Castle Howard

Castle Howard

“The house is up there, round the corner…Great barrack of a place. I’ve just had a snoop round. Very ornate, I’d call it. And a queer thing, there’s a sort of R.C. church attached…There’s a frightful great fountain, too, in front of the steps, all rocks and sort of carved animals. You never saw such a thing.”
“Yes, Hooper, I did. I’ve been here before.”
— Brideshead Revisited

And I had been here before, too. More than twenty years ago Granada Television produced a TV mini-series of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Castle Howard starred as Brideshead Castle. As it is one of my favorite film adaptations of one of my favorite books, I have seen it countless times since. Evelyn Waugh did not specify Castle Howard as the site of Brideshead, but it fulfills all the requirements. And so walking around Castle Howard, I felt I was walking with ghosts. Certainly I was reliving memories as familiar as my own.

Chance brought me here in the flesh today, unexpectedly and unplanned. We were on our way to Whitby when we saw the sign for Castle Howard. I had to go. Our 6:15 start was lucky as we enjoyed four hours in Whitby, were ready to leave, but still had the afternoon before us.

We toured the house first. The decoration of the rooms and the furniture itself are incredibly ornate. I was surpised that the great dome (as well as 20 rooms in the south-east wing) had been destroyed by fire in November, 1940. Parts of the dome crashed to marble floor below which bears the scars. The dome has been rebuilt and the frescoes repainted, but what a loss. The Howard family still lives here in the wing closed to public. When they filmed the series, George Howard was very enthusiastic and lent props. They filmed in the winter and after the hunt scene, the gardeners were afraid the lawns could not be restored in time for the summer tourist season. However, with the money received from the production, more of the house was restored from the fire damage.

As we exited the house, a sudden rainshower doused us. I shot the photo above in the rain, which had the advantage of clearing the grounds of our fellow tourists. We had the place almost to ourselves the rest of the afternoon. The walled gardens are huge. We thought we’d seen the whole thing until we went through another arch and discover the rose garden. Few roses were blooming and there was a sign apologizing. Apparently something has infected the roses and the gardeners are struggling to discover what. I wish we had had more time to wander the grounds. Castle Howard sits on 10,000 acres, with lakes, and follies, and forests.

At home Jez, who lived in the neighborhood as a child, told us of his school trip to Castle Howard. He had broken his leg and was in a wheelchair. At one point in the tour his chair would not fit through a narrow hallway. So they took him another way, through a secret door in a bookcase, “Just like in the movies — they moved a book to open it.”

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