Wandering about one of England’s Finest Homes, Castle Howard

Castle Howard is a continued residence of the Howard family who have opened their home to the public for 300 years. Located about 20 minutes north-east of York, it was the perfect stop for my short journey to York coming from near Scarborough.

From the Castle’s Website:

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You can visit the website for more information. Click here:
www.castlehoward.co.uk

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According to my Sat Nav (GPS) the distance from the initial property gate to the next property gate was about a mile. “Follow the road for one mile,” she told me. “It’s not a road,” I explained to her, “it’s a driveway.” Easy to confuse, long as it was.
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After entering the second gate, there was still a large area of ground within.
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This large oblesque stands in the centre of the Howard’s traffic circle. For the main home, take the third exit. (Turn right.) I expect the other directions lead to further property access, but I did not travel them.
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I started my visit to Castle Howard with a delicious lunch at their Courtyard Cafe which you can see in this photo ahead to the right. Of course the cafe has an interior dining area for in-climate days. There is also another dining option in the Castle itself with both indoor and outdoor seating.
Do plan to lunch here if you visit.
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The front of this sizable home faces a lovely sculptured garden.

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Perhaps just as deep as it is wide.
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This would be considered the front yard. (Front garden if you’re British.)
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This fountain in the middle of the front garden.
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The back door entry where visitors are welcomed. Seems nicer than a servant’s entry though.
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Some of the hallways open to visitors.
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I like the fun variety of different types of 4-poster beds.
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View into the central area between the front and two side wings. This “courtyard” is open to the lovely country view with lake.
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View from the back of house.
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Perhaps because I come from a family of engineers who operate in heating and cooling industries, I always seem to find different radiators to be interesting.
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This and the next few images are of the main central hall.
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The Howards became friends with William Morris when they hired his firm to do much of their wallpapering and window glasses. Here is a display of various Morris wallpapers used throughout the house.
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Here you can better see some Morris designs. I have always liked these myself.
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The front garden hedging used to be more elaborate than today.
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But the fountain is still lovely.
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Finally I visit Sleaford after all this time!

Sleaford, it sounds like a sleepy name but it’s not a sleepy town.

I happened upon the lovely market town of Sleaford 19 miles South of Lincoln coming from Norwich. Distances can be very small in Great Britain, and when having to check-out by 10AM and check-in after 2PM, I often find myself needing to delay my arrival by a few hours. I could arrive to my city of destination early and park somewhere to wander about for a while before checking-in, but I always try to find an in-between town to visit enroute. I enjoyed visiting Peterborough enroute from Leicester to Norwich. Coventry between Birmingham and Warwick. Today I had not researched the possibilities but I just got lucky. Nice.

I somehow made my way to the very centre where I found pay and display parking. The first thing I notice wandering around this little town is the endless stream of cars in every direction. Very polite drivers though, they did stop to give way several times when I needed to cross without the aid of a zebra crossing. On this Saturday around noon, there was no break to be had in the streams of traffic.

I seem to be having a day of finesse as I happen into Navigation House, a handsome little structure that is also a visitors centre. It’s not exactly on the beaten path so I am rather surprised by the fortuitousness of my random happing upon it. A very friendly host welcomes me and shares some information about the town.

Navigation House was build in the 1830’s for the navigation offices the River Slea and demonstrates the prosperity it brought to Sleaford as a goods transportation hub since 1794. As you may have supposed, yes, it was named long ago from the fact that at this location there was a ford crossing over the river Slea. Sadly, when the railway came to town in the 1850s the end of this local industry became soon imminent.

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Some photos from the lovely drive from Norwich to Sleaford, on my way to Lincoln which is just a bit further.

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This very fancy camera trick was accomplished by holding the camera on an angle. I know. Brilliant.

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It was noon on Saturday, but I think that if I lived in Sleaford I would consider the amount of traffic congestion in the town centre to be of crisis level. I’m not kidding, it was truly endless.

“Where can I see the river?” “Oh, just go around that building,” she points, and then shows me on a map how it meanders the town. On viewing, I realise I had already taken photos of the waterway, I had not recognised it as a river.

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I grew-up alongside the Kennebecasis River in New Brunswick, Canada. I guess it’s probably about 500 m wide, possibly more. So I didn’t recognise the River Slea as being a river, which is quite narrow in places. Very lovely though. And lots of ducks and such.

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Wandering about the town, I happen by a handsome pub and inn that has food advertised outside that sounds appealing. I step in of the street and it is the strangest experience, there are about 20 people standing about the bar and they all look. And stare. The volume of their loud bantering lowers. I feel like an unwanted visitor at a private party, not like a stranger, more like someone loathed. It’s like how Rob Ford, current mayor of Toronto, should feel were he to happen into the home or party of anyone I know, except he has earned our contempt. I stand there for a moment feeling awkward, do I want to stand by this bar and wait to order lunch when it seems like the crowd is waiting for me to leave? Not really, event he bar keep is looking over and does not call a greeting, he just looks. Perhaps it’s the hat, I have not seen anyone in this town wearing a hat. Perhaps I look like Gatsby to them. Whatever the case, I turn on my heals and sadly I have lunch at tried and proven Costa Coffee, where I now write this blog entry. I like Costa, but it carries nothing of local flavour apart from the patrons.

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The Marquis of Granby looked more inviting from the outside than it was on the inside. I stayed for perhaps a minute.

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Not an interesting choice, but I knew I’d feel comfortable having lunch at a local Costa Coffee.

Otherwise, the people in this town seem extra friendly. At the Saturday Market I am warmly greeted by vendors as I pass by, a woman showing three model cars nearby gives a friendly hello. The drivers are certainly nice and I’ve had some friendly banter with other pedestrians. Perhaps it was actually a private party at the pub, but I don’t think so because it would have been easy enough to put-out a sign.

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I would assume that the church has long been holding this fair since it is using the original Olde English spelling.

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The Saturday Market with craft works as well as lovely breads, cheeses, meats, preserves, fancy oils, and more.

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When I told two locals I was really surprised that the traffic here is much worse than in Birmingham (England’s 2nd largest city), they laughed. But I wasn’t kidding. Not at all. I never saw a street in Birmingham that had this steady stream of traffic. Of course there is more traffic in Birmingham, but there is more capacity for the traffic. Sleaford cannot build more roads, but there must be something that could be done to encourage people not to drive through the centre if going from side to side.

Some more random facts about Sleaford:

Long a market town, in it’s early days, markets were often held on Sundays to take full advantage of the crowds of churchgoers.

Sleaford Castle was built in the 12th Century by the Bishop of Lincoln.

The tower of St.Deny’s Church was built around 1180.

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How cute is this tiny riverside buidling!

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I forgot to ask about this central windmill that has no sails. I parked near it in the “hub”.

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More countryside photos, these ones from between Sleaford and nearly Lincoln, my next destination.

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I would definitely recommend a visit to the town of Sleaford. Perhaps during the weekdays it could be described as peaceful when traffic is not at it’s peak. It was a nice little surprise finding another lovely English town, a bonus on my drive to Lincoln.

Warwick, More than just a Castle Town

Warwick

The beautiful town of Warwick contains a history dating from the 6th century, having been continually habitated since then. The main tourist draw, Warwick Castle, was built in 1068 and the Earldom of Warwick was created in 1088. Originally the town was ruled by the Earls and walls were built around the town, East Gate and West Gate survive today.

I enjoyed my stay at the Lord Leycester Hotel, located on Jury Street very near to East Gate, which I could see when leaning out my guest room window. I could also see the top of a turret of Warwick Castle from my window, which stands just one street away. The hotel does not provide newly refurbished rooms, but I enjoyed the quirkiness of what had been two Georgian townhouses combined in 1927 to make a hotel.

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View from my window looking towards the East Gate at the end of Jury Street.

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The front entry of the Lord Leycester Hotel.

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The original character remains of this Georgian Townhouse now part of the Lord Leycester Hotel.

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The little pub within the hotel is open 24/7 for residents.

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I don’t wish to mislead, my room here wasn’t “nice” but I really enjoyed staying here anyway.

Through the East Gate one happens upon Smith Street. This is one of the areas of Warwick that was not destroyed by the Great Fire of 1694. I enjoyed walking this little street many times as it was one of my favourite areas near to the hotel, and I chose to have my dinners at Roebucks Pub, which claims to be the oldest in Warwick. I like to have one place at each destination where I go everyday, to feel a bit at home. Usually it is a coffee shop, but in Warwick I chose Roebucks because it was one of the very rare places to eat that was quiet.

I often walk into restaurants and walk right out again because of the volume of the music or the acoustics being terrible creating too much noise of commotion. This pub had low ceilings and made for a peaceful setting. I would happen-in for an early dinner and spend much of my time writing there. The food was not great, the fish and chips were poor, their hamburger was very disappointing, but their steak w/chorizo was good. The service was mediocre, of the sort that they didn’t really anticipate tips and would assume me to be not a potential regular since I was clearly a traveler. I noticed a marked-improvement on my 4th visit, my first 3 visits did not even have a spec of recognition as a return customer despite it being a quiet place during my early meals. On my 4th visit the young man who served me actually seemed to care if everything was all right. My impression on other days was of a pub that employs casual students who don’t actually care about the pub, they just went through the motions of vending the items that were for sale with very little effort.
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Two British icons in front of East Gate.

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Looking through East Gate towards lovely tudor Smith Street.

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Typical tudor style as it is presented today. ( I learned that the timbers were not darkened during their era, or at least that it was not fashionable to do so up here.)

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This did not look look or taste like the wonderful fish that the Brits are famous for, the chips were good though.

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A very short walk the other way down Jury street (which becomes High Street) takes one to the West Gate, at which stands the Lord Leycester Hospital. This fun, wonky, tilting collection of 14th and 15th Century buildings was acquired by an Earl of Leycester in 1571 and made into a home for retired ex-servicemen and their wives, which it continues to be today.

Nowhere in it’s history did Lord Leycester Hospital house any kind of medical establishment. Perhaps the word hospital has had a transitional meaning over the years. I look it up and find that the latin word, hospes, referred to both guests and hosts around the 10th Century. We also get the word hospitality from this, and we do not associate that word with hospitals at all, although it would be good for a hospital to be hospitable, certainly. So this hospital was presumably a place where hosts and guests lived together and the title was perhaps given before the term hospital became widely used to refer to a place where medical treatment is given (by hosts to their guests).

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The wonderfully wonky Lord Leycester Hospital leaning against the West Gate of Warwick.

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I enjoy the lovely market area, part of it pedestrianised. It is a small area, Warwick has a population just over 30 thousand. Within this area is the Warwickshire Museum, where I learn a few interesting tidbits. Warwick was the only town in Warwickshire in 1066. The county prospered during the 13th Century and as many as 40 Castles had been built by the Normans here during the Middle Ages (C5th to C15th).

As many as 100 towns were reduced or abandoned during the 15th and 16th Centuries when many landowners changed from growing vegetables to keeping livestock. What had previously been rented farmer’s plots became more profitable grazing land.

During the Medieval times, there were three main groupings of society and belief of one’s standing was very strong. According to the museum, one of 15 people in Warwickshire were clergy during this time and the Church was England’s largest landowner, owning one fifth of all property. Aristocracy sat at the top of the hierarchy and comprised the smallest group, less than one percent. They made most of their income from renting out property.

The average person who worked for a living and was not generally a land owner, could be further divided into other classes such as merchants, famers and labourers. This, of course, is just a very brief summation.

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They just don’t make Tudor buildings like they used to during the Tudor times.

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I couldn’t wait to get out of this ugly town. KIDDING! It was surreal walking around this lovely town and having it as my base for 5 days.

I set out to visit Warwick Castle one weekday morning just as it was opening, as being a rather major destination I wanted to be able to spend some time there. One of England’s most impressive castles, it is truly a wondrous place inside and out. Within minutes I was overwhelmed by the hoards of school children well-entertained by the costumed performers and displays created by Tussauds Group. (Of Madame Tussauds, the wax museum people.) Amidst the screaming and shouting and general cacophony, I lasted less than 40 minutes before I fled the beautiful scene. For twenty of those minutes I had been trapped outside the main entrance of the Castle during a dramatic explanation of the Castle’s entry. It was interesting, I just had not expected to be standing in a group of several hundred young children while an actor had them making sounds on command. “EEEEEEWWWWW!” was the taught response for whenever he spoke “murder”, “OOOOOOHHHHHHH” the expected response for something else. Of course this participation was repeated and practiced to be as loud and as fervent as possible. The gate finally raised I ran past the crowds and quickly visited some of the living chambers but by the time I had done this the entire Castle was infiltrated and I made a hasty retreat out of the castle grounds to catch my breath in a nearby tea room.

I am not fond of crowds and of noise. Two fantastic years doing the JET programme in Japan where I taught alongside Japanese teachers in a Junior High School made me think that I could handle teaching. Not so, North Americans don’t sit quietly in little rows and wait for their honourable teacher to talk. Surprise. What was I thinking? (One of my later professional incarnations was as a Canadian high school teacher, I did my BED at OISE/University of Toronto nearly ten years ago. I taught casually for a short time in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I never got a contract, so I don’t really know how it would have gone. My partner and I had started a business and I stopped subbing when we started expanding and I didn’t have time to teach anymore anyway.)

“Did you have a nice day,” the staff member kind-of asks as I return my barely used audio guide. It had opened and she herself had furnished me with this MP3 player less than an hour ago and it was still morning, I basically ran in and ran out. Her question must be from auto-speak, who would pay an entry fee of nearly £20 ($30) and stay not even long enough to have walked the periphery, let alone looked at anything. Actually, if I was in a rush I suppose I would. I take it back. But I wasn’t in a rush until I was being chased. I am sure it’s lovely, just not for me, definitely not today. Perhaps on a weekend when there are families and holiday-makers in little groups rather than groups of several hundred excited screaming darlings swarming about.

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There is no denying that Warwick Castle is quite stunning.

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This view of Warwick Castle is not from inside the castle grounds, it’s from a nearby roadway where it crosses the River Avon.

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This actor entertained the children for a good 20 minutes while adults stood by.

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At this point I was trying to keep ahead of the progressing swarm of excited kids which I only accomplished for a few rooms before it was all over for me.

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Final views within the castle grounds.

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Cream tea, the original comfort food. Traditionally prepared tea (loose), fresh scone, clotted cream, butter, and jam. Cream tea refers to this set, not just the drink. Afternoon tea is more elaborate, I wrote about it in Leicester, a future posting.

Warwick is well situated to use as a base for several days. If you enjoy walking or cycling, make sure to visit the tourist information office on Jury Street to pick-up their pamphlet guides and check-out my posting of English Countryside from Warwick to Royal Leamington Spa. Warwick is situated on the lovely river Avon and also the Grand Union Canal. From Warwick I also took a day trip to the spa town of Cheltenham (also a separate posting) and Stratford-upon-Avon (another posting). Kenilworth Castle is a very short drive or is walkably-nearby, and Coventry is perhaps only 25 minutes by car. Warwick is a lovely town and a strategic sight-seeing location.

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Just some final shots wandering around Warwick.

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