house was the Museum Room.
In the Crimson Dining Room, the dining suite was George III in the Adam manner and the table was laid with a Meissen “Red Dragon” service from the 1740’s. There was a collection of Venetian landscapes on the walls, which were collected between 1730 and 1740 by the 4th Earl (Henry Howard 1694 -1758).
The Turquoise Drawing Room had damask everywhere , on the furniture and the walls. A collection of paintings graced the walls including Gainsborough and Reynold portraits. Many of these rooms were once decorated with William Morris wallpaper. William Morris was a close friend of the 9th Earl and Countess of Carlisle.
It was out of the windows of these rooms that the Parterre and the Atlas Fountain was viewed from above. Also, in the background we could see the Pyramid.
At the top is the Atlas Fountain and the Pyramid, below is the Atlas Fountain
Then on to the Long Gallery. At 160 feet long, split into North and South galleries with the Octagon in the middle, it is jam packed with paintings, antique furniture, tapestries, busts and chandeliers. William Morris red wallpaper “ Red and Gold Sunflowers” adorned the walls into the 1950’s but now the gallery had a much lighter mellow yellow colour. A notable picture in the Octagon was of Salome with the head of John the Baptist by Rubens which was purchased in the 18th century.
From the Long Gallery we entered the Chapel through its cramped entrance hall. The Chapel is a lavish affair which has been much altered since its conception in the 18th century. The magnificent pillars and ceiling were based on Holbein’s designs for the Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace. And the stained-glass windows were designed by Burne-Jones in 1872. The Chapel is still in use for services.
The exit from the House was through the obligatory gift shop with its William Morris “Daisy” wallpaper still on the walls and a book of his “Masterpieces of Art” available to buy
Then out onto the Boar Garden. A lawned area with the said Boar on its plinth looking menacingly at us. In the lawn were patches of mushrooms which glistened with the rain drops from an earlier shower, while we in the house.
We followed the path around the side of the house and then to the front.
The front façade was partially obscured by cherry picker machines as essential maintenance work was being done. However, the tall masonry lantern and cupola, which are unique among English country homes, were still clearly visible.
An about turn gave us an exquisite view of the Great Lake. Canada Geese were crowded along the shore while Swans, Mallards and Coots swam lazily upon its waters and nestled among the reeds.
Feeling rather exhausted, we were glad to see the Land Train pull up in front of the House. We took our seats and set off for the Stable Courtyard, our earlier entry point to the estate. Along the tree lined route, we passed some statues in the glades. In front of us we could see the obelisk, built in 1714, which stood at the very end of the long drive.
Back in the Stable Yard we watched a cheeky Chaffinch foraging between the tables laid out for afternoon tea. We returned to the coach in the carpark, but first we took a last look, through ornate gates beside the gardener’s cottage, at Castle Howard.
The last thing to mention is the adaptation of “Brideshead Revisited” a novel by Evelyn Waugh published in 1945. I quote “ The story of Brideshead Revisited is about many things – youth, love, artistic creation, religion, families, guilt, unhappiness, loss, war and the passing of an era. But it is also a story about journeying- travelling to and from the home of the Flyte family. Characters repeatedly arrive and depart, and much of the action occurs at Brideshead: introductions and confrontations: summer days with nude bathing and wine tasting; a hunt; prayer, devotion and death. The house exercises a strong influence on individuals, whether they are in London, Oxford, Venice, Morocco, or even onboard an Atlantic liner. In that respect the central character in the story is Brideshead itself: the house and all it stands for.” Waugh’s novel was translated to the screen, firstly in 1981, in a Granada Production as a series on television, then in a Miramax movie in 2008. The television series catapulted Vanbrugh’s 18th century Castle Howard into the imagination of the public as Brideshead, the fictional Wiltshire home of the Flyte family. After the fire that devastated a large part of Castle Howard in 1940, the derelict High Salon, Garden Room and Cabinet Room were redecorated in the 1970’s and again in 2007 to facilitate filming of Brideshead Revisited. The original Pellegrini decorated rooms were replaced by fantasy views of imaginary Vanbrugh buildings for the television series. Castle Howard, once again in 2008, became host to the movie production with other rooms, including the Chapel, and exterior locations being used. The sets were preserved with an exhibition chronicling the story of the fire and these two productions in the Garden Hall. So, Castle Howard rich in history of the Howard family also has a fictional association with the Flyte family. However, the very real Howards bear little or no resemblance to the fictional Flytes.
Travelling back to our hotel we passed along the further edge of the Great Lake where the visually stunning Castle Howard appeared through the trees.