Stately homes. Back in the day, they were home to the landed gentry, and were local employers par excellence, what with large households to cook, clean, furbish and refurbish for, ornamental and vegetable gardens and even farmland to nurture, children to rear and educate, hunting grounds to stock and maintain, guests to cater for.
Nowadays, they’re where the English like to go on a Bank Holiday. They provide the chance to get a glimpse of other, very different lives, to learn a little history and to enjoy a stroll round gardens on such a different scale from that little patch you potter around back home. And because it’s a Bank Holiday, a little entertainment doesn’t go amiss either. People arrive in their hundreds, expecting to spend the entire day exploring house and gardens, snacking rather well in one of several tea rooms, mooching round the gift shop and having a little bit of extra fun too.
Emily had come over from Barcelona to visit, with boyfriend Miquel in tow. Castle Howard seemed a good place to spend a day. Thanks to its frequent starring role in TV costume dramas and films, there can be few Brits who aren’t familiar with Castle Howard, even those who haven’t ventured north of Watford Gap. Me, I’m the ‘Brideshead Revisited’ generation, and back in 1981, Tuesday evenings (I think) were put on hold for weeks and weeks as we turned the television to ITV and followed the Evelyn Waugh saga, feeding our nostalgia for a very different pre-Second World War Britain. Castle Howard was pretty much star of the show.
And really, why not? You can read its history here, but just spend a little time strolling round with us, as we re-discovered the parkland; the woodland; the walled gardens; the splendid 19th century Atlas fountain; The Great Hall – where columns & arches covered with carved decorations rise towards the splendidly painted dome; the chapel decorated by Burne-Jones… and so on.
But because we went on a Bank Holiday we had extra things to do. There were sheep dog displays. We admired the skill of those so-well-trained dogs as they expertly rounded up not only sheep, but a gaggle of geese and a fussy line of ducks.
There were falconry displays. Here is the splendid and majestic Ferruginous Buzzard who made a break for it and got away: last seen in a distant field, regarding us all with thorough disdain. I hope handler Ben found him again: he was a very handsome beast indeed, as were all the birds of prey we saw that afternoon.
A final wander round the grounds, the walled garden, then we too made our excuses and left, just before closing time and the mass-escape for the car park. We’d had a fine day.