If you are lucky to be old enough, for eleven weeks in a row in 1981 you could settle in with your popcorn in front of the tv set and watch young actors Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews in an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. The story was a poignant look at an aristocratic family in the soft twilight of Edwardian England. The story ended with everyone miserable, and I loved it. The family house, named Brideshead, was the first stately home I had ever seen, and it took my breath away.
I much later learned that this home was not a movie set but an actual country house: Castle Howard.
If you drive north from London into the countryside of Yorkshire and about 15 miles northeast of the cathedral city of York, you will discover this residence that has been in the Howard family for over 300 years. No, it’s a great country house rather than a castle, but that doesn’t stop it from impressing. Its art collection rivals that of many small museums, and the house was once so prominent that it even had its own railway station. In its heyday–at 13,000 acres–this family’s estate measured 20 square miles.
But what you should do is take a picnic, sit across the lake, and let yourself study this jewel of art that situates itself as a home. It is stunning and as pleasing as looking at a beautiful painting.
After your picnic lunch, you should wander the grounds to find the follies. Most of us with gardens have small decorative elements in them—fairy houses, St. Francis statues, suncatchers. Great houses have follies: pieces of architecture to decorate the grounds. Each folly has been placed to draw your eyes around the view as though you actually are viewing a painting. Try looking at the picture below: you can’t help but feel your eyes being drawn around the view.
The folly below is called Temple of the Four Winds, and its name plus its Palladian style fulfill another job of a folly: to capture your imagination and make you wonder about what this place has witnessed or who has been here.
It took me 29 years to make my way on a bus tour to Castle Howard, and I only had an hour there.
But it was worth it. My personal Brideshead Revisited.
Next time: The Famous Lord Who Lost An Eye
Photo credits: Nancy Parrish