Wednesday, 20 April 2016

York day 3: Castle Howard



After spending two days in York, exploring sights such as York Minster, the Shambles, York's Chocolate Story, the city walls, Clifford Tower and YorkBoat, on our final day in Yorkshire over Easter we left the city for a trip to Castle Howard. This is a stately home you might have seen on the big or small screen before as, among other things, it was featured in both in the mini-series and film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. It already looked impressive on screen, but it was even more so in person.  

I love a good stately home, the excessively decorated rooms and widespread grounds make for a perfect day out. And since it's been a while since I visited one, Somerleyton Hall and Gardens in Norfolk was the most recent a few Easters ago, I was more than willing to take the trip to Castle Howard, even though the journey wasn't the most convenient one by public transport during the Bank Holiday weekend. Normally a bus runs from York's train station to the Castle in just over 2 hours but because of Easter it would only go a handful of times a day and we would either be forced to rush through the stately home to make our bus back or spend a good 6 hours there, which we thought might be a tad too long.

In the end we went by train to the nearby Malton, a much shorter journey, and took a 15 minute taxi drive from the station to the Caste. It worked out well, but while the train was very affordable (about the same as the bus), the taxi journey albeit short was really expensive (they probably marked it up for Easter) and so this wouldn't be the journey I recommend. If you don't have a car and you too want to travel between York and Castle Howard, I recommend visiting on a non-Bank Holiday and taking the bus instead.





Just as we arrived, the Castle doors were opening which was perfect timing as it had started to rain and we much rather spend time indoors admiring the gorgeous interiors while dry and warm. And what a wonderful journey through the history of the Howard family it was. I knew little about them before the visit and so the displays chronicling the lives of the family and the house were incredibly enlightening. I particularly found the fascinating insights into the history of the house itself interesting, from the original building of the home, which started in the 17th century, through to the 1940 fire which not only affected some of the rooms but also the iconic dome which collapsed into the Great Hall.

The Dome and the Great Hall have been restored, which was a difficult task as the painting within the Dome had to be redone but there wasn't much documented about it and so some of the colours are perhaps not identical to what they were before. You can still see large cracks running across the floor of the Great Hall, but other than that the restoration has been impeccable to my untrained eyes and the Dome was one of the highlights of the visits. Stunning and hugely impressive, I spent a fair amount of time looking at the stunning ceiling, trying to take in all the detail of this incredible feature of the house. Additionally, some of the rooms that had been affected by the fire now house exhibitions on the restoration process as well as one the Brideshead Revisited film and TV-series, ad some of the film's features have even been left in tact so it's like walking onto a set.







We made our way slowly through the house, carefully reading all the displays and even having lunch in the beautiful Fitzroy Room (I highly recommend the soup of the day, which was wholesome and flavoursome) in the hopes that the weather would lighten up when we eventually did make it outside, and lo and behold it did! However, even though it was no longer raining, it was bitterly cold and so we made our way at a sturdy pace to some of the features in the grounds we really wanted to see, such as the Atlas Fountain, but we didn't take the opportunity to see everything. On a nicer spring or summer day, I'm sure you can spend hours exploring the grounds in their own right and take a book and a picnic and get settled in one of the many green spaces in the gardens.




The longest trek we made outside was up the muddy slope to the Mausoleum. As it'd been raining all morning it was a slippery trek, but we were very pleased we made the effort as not only was the Mausoleum impressive in its own right, especially with the moody clouds hanging low behind it for a particularly dramatic backdrop, but the view from here was lovely too.






The walk back down was less of a challenge, or perhaps we'd simply become more practiced at spotting the drier patches in the grass to step on, and while we were waiting for our taxi to pick us up, we spent the last half hour or so exploring the shops near the entrance. There wasn't only a gift shop (I love English Heritage gift shops and I always want to buy everything within it), but there was also a farm shop with a butcher, delicatessen and even fresh fruit and veg. If I lived closer, this would definitely be a place I visit regularly! And while we were having lunch outside, a few cheeky little birds joined us to beg some crumbs, which was a lovely way to finish our visit.


Castle Howard is open between 10am and 5pm every day (the house itself opens at 10.30am and last entry is at 4pm). Adult tickets are £17.50, or £9.95 for just the gardens. Many thanks to Visit York for the complimentary York Passes, which allowed us free entry into this stately home. All opinions are my own. 


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