stately homes

A return to Castle Howard

Looking down on the Great Hall

Looking down on the Great Hall

What finer place to start today than where I left off my tour of Castle Howard at Christmas, in the Great Hall?  The fire was roaring in the grate, and it needed to be, to heat this vast space.   I had completely forgotten the chill outdoors, in the sumptuousness of my surroundings.  Looking up at the dome, I could only marvel at the skill and resourcefulness that had repaired the enormous damage done by the 1940 fire.

The story of the fire and the Brideshead connection are the subjects of the exhibition in High Saloon, where my tour takes us next.  These rooms were completely destroyed in the fire, including painted frescoes by Pellegrini from 1709. New joists and flooring were installed in the 1970s, but the interiors were still burnt-out shells in 2007.  It was maybe a stroke of genius to turn these rooms into a film set for the filming of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited.  In 1981 and again in 2008, Castle Howard became Brideshead, with a cast of stars.

Castle Howard has been used for a number of film productions, the most recent of which was Death comes to Pemberley in 2014.  Is it really any wonder?

Look what I've spotted?

Just look what I’ve spotted! Haven’t owls always been popular?

The Crimson Dining Room

Such an opulent dining room

What a setting!

And what a table setting!

A room recently opened for viewing by the public is the New Library, formerly the Canaletto Room, which also was destroyed by the fire.  Books have been collected on every conceivable subject relating to the estate, creating a warm and welcoming space.

Everything for the good Victorian child appears to be the theme of the next room.  See any old favourites?  Ooh, that rocking horse, please!

Nor have the adults been knowingly neglected.

And how hard is it to pick your favourite tree?

And how hard is it to pick your favourite tree?

I think we’re not too far from the end.  The Long Gallery comes next, 160 feet long, with an Octagon lined with books as its centrepiece.  Today a cellist is playing Christmas tunes.

Just a little venture into the Chapel, then I think we can go home.  Originally intended to be a dining room (another one!), in the 1870s the floor was lowered, a new entrance created and the now chapel was redecorated in the pre-Raphaelite style.  The Howard family were patrons of William Morris, and one of his works was a stained glass window for a nearby Reformatory. This has long since closed and the window is currently on loan to Castle Howard.

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I expect your eyes are tired of looking now.  Mine are, just a little, but I’ve so enjoyed putting together my experience of Castle Howard at Christmas.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it too.  The website is full of details and photographs and I’ve included a few links, in case you’re interested.

Last year I went to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire at Christmas time, and the two stately homes have much in common.  Both have hosted film crews for Brideshead and other period dramas. Where Chatsworth enthrals with its grand themes, Castle Howard seduces with a very traditional Christmas.  I have to say that I like both.  How about you?

Castle Howard at Christmas


From the moment I walked into Castle Howard, I knew that I was in for something very special. Lozenges of light filtered down the Grand Staircase, from the 74-paned skylight overhead.  It was almost like walking on hallowed ground.  Yet I knew that the Howard family were a very real presence, in this home that brims with history.

On Monday I took you for a walk in the magnificent grounds, and I promised you a little more colour than my grey skies.  Do you recognise the Mausoleum in this painting?

IMG_4599The passages and hallways are full of exquisite works of art.  Rarely have I seen so much wealth and beauty accumulated under one roof.  Furniture and porcelain collections are lavishly distributed throughout the house, and there are guides on hand, more than happy to engage with you and share the tales that surround each piece.

Around all this is woven the magic of a classical Christmas.  I will take you through the house in the order that it was revealed, with great pride, to me.

With the most magnificent of peacocks!

With the most magnificent of peacocks!

The Howards have lived almost continuously in this house ever since it was built by Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, at the beginning of the 18th century.  The current residents are the Hon. Simon Howard and his wife Rebecca, with their twins.

You couldn’t accuse the house of being understated.  It’s very much a case of ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’, but with beautiful elegance.

How about this for a mirror?

How about this for a mirrored fireplace?

Or this beautifully mosaiced one?

Or this beautifully marbled one?

No expense was spared

Adornments are everywhere

Impressive it may be, but all this is but a prelude to the main feature.  The Great Hall is likely to provoke at least an intake of breath!  Astonishing to think that the lovely dome which crowns it crashed to the floor during the great fire of 1940.  The details of the ongoing restoration are contained in the ‘Brideshead Restored’ exhibition in High South.

The 70ft high restored dome

The 70ft high restored dome in the Great Hall

The High South stairs offer dramatic glimpses of the Great Hall through the arches.

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I am only halfway through my tour of this magnificent house and, as I don’t want eyes to glaze over, I propose to stop here.  I hope you’ll return with me.  There is still much opulence to be enjoyed, including the Chapel, with stained glass by William Morris.

If you’d like to see Castle Howard in all its Christmas finery, you have until 21st December.  Just time, isn’t there?  Full details are on the website.

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.

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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!