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Stately Homes of Yorkshire – a (Reet) Grand Tour

There are of course many reasons for visiting Yorkshire – the Dales, North York Moors, its fine coastline, but along with the natural beauties there are many man-made wonders. Yorkshire is indeed the only county which boasts two members of the Treasure House Group of the best privately owned English stately homes. A tour of some of the finest such residences in the White Rose county has the additional advantages of taking you through a variety of different landscapes, and as might be expected, walking you through several centuries of our history.
Where you start on your tour, and if you take in all the houses we include here, is entirely up to you. But for those arriving from the south we will begin at Brodsworth Hall , which would in fact be a fairly convenient point to start for many others, situated as it is so handily close to junctions 37 and 38 of the A1(M). Brodsworth is, however, in historical terms the end of the journey, a fine Victorian country house.
The decision to keep the place more or less as it was lived in only a few decades ago means that it is far closer to the idea of ‘home’ that we all have, and somewhat distant from ‘stately’. There may be more than 30 rooms, but we can imagine residing in such a place, whereas most imaginations won’t stretch to life at 145-room Castle Howard. The Victorian gardens too are within a scale we can comprehend and enjoy.
Our second stately home is on a far grander scale: Harewood House a few miles north of Leeds (one of those Treasure House Group members). Built in the middle of the Georgian Age it has all the elegance of that era, and no wonder with Robert Adam as one of the designers, Capability Brown the genius behind the gardens, and even the furniture largely down to Chippendale . We can wonder at the lake and at the more than 90 avian species in its bird garden, and then spread our net further in its planetarium. Or on a more humble scale, enjoy the bit that acts as a setting for Emmerdale.
We now leave the urban Yorkshire for the rural, striking eastwards along the M62 and A63 to Burton Constable Hall in the flat country of the East Riding , a few minutes’ drive from the Humber . The original Elizabethan house was remodelled several times, in the 1760s and the early years of the 19th century, making an eclectic, organic building contrasting a Chinese room fired by the oriental craze of the Regency period , and near it a long gallery where Elizabethan ladies strolled. Again the seemingly ubiquitous Capability Brown handled the garden design here.
Pushing northwards we travel through the Wolds , one of the lesser-known areas of Yorkshire, for many of us almost an extension of East Anglia such is the gentleness of its undulations. For speed take the A165, or for pleasure meander down some of the back-roads – you’ll really have to take some eventually anyway to get to Burton Agnes Hall . This fine Elizabethan building is best known for its interior carvings, but there is a marvellous contrast here too in that it contains a surprising collection of paintings, including sketches by impressionist masters. The walled garden is a masterpiece, and if you pick the right time of year you can fit in one of its special events, like the annual jazz festival . Nice. If time allows, though it doesn’t fit the agenda of stately homes, in the same village is a survival, albeit well camouflaged, of a Norman manor house .
Now we head back to the west, although it is attractive to head to Bridlington from Burton Agnes, then up along the coast to Filey before turning to the A64 which will bring us to Scampston and its Hall, a few miles east of Malton. The area in which the hall stands is The Carrs, low-lying land beside the River Derwent fed by the waters draining from the North York Moors just a few miles north.
You may not be entirely surprised that the gardens of Scrampston Hall were designed by... Capability Brown. Like certain modern authors one wonders if he was actually a cooperative rather than an individual. The late 17th century house, much remodelled in the regency period, is open to guided tours, its most attractive feature however arguably the walled garden refurbished and improved as recently as 2004. It is to be hoped that our generation can leave its stamp as much as Mr Brown did his.
On the western side of Malton we come to our last port of call, and fittingly perhaps the most magnificent of all the houses here, and undoubtedly one of the very finest in Britain – Castle Howard , nestling in the Howardian Hills. The 1980s television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited displayed the house in all its considerable its splendour to millions, a more recent cinema adaptation also using it for the eponymous stately home. Begun in the reign of Queen Anne and it could be said never finished, as one of the wings was never completed to plan, it has as noted earlier 145 rooms, the architecture a mixture of the solid geometric elegance of Georgian and the later classical revival of Palladian. It was designed to impress, and does not fail in that aim. The gardens are in keeping, equally daunting in their scale, though here with a modern (and separate) addition of which again we can be proud, its arboretum planted in the 1970s in conjunction with Kew .
This tour has kept the travel to easily manageable levels, seven great houses for perhaps a seven-day trip, but in so doing has necessarily kept down the number of houses visited. There are many stately homes in Yorkshire not included here – sadly for example neither the fine baroque interior of Beningborough Hall where a selection of National Portrait Gallery pictures is on display, nor Newby Hall , on which the marks of Christopher Wren and Robert Adam can be traced, fit our simple route. But you are naturally free to add them, and any number of others, to your itineraries.
While it would be feasible to establish a base in Yorkshire from which to visit each of these houses – York itself or one of the market towns and villages around it would be relatively central – it would be more enjoyable to move from country inn to country inn, perhaps country house hotel , or for those with camper-vans campsite to campsite , reducing the time spent shuttling backwards and forwards in the car. Our pages have a very wide selection of places near all of the attractions, some right on the doorstep, the sort of stops where you can put your feet up and enjoy the comforts of home after a hard day’s tramping around our history.

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