As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to The Howardian Hills, Paul Bloomfield picks out a selection of museums, history and family fun in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the north of England, between the Yorkshire Wolds, the North York Moors National Park and the Vale of York.
The country houses and medieval priories of the Howardian Hills barely need any introduction. Who hasn’t heard of Castle Howard, or seen it in Brideshead Revisited?
As well as impressive stately homes, abbeys and picturesque ruins there are countless art galleries and ateliers where craftspeople work producing goods from willow baskets to tables and chairs. Drop by (make an appointment first in some cases) and admire their skills and perhaps commission some work.
There are other rural businesses with a difference that welcome visitors: a lavender farm, an alpaca farm. For music lovers, the Ryedale Music Festival every July is renowned.
Bils and Rye
This new art gallery in Nunnington, near the National Trust property of Nunnington Hall, displays three-dimensional artwork, from ceramic and glassware to stone sculpture; paper to pewter. You can buy an original for as little as a fiver and as much as several thousand. Up and coming artists are featured alongside established names. Owners Kate and Nick Bentley will talk you through the art with a cuppa – or something stronger – and can arrange for pieces to be delivered nationwide. The couple live in the village with their young family and dog. Closed Mondays. contemporarysculpture.gallery
Dutch House Workshop & Gallery
A dynamic Dutch couple run Dutch House, which combines wildlife garden, courtyard café, child-friendly art workshop and shop with a one-bedroom B&B in its own separate traditional farm cottage. Courses and workshops, run by local artists, include pottery, willow weaving, paper making and stone carving, or you can hire the whole space for your own creative class or party. Regularly-changing exhibitions and events run throughout the year, and there are lots of nature trails and a wildlife garden for children to enjoy, too. dutchhouseyorkshire.com
In the village of Husthwaite, Wilf Hutchinson has been crafting handmade furniture from seasoned English oak since the 1950s. Now joined by his son Trevor, the duo adorns their handmade tables, chairs and dressers with a hand-carved squirrel trademark. Visitors can watch the furniture being made, using very few machines and an adze on top surfaces. Seeing such craftsmanship may inspire you to discuss ideas for your own commission: a souvenir that becomes a family heirloom. Squirrel Woodcarvers is just one of ten cabinet-makers on the Thirsk Furniture Trail. Other trademarks include a little carved wren and a unicorn. thirskfurnituretrail.co.uk
Bentley and Clive
Antique restoration on holiday? No, it’s not a spa for seniors, but a workshop where you can take your antique furniture to be lovingly restored. So, if you’re travelling to the Howardian Hills with your Welsh dresser and it’s worse for wear, Rachel and Steve aka Bentley and Clive, run an antique restoration, cabinet making and upholstery business in Nunnington. Of course, it’s unlikely you are taking any furniture on holiday, but even still, it may be worth calling in for inspiration. You may end up commissioning, say, a small handcrafted chair to take home. masonandclive.co.uk
The residents of the Ryedale area of the Howardian Hills, are an artistic bunch. They have poetry and painting groups, textiles and theatre clubs. These disparate activities are overseen by the voluntary organisation, Terrington Arts. Events – plays, lectures, poetry readings, film screenings, cabaret – are open to all. Membership entitles you to reduced ticket prices and helps support a worthwhile community arts initiative. Most activities take place in Terrington Village Hall. You can find out what’s happening and buy tickets at Terrington village stores.
Famous worldwide as the setting for the TV series, Brideshead Revisited, this splendid stately home and 1,000 acres of landscaped grounds is a must-see. When, in 1699, the 3rd earl of Carlisle commissioned John Vanbrugh to build his family home, he had never built anything in his life; he was a playwright. Vanbrugh’s exuberant baroque creation deviated from plans so that it is bizarrely asymmetrical. In the 1940s, one wing was destroyed by fire. Granada TV’s adaption of Evelyn Waugh’s novel funded restoration work that continues. Inside hang countless works of art collected over centuries, many from Italy. With shops and cafes too, you may never want to leave. Environmental initiatives include a ground-source heat pump.
This fine Yorkshire manor house, with Tudor origins, nestles on the quiet banks of the River Rye, where you may spot otters if lucky. This National Trust property is open to the public most days. There’s a walled organic garden and, inside, period rooms revealing stories of the house’s occupants. Floorboards in some rooms have been replaced with glass to show the many objects that have slipped between the cracks over centuries: pins, scraps of fabric, playing cards, a comb. There’s a collection of miniature rooms (like sections of a doll’s house), exhibitions and a tearoom with garden. nationaltrust.org.uk/nunnington-hall
Tucked away in a serenely beautiful valley, a mile outside the village of Ampleforth, this 19th century abbey, its church and catholic school is a tranquil and inspiring place to visit whatever your religion. Wander among the grounds, visit the church on an organised tour, find out more about the history in the visitors’ centre or just call in to the fantastic café, where apples from the abbey's orchards feature heavily on the menu – stop by for afternoon tea with delicious apple cake or a lunchtime ploughman’s with a glass of cider. ampleforth.org.uk
Built in the 1700s by Thomas Worsley, this Palladian style country house was the childhood home of Katharine Worsley, the Duchess of Kent. Open to the public in June each year, the house is brimming with architectural treasures, frescos, artworks and sporting history. In front of the house the – reportedly – oldest continuously in-use cricket pitch still hosts matches. As well as architecture, horses were “an obsession” of Thomas Worsley, hence the entrance to the house from the village is through the riding school. Conservation lies at the heart of the estate. The gardens of yew hedges, lawns, roses and neatly planted borders, a glasshouse and dovecote are a delight. hovingham.co.uk
In the village of Howsham, on a small island in the River Derwent, this Georgian watermill, an early example of Gothic revival style, has been lovingly restored and is, once again harnessing the river’s energy. These days its wheel is producing electricity rather than grinding millstones. As well as renewable energy, Howsham watermill is a centre for wildlife studies and traditional crafts and hosts courses such as bird-box making, basket weaving and stone carving. A fantastic example of all-round conservation, it is presently only open to participants booked on courses, so check the website to see what’s happening. howshammill.org.uk
The riverside ruins of this Grade I listed Augustinian Priory in the peaceful Derwent valley are just a short distance from Malton. The 13th century Gothic remains make for a picturesque picnic setting, overlooking the river (with the sound of steam trains from across the valley in summer.) As well as admiring the monastic washbasins and newly uncovered medieval tiles, see if you can spot the sculptures of St George and the dragon in the remains of the gatehouse. english-heritage.org.uk/visit/whats-on/
Henry VIII sold this Augustinian priory to an ancestor of the current owner for £1,062. This splendid home near Coxwold is now cared for by the present baronet and his wife, Sir George and Lady Wombwell, who open it to the public from April until June. The grounds, with their woodland walks, water garden, walled garden and topiary yews, can be visited separately. After a wander, it’s time for tea and homemade cake in the tearoom in the former priory kitchen. newburghpriory.co.uk
Ryedale Miniature Railway
Train travel isn’t what it used to be. The chuff of a steam engine, hot sparks flying. Sometimes people rode on the roof. In Gilling East, you can relive those days. It’s just that the train in question is a 5” gauge model and the track is only 400 yards long. Straddle the cute carriages, listen for the whistle and you’re off, chuffing through the countryside, past sidings and signals. Passenger days are on Sundays during summer. Some Sundays there are no rides, just model steam engines pulling scale cargo wagons and men in caps and overalls taking it all very seriously. rsme.org.uk
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