A visit to a stately home was one of the requests when my parents joined us in the UK for a holiday earlier this year. We were doing a 'tasting tour' of Britain for a couple of weeks and as we were headed to York for a night, Castle Howard seemed like a good place to visit. My Lonely Planet 'Discover Great Britain' had given it a great wrap, so off we went to check it out for ourselves.
Located just 15 miles from York, Castle Howard is set amongst lush rolling farmland and our first impression was WOW!! The 18th century baroque house is set in 1,000 acres of woodland and gardens, including two lakes, and really makes a statement the minute you set eyes on it.
Castle Howard has been home to the Howard family for over 300 years, originally built for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle by architects Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor. Today, the Hon. Simon Howard and his wife and family live in the house (one wing is open to the public) and its popularity stems from its starring role in the Brideshead Revisted TV series and movie.
The interior of the 'grand country house' is spectacular - I can see why Lonely Planet named it as 'One of the World's Top Ten Greatest Mansions and Grand Houses'. The wing that is open to the public is furnished as it would have been in the 17th century and the walls are lined with original paintings and art.
One of the things that impressed me about Castle Howard were the 'guides' that waited in each room. They were extremely knowledgeable and were happy to answer any questions we had about the house and the family. Unlike visits to other stately homes and palaces, there was no well-rehearsed spiel that every visitor got - these guides answered the questions that interested us and really made our visit more personal.
There aren't too many houses that can boast their own cupola and chapel, but Castle Howard can. The central cupola with its beautiful frescoes is stunning, and the small chapel with its Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows must be a calming place to worship. One corridor connecting two wings of the house was lined with classical antique busts and an impromptu concert was being performed in the Great Hall when we visited.
Outside the house there is plenty to see and do. We visited on a grey, rainy day so unfortunately we didn't spend very long in the gardens. What we did see, though, was great! The 18th century walled garden houses the vegetable and flower gardens and the acres and acres of parkland and woodland are perfect for the many regular concerts and weddings that are held in the grounds.
Castle Howard offers plenty of 'foodie' experiences, too. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Courtyard Cafe in the old stables but you can also dine at the Boathouse Cafe and the Coffee Shop or bring your own picnic - there are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the breathtaking landscape whilst you eat. A farm shop, also located in the Courtyard, offers fresh, local produce with everything from fruit and vegetables to meat and bread on sale.
If you find yourself in Yorkshire, I'd highly recommend a visit to Castle Howard.
Need to know:
Entry fee - GBP14 per adult, GPB12 per senior (admission to house and grounds)
Opening times for the house - late March to late December (Check website for full details)