Castle Howard may be one of the finest and most visited properties in Yorkshire, but at its heart it is still a family home.
For ten generations the Howard family have lived at the house, ever since it was built by Charles Howard, the third Earl of Carlisle, at the beginning of the 18th century.
The house is stunningly beautiful and filled with antiques and works of art, but as a visitor you can’t help but notice the family photographs of Simon Howard, his wife Rebecca and their 12-year-old twins Merlin and Octavia.
Hannah Cooke, press manager, said: “One of the things people say is that the house has a real homely and lived-in feel. There are lots of family photographs around.”
Visitors have flocked through the doors since the house was opened to the public in 1952, with around 250,000 each year taking a tour of the property.
Thousands more attend various functions and outdoor concerts throughout the year, with Christmas events proving popular.
The house closes to the public each year at the start of November to allow Christmas decorations to be put up - a mighty yet rewarding task according to Hannah.
She said: “It’s amazing - it’s a big job decorating it so the family and staff all get involved.
“The house looks fantastic and we have huge Christmas trees with thousands of baubles.”
The house is open for the Christmas period from November 22 to December 21, with visitor able to enjoy Christmas markets, Carols by Candlelight and a fireside audience with Father Christmas.
Castle Howard also hosts an NSPCC Christmas fair each year which features around 60 stalls. Last year the fair raised £40,000 for the children’s charity.
However, throughout Christmas itself, the property becomes a private home once again, with the Howards’ family and friends invited to stay in some of the amazing rooms which are usually open to the public.
Rooms in the West Wing, such as Lady Georgiana’s bedroom, have been equipped with sprung mattresses and electric blankets to ensure guests have a comfortable stay.
The house is also a popular wedding venue, with around 20 bookings a year. This year the awe-inspiring Grand Hall was used to host a wedding dinner for the first time, with dinners usually taking place in the Long Gallery.
Weddings can also be held in the Temple of the Four Winds, a beautiful pavilion in the grounds where Mrs and Mrs Howard were married.
Couples getting married at the house tend to be local, but visitors come from far and wide - some drawn to the house by the “Downton effect” according to Hannah.
She explained: “There has definitely been a revival in interest in country houses due to Downton Abbey.
“People also still come because of Brideshead Revisited, which was a kind of Downton effect for us.
“We tend to get a lot of European visitors and also Americans.
“We get some really lovely comments - people even remark on the drive up to the house which is breathtaking.
“You only see the house at the last minute, so the anticipation builds along the way.
“I think it’s quite unexpected with the house being so close to the A64.”
TV crews are still being drawn to the house along with visitors, with the property set to feature on our screens in the New Year.
Hannah said: “We’ll be on screen with a Julia Bradbury series on ITV focusing on what makes Britain great, as well as a four-part BBC2 series with historian Dominic Sandbrook including a feature about Brideshead Revisited.”
And with so much to see and so much to learn about the great house, it is clear why people keep coming back - much to the delight of the family.
Simon Howard said: “Living at Castle Howard is an enormous privilege. To be surrounded not only by beautiful grounds and landscape, but also by so many wonderful works of art, is inspiring.
“I was brought up here, and for the last 30 years I have made it my life’s work to constantly strive to make visits to the house and grounds as enjoyable as possible for visitors.
“The price of this is being on call 24/7, 365 days of the year no matter where in the world I am. Because of my love for the place, this is a small price to pay!’