Earlier in December I took my Mum to York for her birthday. This was something we had been planning for a while – neither of us had visited before and it was a great opportunity to spend some time together as we hadn’t seen each other in person since June.
Part of the trip was to explore Castle Howard. Mum had wanted to visit since watching the Brideshead Revisited series in the 80s which was filmed there (in fact, it has been used as the location in many movies and TV shows, most recently serving as the family home of the Duke of Hastings in Bridgerton), and I discovered that there was a Christmas in Narnia event taking place at the time we wanted to go. Perfect. I booked us a hotel in the centre of York so that we could also explore the city.
Castle Howard isn’t a castle, more of a large stately home about 30 minutes away from the centre of York. It isn’t a fortified structure, but the term ‘castle’ is sometimes used in the title of a stately home if it has been built on the site of a former castle. It is one of the largest country houses in England with 145 rooms.
We arrived in York the day before, just as Storm Barra hit the UK. After attempting to brave the weather in order to see the decorations it proved too much after a while and retreated back to the hotel armed with snacks – York is beautiful but perhaps less so in gale force winds and driving rain.
Thankfully, the weather gods smiled on us and the following day was beautiful, albeit blisteringly cold. With my coat with a fluffy hood, a thick hoody and mask I noticed that I resembled Han Solo on Hoth, which I found to be quite fitting.
Getting there from the centre of York was fairly easy. There is a CastleLine (CAS) bus route that goes direct from a stop just a few minutes walk from the station to outside the garden centre next to Castle Howard as part of its route. There are about four buses a day that leave every two hours with just a few stops along the way – getting there took about 40 minutes, getting back took just over an hour. At the time we visited return tickets cost £10.00 per person.
The entrance to the estate is through the Stable Courtyard which includes the ticket office, a deli and gift shop and a cafe. Even the entrance was beautiful, adorned with festive lights and the sounds of Christmas songs filling the air. We had timed tickets, but because of the bus timetable we arrived an hour early. Thankfully, as we had an early booking they allowed us to go into the grounds as soon as we arrived.
The main house is just a short walk away, but there was also an option of getting the train to the main entrance, pulled along by a tractor. I deliberately didn’t look at anything about the house or the Narnia theme before visiting so that I could experience everything for the first time, and I’m so glad.
It was absolutely stunning. Each room had a different style and colour palette, with everything from pale blue and silver snow scenes (including the Snow Queen on her sleigh), to brightly coloured presents, an enormous Aslan sculpture, music and projections across the ceiling.
The centrepiece was definitely the 25 foot tree, adorned with snow and over 3000 baubles.
While entrance to the event was timed, you could spend as long as you wanted walking round and there were lots of staff who were really eager to tell you more about the rooms and the theme. After we had explored most of the house we sat in the chapel for a while, elegantly decorated with trees and a nativity scene in front of the alter.
Castle Howard is surrounded by stunning landscape, with fountains, lakes, statues and even a ‘Temple of the Four Winds,’ which was a lengthy walk away. We walked around the grounds at the back of the house, eventually sitting by the South Lake and having a moment of peace with a beautiful view. Had it been a summers day we would probably have stayed there for the rest of the afternoon, but the freezing temperatures meant that we had to move after a while just to warm up.
It was an absolutely perfect day, and what a way to start the Christmas celebrations!
Christmas in Narnia is now completely sold out for the rest of the season (it finishes on 2nd January) so we were incredibly lucky to book the tickets when we did! While the winter event is sold out, there are plenty of other opportunities to visit Castle Howard throughout the year – visit their website here.