Grand designs

IMG_0166When the Howard family – Simon, Rebecca and the children Merlin and Octavia – are at home they don’t receive visitors. But they don’t mind a bit should I – or anyone else – wish to wander around their expansive estate in England’s north east.

I’ve driven north from Sheffield, via York, to see their fabulous, famous home and I consider it’s worth paying the entry fee of £8.50 for my personal experience of Brideshead Revisited.

Castle Howard‘s fame spread beyond England when it was used as the location for the 1981 Granada Television adaption of Evelyn Waugh’s famous novel. That 11-part mini-series starring Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Diana Quick and Sir Laurence Olivier put this gorgeous slice of British real estate on the world map.

In more recent years a film of the same name, also shot on the estate, has prompted a new generation of curious visitors.

Castle Howard is one of northern England’s grandest historic houses, although “house” is a total misnomer for this immense and glorious stately pile. The estate is owned and run by a private company of which the incumbent Simon Howard and his brother Nicolas are directors. Simon and family live in part of the house while the rest is open to the public.

IMG_0107Building began on the house in 1699 and lasted more than a century until completed. A fire in 1940 destroyed the signature dome and gutted 20 rooms. The dome was not rebuilt until the 1960s and it was not until 1981 that the Garden Hall was restored.  Further extensive restoration took place in the 1990s but none of this is evident to the visitor.

Castle Howard overlooks an expanse of manicured lawn that leads down to the Great Lake. At the water’s edge I have views of the grand house similar to those seen in the TV series.

I also follow the incongruously-titled Polar Bear Walk between rows of old fruit trees. Beyond Ray Wood stands the Temple of the Four Winds and from here I have another splendid view, one that captures those “days when the ditches were creamy with meadow sweet and the air heavy with the scent of summer”.

Given my luck in being blessed with unusually glorious weather, I choose to remain out in the sunshine and explore the formal gardens rather than spend time inside the house looking at furniture and paintings. It seems the obvious choice on such a rare day.

All you need to know about visiting Castle Howard


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