Yesterday, I had a wonderful day out with a visit to Castle Howard, North Yorkshire. Lately, I’ve been so buried in edits for my forthcoming Bramblewick novel, Christmas at Cuckoo Nest Cottage, that it’s surprising I hadn’t welded myself to my chair. It felt like ages since I’d seen daylight or breathed fresh air, so it was a great relief yesterday to shut down the computer, put on my coat, and head out into the world.
Just over a year ago, Jessica Redland and I decided to spend the day at Burton Agnes Hall, viewing its gorgeous Christmas display. This time, we’d chosen Castle Howard because, although it’s somewhere Jessica had visited several times previously, I, to my shame, had never seen it in real life before. I came close last year. I actually had tickets for the Countryfile Live event there last August, but had to cancel at the last minute, so I was really looking forward to our trip. It was unbelievable that, just like last year, we’d chosen a day when the wind howled and the rain bucketed it down. I couldn’t believe it.
I caught the train to Seamer, near Scarborough, where Jessica met me, then we drove to Castle Howard. I’d been very, very close to the place earlier in the year when I visited Yorkshire Lavender. It dawned on me that I’d seen the signs for the house so many times on my travels across North Yorkshire that it was amazing I’d never actually been before. At last! So, was it worth the wait?
In a word, yes! Despite the horrendous weather, there was no disguising the grandeur and beauty of Castle Howard. That famous house, so well known for its history, not to mention its television appearances in programmes like Brideshead Revisited, Death Comes to Pemberley and Victoria (you can find out more about its illustrious screen career here) is breathtaking to view in real life. It’s HUGE. I mean, enormous! I’ve visited stately homes before – lots of them – but this was on another scale.
Each year, the house is decorated for Christmas, and this year the theme was Masquerade. You can read more about that here. Designed by Charlotte Lloyd Webber and Greta Bereke, the house had been dressed as if in preparation for a grand masquerade ball. The rooms on display housed the most amazing costumes and masks. There were rooms dedicated to Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin, a giant jewel-covered mask hanging from the ceiling, a “river” complete with bridge, a scale model of Castle Howard itself showing how expansive the place really is, Christmas trees decorated in all manner of baubles, real fires burning in many of the rooms, a piano being played (honestly!) and the most enormous Christmas tree I’ve ever seen in my life! Seriously, it must have been twenty-five to thirty feet tall! Utterly stunning.
Our favourite room was probably the library. It was floor to ceiling with books, obviously, but, despite the high ceiling and large size, it had the most wonderful cosy, friendly feeling to it. It was light and airy, with desks and chairs and a wonderful fire crackling in the grate. We could just imagine a comfy sofa in there and hours spent reading by the fire. Writing would be a real pleasure in such a room. We both decided that if we had a room like that we’d probably never leave it.
I also loved the “pink” bedroom, which was one of the first rooms on the tour. It contained a beautiful bed with drapes, a stunning pink costume for the ball, a fireplace trimmed with a gorgeous pink garland, and a tall Christmas tree, beautifully decorated in pink and white baubles and topped with a mask and white feathers.
It was so pretty! I was almost sure I heard one of the tour guides mention Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, in connection with the room, but I can’t be sure. As someone who has visited Georgiana’s home, Chatsworth House, on several occasions, and toured “The Duchess” exhibition a few years ago, I would love to know if there really was a connection there, as I felt really drawn to that room.
Jessica and I weren’t just celebrating Christmas but also the fact that, on the Monday, she’d got the results of her Masters in Creative Writing from the Open University. She’d not only passed, but she’d received a distinction! I was so proud of her and, of course, we had to have cake. Luckily, there are several places to eat at Castle Howard, and I had a slice of Victoria sponge while Jessica had lemon cake. Both cakes were delicious, as you can probably tell from the fact that we were halfway through them before we even remembered to take a photo!
We had a ride back from the house to the exit on the Castle Howard train, which was great fun, even if the wind was howling around us. It was just starting to get dark and the lights on the multitude of Christmas trees in the grounds shone brightly and looked so beautiful. Honestly, it really is the most splendid place to visit, and I’d highly recommend it. It’s also very accessible. It has a very wide stone staircase which has a stair lift in place for people with mobility issues. Many of the doors were wide enough for wheelchairs (there were many wheelchair users in the house that day) and there is even an alternative route on offer for those that can’t manage the stairs. I was so impressed that such an ancient house had so many facilities for the disabled. I noticed plenty of ramps, too, and some of the corridors are incredibly wide and spacious. Of course, there are areas that it’s not possible to get a wheelchair. Getting into the chapel, for instance, would be extremely difficult, I would imagine, thanks to the twisting staircase that leads down (and up) to it. But in such an old house, I really am impressed by how much effort has been put into making as much of it as possible accessible. If you would like to visit but are worried about accessibility, you can find out more here.
I’d love to go back to Castle Howard in the summer, but I’m also looking forward to next year’s Christmas display. We had a chat with a lovely lady in the gift shop, who told us all about the work that had gone into the display (they had less than two weeks to get the house dressed for Christmas!) and her obvious love for the house shone through. She was as proud of the place as if it were her own. It was lovely to see such enthusiasm, and I’m definitely hoping to return to see what’s on offer for Christmas 2020.
All in all, Jessica and I agreed that we’d had a fabulous day out at a real jewel in Yorkshire’s crown!
Have a great week.