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Glorious Castle Howard

A walk around the well-ordered estates of one of the country's most famous stately homes.

Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 256ft (68m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and estate roads, 1 stile

Landscape Estate landscape and farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 300 Howardian Hills & Malton

Start/finish SE 708710

Dog friendliness Dogs should be on leads for much of walk

Parking Roadside car park near lake north west of Castle Howard, near crossroads

Public toilets None on route (toilets at Castle Howard)

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1 From the car park, walk to the crossroads and turn right towards Coneysthorpe. Walk right through the village, and just beyond the 'Slow' sign go right through a tall white gate in a wall, following the Centenary Way sign.

2 Go half left, crossing the track and head towards the further telegraph pole. Pass the cemetery on your left, walking now along a track. Through a gateway, go right along the edge of a field and, when you reach the double gate, turn right again along the edge of the wood. Continue along the track to reach a bridge.

3 Do not cross the bridge, but turn left along the track, following it as it bends right through the farm buildings, following the Centenary Way sign. The track passes through a wood, winds left over a bridge and then right. At the farm buildings follow the Centenary Way sign off to the right.

4 At the T-junction, turn right along the metalled lane. The Pyramid comes into view on your left-hand side. As you near the Pyramid, you will reach a staggered crossroads where the Centenary Way is signed to the left. Turn right here and descend to the bridge over the dammed stream, with the Mausoleum on the right and Castle Howard on the left.

5 Cross the bridge and continue up the track, with the Temple of the Four Winds on your left. The path goes over the ridge, then turns left to the park wall. Follow the wall as it bends left and go over a stile beside a white gate and continue along the track.

6 After about 30yds (27m), just beyond a gate on your left marked 'Private No Public Right of Way', go left off the gravel track down a grassy path. Follow this to another gravel track, where you turn left to reach a signpost. Turn right here and follow the track back to the tall white gate in Coneysthorpe. Turn left here, and retrace your route back to the car park.

One of the greatest of England's stately homes, Castle Howard was designed in 1699 by John Vanbrugh for Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle. Vanbrugh was not an architect; he made his reputation first as a soldier, then as a playwright, so he was an odd choice. Nevertheless, he rose to the task in superb style. The north front, which we see from the first part of the walk, is hugely dramatic, with its giant columns, curving wings and crowning dome. One early visitor, Horace Walpole, wrote, 'I have seen gigantic palaces before, but never a sublime one.'

Everyone who visits Castle Howard will soon realise that this great house is set in a landscape that has been carefully manipulated as a setting for the house. The impressive 3¾ mile (6km) long, ruler-straight avenue that passes through the fortified Carrmire Gate and the Pyramid Gate, is only the start. Virtually everything of the estate you will see on the walk has been altered - hills rounded or levelled, rivers re-routed and dammed, lakes dug. All this was to create what the 18th-century writers called 'a perfect landskip', based on Italian paintings and dotted with classical buildings.

There are three pyramids at Castle Howard - one of them is over the Pyramid Gate, one is in Pretty Wood and the third, the 'Great' Pyramid, is a landmark on the second part of this walk. Surrounded by four stone lanterns this pyramid (not open to the public) holds a monster bust of the 3rd Earl's great-great-grandfather. To the right as you approach the ornamental bridge over the New River, created around 1735, is the splendid Mausoleum, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. It is the final resting place for many generations of the Howard family, including Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, a former Chairman of the BBC. From the ornamental bridge there are fine views of the south façade of the house itself and its distinctive gilded dome.

Beyond the bridge is the Temple of the Four Winds, each portico inviting fresh breezes from the cardinal points of the compass. This little building by Vanbrugh is at the end of a terraced walk from the house. It is said that this walk was originally the main street of the village of Henderskelfe, swept away by the 3rd Earl and his architect in their grandiose scheme. Plans were drawn up for a new village nearby, but, somehow, it was never built. Beyond, notice the garden wall; the ground is higher on the house side, and is retained by a solid, rustic wall with a ditch in front of it - an early HaHa, which allowed uninterrupted views of the countryside without the inconvenience of sheep in the drawing room.

Where to eat and drink

When Castle Howard is open, usually from March to October, you can get drinks and snacks at the Hayloft in the Stables. A wider range of meals is available in the Fitzroy Room in the house, and in summer the Lakeside Café on the north side of the house is open for refreshments.

What to look for

Not everything at Castle Howard is 18th century. The largest piece of sculpture in the gardens is the grandiose Atlas fountain, with the Titan holding up the globe and surrounded by Tritons spouting water from their shells. This was put in place when the Victorian garden designer WE Nesfield laid out a new parterre at Castle Howard's south front. It was sculpted by Prince Albert's favourite artist John Thomas whose 'labours in this important and arduous undertaking have been unwearied, and his success has kept pace with his exertions,' as the Art Journal wrote in 1851. The Atlas Fountain came to Castle Howard after being on display at the Great Exhibition of that year.

While you're there

You will certainly want to visit Castle Howard itself, with its marble-floored great hall, wonderful furniture and fine paintings, and to explore the grounds. This was where much of the television production of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited was filmed. Younger visitors will enjoy the excitement of the challenging adventure playground.

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