by Maureen Robinson
Castle Howard, situated just outside York in the Howardian Hills, is one of England’s finest historic houses. Built in the 18th century by Sir John Vanbrugh for Charles Howard, today it remains home to the Hon Simon and Mrs Howard and their children Merlin and Octavia.
You could spend a full day touring the house. Its interiors are filled with world-renowned collections of furniture, porcelain, sculpture and paintings. The parkland is monumental with statues, temples, lakes and fountains. There are land-train rides, summer boat trips and adventure playground, along with shops, cafes and a garden centre.
The scenery is stunning whatever the season, with almost 1,000 acres of parkland and gardens to appreciate.
However, on this occasion, we suggest that with nearly 10,000 acres of the estate to explore, you seek the endless footpaths and bridleways of Castle Howard – completely free.
Travelling from Scarborough, head to Malton (20 miles) and from the prominent Talbot Hotel turn right as signed to Castle Howard 6 miles. Passing through Easthorpe, high walling to your left leads to Coneysthorpe. At the crossroads turn left and you’ll find a car park to the right.
Start. From the car park, return to the crossroads and go right, keeping close beside the walling, on the Malton Road. Just ahead, near the public telephone is a green ‘island’. Do make a slight detour left here, to savour the delights of an attractive, stone-built hamlet – Coneysthorpe.
During the 19th century, Coneysthorpe passed into the Castle Howard estate. Many cottages and farms were built around the spacious village green to accommodate estate workers and domestic staff. Wander up to the church, and keeping it to your right, return down the far side of the hamlet. Seek Yew Tree House, and just beyond is a cottage bearing a plaque above the door. “Richard Spruce, the distinguished botanist and explorer, lived here from 1876-1893. He was born in 1817 and died 1893.”
Returning to the Malton road, turn left by the War Memorial. You’ll see Lakeside Holiday Park to the right, and pretty cottages as you approach a white gateway between two large stone-built gate posts. A notice now states: “No public right of way”. You should take the adjacent public footpath through a white handgate to your right, as signed to Bog Hall. You’re now on a good, broad track with the Lakeside Holiday Park away to the right. Further ahead lies the Great Lake screened by trees. Follow the edge of woodland to your right, with fine mature trees.
Reaching a triangular island, fork left to follow the Centenary Way. There’s no public access to the lake at this south-east corner. Magnificent oak, sweet chestnut and silver birch etc feature here. A finger-post to your right confirms your route along the track as indicated, ‘Centenary Way’ (ignore a public footpath deviating right). Beyond lie fields either side, and as you leave the wood, walk through meadow-land and cross over Mill Hill’s Beck, by a bridge. Gradually ascend to reach barns at Bog Hall Farm. Bear right, left and right, so the barns are behind you.
A hedge is to your left, and fields off right, with views of the Temple of the Four Winds after re-crossing the Mill Hill’s Beck.
Continue between field and woodland, and as you cross the beck you have a fine view of the Temple from the fence, and also from the next railed bridge. Listen for the song of yellowhammers, warblers and chiff-chaffs etc.
Next features a grove of willow trees on moist land to the left, their silvery white leaves creating a ‘misty’ atmosphere.
Having followed this track for about a mile, your route becomes more demarcated as Low Gaterley silo and barns are approached. Here, go right along the Centenary Way, keeping barns to the left.
The track winds through cool woodland and veers right onto the estate road towards Gaterley Cottages. Larch, pine and silver birch features to your right. Where woodland ends, open fields permit excellent views of the Mausoleum amidst trees, and the Pyramid ahead.
On Kirk Hill to the north-east, the Mausoleum commands a dominant site. The building of this began in 1731 to a design by Nicholas Hawksmoor.
To the north lies the Temple of the Four Winds, described as one of the greatest small buildings in England. One of the Vanbrugh’s masterpieces, it is simply a summer-house built in grand style!
Castle Howard itself is to the north-west, and the Pyramid on St Anne’s Hill to the west. [NB A good, firm track may have been observed off right. The optional public footpath leads to a fine Italianate Bridge built in the 1940s. It’s an architectural masterpiece! If you view it, please retrace steps back to the Pyramid.]
Eventually reaching the Gatehouse, turn right to follow a broad, grassed verge along a drive of splendid lime trees. We found a shady footpath beyond the limes and away from traffic. It’s all downhill to the Obelisk and well beyond. Cross the road bridge, and the wildlife conservation area is to your right.
You’re now at the north-west end of the Great Lake, where trees are mirrored in the water, and swans, ducks, geese and other birds may be recorded. Look out for dragon flies and damsel flies along the way, as you return to the car park.
Distance: 6 miles (excluding the deviation to the Italianate Bridge).
Allow: 2½-3 hours of leisurely walking.
Refreshment: None on the route. Do take a picnic.
NB There are NO SEATS once you leave Coneysthorpe, so do take a waterproof to sit on!