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Castle Howard in the Howardian Hills

Howardian Hills - Castle Howard and Coneysthorpe

From Welburn 7 miles (11.3km)

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Starting from the attractive village of Welburn, this walk undertakes a circuit of the Castle Howard Estate. The scenery is stunning with beautiful parkland, ancient woodland and inspiring monuments to savour.

Welburn’s church, dedicated to St John the Evangelist, stands on the hillside at the southern edge of the village. Although consecrated in 1865, St John’s remained a ‘Chapel of Ease’ within the parish of Bulmer until 1986 when it became a separate parish

The village has many Grade II listed buildings, including the former reading room which dates from the eighteenth century. Above the old doorway is a working First World War memorial clock with the dedication inscription on the key­stone underneath. The bell-cote to the right of the centre stack houses the clock bell. The village’s red telephone box is also Grade II listed. The box is a type K6, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1935 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V; subsequently known as the Jubilee kiosk.

From the church, we ascend to the hilltop and the piers of the Exclamation Gates. The piers frame a spectacular view of Castle Howard. Their name derives from the cries of astonishment by visitors, including Queen Victoria, as they approached the great house from this direction. Leaving Welburn, the route leads through the fields to the grounds of Castle Howard.

In 1699, Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, commissioned Sir John Vanbrugh to design and build a luxurious country mansion. Remarkably, Vanbrugh was a playwright and had no previous architectural experience. To assist him with the design, Vanbrugh engaged Nicholas Hawksmoor, former deputy to Sir Christopher Wren. The building of Castle Howard spanned the lifetimes of three successive earls and took more than 100 years to complete. The resulting magnificence certainly merits its reputation and the prestige of being one of the world’s most beautiful buildings. The mansion played the role of ‘Brideshead’ in the 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited and a subsequent movie in 2008. Some of its other film appearances include Barry Lyndon 1975, Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties 2006 and more recently the ITV series Victoria 2016.

The eye-catching mock fortifications along the estate wall are the first of many follies and monuments scattered throughout the grounds. To the right is the Pyramid designed and built in 1728 by Hawksmoor, whose fondness for pagan symbols such as pyramids and obelisks led to his nickname as ‘the Devil’s Architect’. At the main road is the gatehouse, built by Vanbrugh in c.1718 as a pyramid arch. Sir Thomas Robinson added the wings in 1756-8.

From the gatehouse, a delightful avenue lined with lime trees leads to the Obelisk which stands at the entrance to Castle Howard. The Obelisk is 79 feet (24m) high and commemorates the Duke of Marlborough’s campaign victories in the War of the Spanish Succession 1701-14. The route continues to Coneysthorpe passing the Obelisk Ponds, and there are also views of the Great Lake.

The picturesque village of Coneysthorpe has a large green, lined with stone cottages. Standing at the top of the green is the 1835 chapel of ease, refurbished in 1894 by Temple Moore; it has a large bell-cote housing one bell. The former schoolhouse and reading room built in 1852 now serves as the village hall, and the War Memorial sits at the bottom of the green near the road.

Leaving the village, we re-enter the estate grounds and continue to the boundary of Ray Wood, a walled garden containing an impressive collection of trees, shrubs and flowers gathered from exotic places around the world. The pavilion on the south-east corner of Ray Wood is the Temple of the Four Winds, designed by Vanbrugh in 1724. However, the building was not completed until 1738.

Further on, we cross an impressive Italianate bridge spanning the New River Pond. From the centre of the bridge there are views of the mansion and the temple, but the Mausoleum is the most conspicuous. Built from 1728-42, the Mausoleum stands 90 feet (27.4m) in height and it has twenty Doric columns to support it. Inside, the chapel ceiling rises 70 feet (21.3m), and the crypt beneath the chapel has sixty-three recesses for coffins.

Before entering the woodland at East Moor Banks, look back for views of the Pyramid, the mansion and the Mausoleum. The path through the wood leads to an enigmatic statue with Four Faces, another of Hawksmoor’s designs c.1727, restored 1997-2003. From the Four Faces, we follow the Centenary Way footpath to the main road and then return to Welburn.

Download PDF with map and directions

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