Travel Muse

Through the Wardrobe: Castle Howard at Christmas

Katy Leverett reviews Castle Howard's Narnia-themed Christmas Events

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Image Credit: Katy Leverett

Castle Howard is one of North Yorkshire’s biggest tourist attractions, drawing over 250,000 visitors each year. Set in the North Yorkshire Moors, the castle is the ancestral home of the Howard family. Construction began on the building in 1699, under the supervision of architect John Vanbrugh, who is also known for designing Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire at the same time. The building was designed in the baroque style and boasts 145 separate rooms, making it one of the largest stately homes in England.

The house is a simple 45 minute bus journey from the centre of York, making it a perfect day trip for York University students. Having wanted to visit since first moving to York, Christmas seemed like the perfect time to go, especially as Castle Howard was set to be festively decorated with a Narnia theme.

We arrived at Castle Howard early in the morning to try and avoid the busiest period of the day. The bus stop was in the car park so it took us about two minutes to walk into the stable courtyard where you can buy or get your tickets scanned for the day. The stables were beautifully decorated with Christmas trees and lights covered the walls, creating a festive feel before we’d even got to the Narnia themed part!

Once we’d passed through the checkpoint, we entered the main part of the estate. Christmas trees marched down the sides of the road as we made our way toward the house, continuing the Christmas vibes. The air was cold and crisp but the views across the lake toward the nearby village were truly stunning. Once we got to the main building, we were astounded by the scale, especially the golden dome. It was a perfect photo opportunity, especially given there were very few people around as it was early in the morning.

We entered the building through one of the side doors, and a friendly Palace Host pointed us in the right direction to ‘enter Narnia’. We walked up a beautiful regency staircase decorated with a beautiful Christmas garland and were greeted with a large Christmas tree at the top and an arrow pointing us in the direction of the start of the display. We followed the arrow and were taken through a series of Castle Howard’s bedrooms brilliantly decorated to represent the bedrooms of the children in Narnia: Susan, Peter, Lucy and Edmund. Each room was testament to each of the characters: Peter’s was decorated with lions and unlike the other rooms, Edmund’s room had a camp bed rather than an ordinary one, which was true to his adventurous spirit in the books and films. All had stunning Christmas trees beautifully decorated with intricate baubles depicting each character’s personality.

Once we’d walked through the bedrooms, we were taken ‘Through the Wardrobe’ into Narnia. As we walked through the door, each side was filled with clothes to immerse visitors in the narrative: they, like the characters, were walking into Narnia. We entered a long hall which was lit to look like it was snowing. Frosted trees and piles of snow lined the walls. The famous lamppost featured too and as we walked the frosty, snowy environment continued until we reached the golden dome. A real Christmas tree nearly as tall as the dome itself towered in the hall. It was incredibly beautiful and was another perfect opportunity for a selfie

We wandered into the next room and came face to face with the White Witch. Stood in her icy sleigh, the White Witch was set in a dark room that was lit with images of icicles. The famed Turkish delight sat seductively in her sleigh, as if waiting to ensnare another like Edmund into betrayal.

We continued into the next room which was cleverly decorated to portray the scene where Lucy has tea with Mr Tumnus. A small tea party was set on the floor and surrounded by moss, representing Mr Tumnus’ home. The trees were adorned with beautiful animal baubles, immersing visitors in this part of the story. It was almost possible to imagine both of the characters sat there, sipping tea and eating cake. In the next room was the dining table set for the children’s dinner with the Beavers. This was definitely my favourite room: the intricate detail from the beautifully laid table with name placings on slabs of wood for each of the characters to the stunning festive pagoda set above the table were amazing to see.

The following rooms were themed around the mermaids, then Professor Kirk’s office, followed by the forests of Narnia. All were beautifully decorated and the intricate detail in each would appeal to even the most particular Narnia fan. The penultimate room included a light display set in the roof. Stars and fireworks exploded above us and finished with Father Christmas flying in his sleigh, fitting both the Narnia theme and the general spirit of Christmas. To the side of the room were the thrones and crowns depicting the coronation of the children as rulers of Narnia. Anyone could sit in them and it was a great photo opportunity.

The final room featured a huge model of Aslan, the lion, made out of paper Mache from pages of the Narnia books. As fans of the books, this made the whole experience more special and we spent quite a while seeing if we could read any of the pages that were holding Aslan together!

Once we’d taken enough photos of Aslan to fill an entire camera roll, we followed the staircase out of the house into the cold, crisp air and decided to take a walk around the grounds before getting some lunch. We went for a short stroll around the lake. The clear blue sky and cold winter sun were the perfect conditions for a winter walk.

As we completed our loop of the lake the perfect time for lunch struck. As fans of an afternoon tea, decided it would complete the whole experience to have the Narnia themed Festive afternoon tea that Castle Howard were offering. From the savoury tart and sausage roll, to the scones, mince pies and Turkish delight, the Narnia afternoon tea was delicious and great value for money! It also offered a great opportunity to warm up after being outdoors and appreciate our surroundings.

After we filled up on food, it was nearly time for us to leave but first we paid the mandatory visit to the gift shop required on any trip to a stately home. Selling beautiful baubles that fitted with the Narnia theme, we were instantly sold and brought a few to take home with us for our trees!

Overall, the Christmas experience at Castle Howard was beautifully done. From the intricate detail that went into decorating the rooms to fit the Narnia theme to the delicious food, visiting Castle Howard is a must for all York students: the bus journey is very easy, the house is stunning and it is affordable. We’ll definitely be visiting again for a picnic in the summer.

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