OVER our Weeties and toast, our host inquires, “Would you like a look around Castle Howard today?”
“Would we ever,” we reply.
Ninety minutes later amid beautiful rolling pastures we take sight of this famous place, the biggest country house in the UK.
We stop to look at it, slide down the ditch and climb through the cattle fence at the bottom to read what this absolutely huge column is all about.
It’s the biggest one I’ve seen since a republican friend took me to see the McKinley Monument in Niagara Square New York City; a column remembering the famous assassinated 25th President of the United States William McKinley.
This one here is a compliment to Lord Carlisle for his able representation of Yorkshire in Westminster.
Castle Howard is an agricultural estate of 10,000 acres.
About 3000 acres is dedicated to the house and expansive grounds.
We run down an avenue of lime trees, as good as the ones at Hampden Court and our host floors the pedal and positively races through the archways set in huge pyramid type structures.
“Steady on Nina, what if someone stepped out,” I say.
“Ah the laws here are lax on road kill.” replies Nina.
We pulled up alongside a monument commemorating the Castle Howard, Howard’s connection with the famous Green Howard’s of British Army fame.
There are a lot of people and we make our way over to the stable block which looks as though it was designed by Robert Adam.
It is classically beautiful and has been converted to house the butcher, baker, farm shop, nursery, estate office and various food shops.
I take a look around for a bit and estimate that about 70 horses would normally have been stabled here, as well as housing a big number of coaches and landaus.
We can now see the castle in the distance and walk downhill towards it.
As we cross the side lawn we come across the lead statue of the famous boar.
The original is in the Uffizi and is an identical copy, as this stands in the grounds of the country home, ‘Whitely’ at Bowral.
Everything at Castle Howard is much larger than life, inside there are 50 beautifully dressed and articulate people who both guard and guide.
They are here only while the visitor season is on; they never know whether they will be employed here next year until their invitations arrive (or don’t) at the end of the season.
It would be a nicely judged exercise I think, as to when to close the house.
I expect this would be the exact same day that the summer torrent has slowed and the days’ expenses exceed the days’ takings.
I will simply say the inside of the house; art works, the art gallery and the window views are unbelievable.
The section where Brideshead Revisited was filmed is still a film set.
It was a fire affected part of the house that had been structurally restored but not redecorated.
It was thus a blank canvas for the film set men.
That is except for the dining scene in the astonishing Great Hall, it was filmed as is.
We got here quite early and the day is now moving into evening.
Not that that is much of a problem in this fertile and sunlight rich country at this time of the year, not when you can see farmers crop spraying at ten o’clock at night.
We read our guide book further and find we have had something in common with Queen Victoria; we have both visited this interesting estate.
On the way home we both stop for a meal and a drink at one of the many carvery pubs now taking over in a big way from the bare bones old Victorian pubs which are being boarded up by the day; in every direction we travel.
They are too utilitarian for the modern generation who want easy parking, really good meals and a safe place to take your children to dine, all at a very reasonable price.
It seems it is reasonable, as you are able to get your drinks at the bar or from a waitress and then line up at the carvery; £5.50 gets you into the line-up.
The carvery man hands you a hot big plate with a Yorkshire pudding shell and then with surgeon like skills carves up hot gammon, hot roast turkey, beef or mutton slices onto your plate and you add crispy baked vegetables, particularly potatoes and onions and go over to a separate stand for gravy, mint sauce.
Halfway through my meal I look around me.
Why wouldn’t you dine here?
The place is packed, great thought has gone into the ambiance of the place and the dining areas are separated by various means including floor levels to provide each dining group, whether it is two people or 20, with a semi-private dining space.
The pictures and sculptures on the wall are a mix of cartoons, old English hunting and impressionist prints.
The walls are painted in harmonious colours.
I think back on the Black Swan in Normanton and understand the pub shift is now so well advanced, that the ordinary pubs in the ordinary areas are goner`s I think.
I read there are 750 English pubs, 80 of which are in Yorkshire.
The leading pub of this year is called the One Eyed Rat.
Nina points out to us the real true blue Brits; they are the older edge of the much younger crowd. They pick up their plates and fill their Yorkshire pudding shells with gravy, mint sauce, etc and when they polish that off, they return to pick up the main meal.
They are eating themselves to death I think.
We have had a splendid and memorable day, but says Nina, “I’ve much better to show you tomorrow”.
We find in time, she certainly has even better to show us.