On his recent tour along the Hockney Trail in Yorkshire, Mark Bibby Jackson checks in at Sandburn Hall and goes for a stroll around the grounds of Castle Howard.
In my teenage years I was transfixed with the TV series adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. Perhaps it was because people said I had a passing resemblance to Anthony Andrews who played the role of Sebastien, or our shared interest in teddy bears and wearing cricket pullovers loosely dangled around our shoulders – fortunately long since lapsed – but the series had a profound effect upon my youthful self, leading to my reading all of Waugh’s novels. So, when offered the opportunity to visit Castle Howard where much of the series was filmed on my recent journey to Yorkshire I felt it an opportunity I could not decline or fall.
Castle Howard History
Although work on Castle Howard commenced in 1699, it took more than a century for it to be completed. The third Earl of Carlisle recruited dramatist John Vanbrugh, a fellow member of the Kit-Cat Club, for the work. He in turn requested Nicholas Hawksmoor to assist him on the design, which evolved by 1702.
Although most of the house was built within ten years with lavish interiors, the house was not completed by the time of Vanbrugh’s death in 1726. It lacked a west wing, for attention had focused by this time on landscaping the magnificent gardens. It was only between 1801-11 that Castle Howard was finally rounded off with the construction of the Long Gallery.
Other alterations were carried out between 1870-75, so what now stands before you is far removed from Vanbrugh’s symmetrical Baroque vision. The two wings do not match reflecting the Palladian style of the 18th century.
Sadly, Castle Howard was ravaged by a fire in 1940 that broke out in one of the chimneys rather than caused by the Luftwaffe. This destroyed part of the building including the dome. This was reconstructed in the early 60s, but the Garden Hall was not rebuilt until the early 80s in conjunction with Granada Television for the filming of Brideshead Revisited, Andrews, Teddy Bear et al.
Castle Howard Walks
Unfortunately the house itself was closed for filming during our visit – perhaps a remake of Brideshead Revisited? – so I had to content myself with a tour around the grounds.
Castle Howard has 1,000 acres of parkland to explore. We started our tour of the grounds by strolling through the highly colourful walled gardens, which date back to the early 18th century when they were used as a kitchen garden, although now much is devoted to roses, with more than 2,000 of the flowers.
From here we passed to the Atlas Fountain at the heart of the South Parterre. Commissioned by the seventh Earl in 1850, it offers a wonderful view of the asymmetrical house. Leaving my companion to enjoy the view, I walked on to the South Lake, created in the 1720s, where swans were swimming peacefully on its unruffled surface.
The permitted walk I was vaguely following continued down to the Temple of the Four Winds which has great views across the neighbouring countryside. Designed by Vanbrugh, it was still incomplete at the time of his death and finally decorated in 1738 by Francesco Vassalli. From here you can look down to the Mausoleum. Supported by a colonnade of 20 pillars and designed by Hawksmoor, this is still the private burial place for the Howard family and off-limits for a tour.
Part of the attraction of Howard Castle’s grounds is the variety of landscape. Next to the Temple of the Four Winds is Ray Wood, woodland gardens full of plants from all over the world, as well as the occasional folly and Hawksmoor’s Pyramid.
Returning to the house via the Polar Bear Walk, I pass wild pigs sniffing away in the soil presumably hunting for truffles. My little walk concludes on the north side of Castle Howard where I can look down towards the Great Lake, created some 70 years after the one to the south.
Sandburn Hall Hotel
If you are seeking hotels near Castle Howard, there are not many closer than Sandburn Hall.
Unlike Castle Howard, Sandburn Hall is not a property replete with history. Indeed the hotel set amongst lakes and woodland a few miles outside of York only opened earlier this summer. However, what might be lacking in tradition they more than compensate with hospitality as I discovered when I checked in to discover a chilled bottle of prosecco and selection of chocolates awaiting me.
With a view of the lake and recently planted trees, my room is really well equipped with the sockets and chargers in all the correct places. There is an iron and board as well as lots of cupboard space for people here on a longer stay or a business trip. The bathroom was equally well designed. An excellent walk in shower revived me in the morning, and there was a generous bath to relax in the evening. Toiletries were by Elemis.
The colour scheme hovered between green and brown which blended in well with the colours and predominance of wood elsewhere in the hotel to provide a natural earthen feel.
Dining at Tykes Restaurant
In the evening we dined at Tykes restaurant which is very much a steak and seafood restaurant.
Although the poor staff were rushed off their feet such was the popularity of the place, the food was perfectly cooked and well-presented. We started with excellent scallops and king prawns, followed by a sea bass fillet served on new potatoes and a pan au chocolate bread and butter pudding. I’m not quite sure what my nana would have thought of the latter but it went down a treat.
Returning to my room I discovered that my bed was extremely comfortable. There is something about a new bed and fresh linen. Along with the quietness outside a peaceful night’s sleep was almost guaranteed, which allowed me to dream of Brideshead Revisited and teddy bears.
Castle Howard York
Sandburn Hall can arrange Castle Howard tickets for you, alternatively you can find further information about tours and Castle Howard booking here. It’s 15 miles from York to Castle Howard, and shorter from Sandburn Hall hotel.
Castle Howard Events
Events and exhibitions are held throughout the year – when not closed for film shoots – including the Castle Howard Triathlon. Details of what’s on at Castle Howard can be found here. Castle Howard Garden Centre is also well worth a visit.
Sandburn Hall York
Sandburn Hall, Flaxton, York, YO60 7RB
T: 01904 469922
Main image by Mark Bibby Jackson