Jo’s Monday walk : Ray Wood and Polar Bear walk

Cherub fountain in the Rose Garden, Castle Howard

Cherub fountain in the Rose Garden, Castle Howard

Some of you may remember that around this time last year I met my daughter for a Grand Day Out, at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire?  The house was beautifully decorated for Christmas, and I would have loved to do the same this year.  Instead I had to settle for a visit to another of England’s beautiful historic homes, Castle Howard in Yorkshire. It’s every bit as fine as Chatsworth, but I had to substitute a husband for a daughter.  Fortunately, he doesn’t mind a walk in beautiful gardens.

The more observant among you will have noticed a reference to a Polar Bear Walk.  Now don’t get too excited- I didn’t find any!  Which was a source of disappointment as it was certainly cold enough for them.  Set within 1,000 acres of beautiful landscape in the Howardian Hills, the house is described by Lonely Planet as ‘one of the world’s top ten greatest mansions’.  That’s quite a claim!   Come with me and see what you think.

The rose garden was looking sadly bare

The rose garden was looking sadly bare

So it was time to go hunting for polar bears

So it was time to go hunting for polar bears

The zigzag of trees climbing the slope was referred to on the map as Polar Bear Walk.  It didn’t seem too much to expect, but I could see neither hide nor hair of one.  Nor could I find an explanation of the name.  Oh, well!

But there was a nice view across the lake.

There was a nice view across the lake.

The sky was an unrelenting shade of gloom but, undaunted, and in the interests of getting warmed up, a scramble up Polar Bear Walk was called for.  It leads to the Reservoir in Ray Wood. A reservoir of sorts has existed in these woods since the 18th century.  Filled from a nearby stream, it supplies the two main fountains in the grounds below, using the force of gravity to drive the fountain jets.

The Reservoir

The Reservoir

With 25 acres of woodland, many of the trees and shrubs in Ray Wood are original species, brought from around the world by the great plant hunters of the 19th and 20th centuries.  The acidic soil supports a variety of thriving rhododendrons- one of my favourite plants.


But look what I managed to spot- in December!

But look what I managed to spot- in December!

And the occasional statue

And a statue or two

I loitered for quite a while, watching some grey squirrels frolic.  They kept a playful eye on me, and easily managed to stay out of camera shot.  I always have that kind of relationship with squirrels!  Consulting the map I’d picked up at reception, it was time to leave the woods and press on to the Temple of the Four Winds.  Would this be as draughty as it sounds?

It was certainly a little bleak on this grey old day

It was certainly a little bleak on this grey old day

Originally known as the Temple of Diana, it was designed by Vanbrugh, but remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1726.  Ten years later the interiors were finally decorated by the stuccoist Franceso Vassalli.  The temple was used as a place for reading and refreshment, and beneath it is a cellar where servants prepared food for the family. The temple can be entered on one of the free guided tours, which take place between March and October.

It's quite a vantage point, isn't it?

It’s quite a vantage point, isn’t it?

Even set against such grey skies!

Even set against such grey skies!

There are a number of monuments within the estate, and heading down to the gently curving New River Bridge, the Mausoleum becomes visible on the horizon.  Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, it stands 90 feet tall and is supported by a colonnade of 20 pillars.

The Mausoleum, on the horizon

The Mausoleum, on the horizon

And in a little more detail

And in a little more detail

The bulrushes don't seem to mind the mist

The bulrushes don’t seem to mind the mist

Statuary dot the grounds and it’s a shame that the sky is not brighter because they really don’t look their best.  The forecast was for a little blueness between 2 and 3 o’clock.  ‘A little’ was all I saw.  The following day dawned bright and blue, but I was elsewhere.

Visible from the house and by far the grandest sculpture in the grounds, the Atlas Fountain is beautiful.  The 3rd Earl of Carlisle, now interred within the Mausoleum, started the creation of the waterways which give the estate its character.  There are lakes on both sides of the house, and in Summer you might even go boating on the Great Lake.

The Atlas Fountain, with its patina of age

The Atlas Fountain, with its patina of age

I hope you enjoyed the walk, despite the dreary skies.  I did, but I’m pretty sure that I will be back to join a guided walk in the Spring, when the rhododendrons are in full bloom.

The Castle Howard website is full of information, including details of how to get there.  The photos show it at its glorious best.  Later in the week I’ll be taking you inside the house and I can promise you a lot more colour.

walking logo

You might need the kettle on for a ‘warm up’, then sit back and enjoy the walks I have to share. Details of how to join in are on my Jo’s Monday walks page.  Many thanks to all my contributors, far and wide.  It wouldn’t be the same without you.

Shall we start in paradise, with Jude?

Home and Away

Here’s a different, but still lovely, shoreline with Drake  :

Walk the line, the coastline

Next stop, Toronto, for a ‘mum’ show!  :

The sport of Mums

Then a hop ‘down the way’, to Dallas, to enjoy Amy’s beautiful photography  :

The Dallas Arboretum

It’s snowing on Gilly’s blog, but not in her world!  :

It may be December, but…

In Switzerland you have a good chance of snow!  And idyllic scenery- thanks Rosemay!

Weggis by the Lake

Did you ever think you’d get chance to visit Mount Krakatoa?  No- me neither!  Amazing, Noe!

Mount Krakatoa

And, just to put you all to shame, here’s my lovely mate, Cathy, in China.  Don’t miss it!

5 hour trip to the Longji Rice Terraces

Hope to see you all later in the week.  Have a good one!


  1. The grounds are so lovely even in the winter Jo – I was lucky enough to go on a beautiful spring day a couple of years back and have been to Castle Howard many times before too! Thanks so much for including my latest post about Weggis in your Monday Walk – one minor point hope you don’t mind me clarifying for readers but Weggis is in Switzerland not Austria – both beautiful places at any time of the year! Have been flat chat trying to get organised for Christmas this week in between “Grandmum” duties so apologies for late reply! I think I will just about get my UK cards in the mail in time for the last posting date! Hope you’re having a good week 🙂

    1. So sorry, Rosemay! 😦 Anyone reading your post would realise at once, of course, but I’ll go back and change it 🙂 Yes- we run faster and faster as it approaches. Next week is my busy one.

      1. Thanks Jo not to worry it’s obviously about Switzerland when you read it 🙂 I am taking a break from Christmas to write up my weekly post today – it’s easy to get caught up in the manic rush! Still have lots to do however! Best wishes with all your preparations too! 🙂

  2. I love your description of the “unrelenting shade of gloom,” Jo. That is the perfect description for the skies I’ve been living under in the south of China. “Settling for a visit” to this place didn’t look like much of a hardship, despite the dreary weather. And it’s good you had Mick along; he always seems to be a good sport to accompany you on your wanderings. Thanks for taking us on this lovely walk, despite the lack of polar bears. The Temple of Diana, the mausoleum, the bridge, the statues, all were lovely to see. Thanks for sharing this lovely holiday walk; and thanks for including me on your Monday walk. 🙂

    1. Couldn’t be more different from your walk though Cathy, could it? Thank goodness you can wind down again now a bit 🙂 You’re always such lovely company! Thanks, hon 🙂

      1. It is a lot different than my walk through the rice terraces, Jo, but of course that’s what makes the world so interesting — that every culture is so rich and varied. I’ve had a busy week at work, Jo, and the next several weeks until finals will continue to be busy. I can’t wait till the semester is over and I’ll have about 6 weeks to travel! Now I just hope I can continue to save enough money to make it all happen. I also need to get my plans in order. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Paula. It’s a bit fuzzy but I could blame the weather 🙂 🙂 It was such an atmospheric place! Rather nice to have it to ourselves. I’m doing the house in 2 parts so I don’t bore everyone to death. Hugs, busy lady! Thanks for finding time for me.

  3. You’re making me hungry for the bleakness of a Warsaw winter! I loved this walk – the cherub, the owl, the reflections, the bare trees. Mind you, we had darkness at 4 here yesterday – a monumental thunderstorm, hail and sheeting rain. But light returned before the next morning.

    1. Spooky weather! 😦
      This whole place reminds me of ‘Wuthering Heights’. Funny, because it’s not on the part of the Moors with rolling heather but the scenery is majestic. Going to publish part 1 of the house today. Take care, Meg 🙂

    1. I thought you might be ‘out and about’ because you hadn’t posted again, Sue. Your Mum’s I think you said? Hugs all round. 🙂 I’ll check the walk and get back to you. Many thanks 🙂

  4. No Polar Bears – oh dear, the mystery continues 😉 I love the shots even though the weather was bleak. I really enjoyed that cool air for this walk because it’s stinking hot here 😀

  5. A similar grey sky here today in NZ Jo, though definitely not cold! Had a lovely visit to the Hamilton Gardens where I could easily have spent the whole day, but had to make do with half. I’ll do a post on it once I am back in dear old blighty!

    Meanwhile a somewhat warmer walk for you to enjoy, though sadly no lighthouse:


    1. The forecast is for -9C this week, Jude! I’d hang on down there if I were you 🙂 That said, we had a beautifully uplifting last pre-Christmas walk on the moors with the group yesterday. All set to hibernate, but I need to buy a tree first 🙂
      Thanks a lot for the walk!

  6. It may have been a bleak, gloomy day Jo but your photographs still caught the character of such a beautiful place. I can imagine how it would look on a nice summers day; the landscape is awesome!

  7. I enjoyed this post because you did the walking.
    Actually the grey sky helped photography but may be not the walk.
    The cherub fountain grabbed my attention immediately,
    I like gargoyles and that sort of thing.
    I hit on the link and the vidio was interesting.

    1. It’s a fascinating place, Jack, often used as a film set, and they wouldn’t need to change a thing! You know I like my dash of blue in the sky, but I do think I’ll go back in the Spring. A little decadent boating on the lake appeals 🙂

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