If you enjoy being astonished whilst walking by a landscape covered with buildings of baroque classical grandeur then this 8 mile circuit of Castle Howard is difficult to equal.
Distance: 8 miles
Time: 4 hours at least
Conditions: excellent county council signage for all paths
Refreshments: Castle Howard cafe by entrance to house
OS Explorer Map 300
Originally published: 22 August 2008
We start from the large car park a quarter of a mile west of Coneysthorpe, (GR 707713). From here the great domed palace of Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor seems almost surreal on its ridge above the Great Lake about a mile distant.
We are going to keep till later the best of the follies scattered across this huge 1500 acre estate, and, instead, for the first 4 miles, follow rights of way through the well wooded fertile slopes of the Howardian Hills. Take the Terrington road from the nearby crossroads where 4 large gateposts mark the northern entrance to the park from Slingsby. In about 500 yards, where the road swings to the right, go left on a path signed to Ganthorpe.
The right of way follows a wire fence across the first field before turning left alongside Cum Hag Wood. In 150 yards it enters the trees at a stile and then descends as a hollow way. Leave the wood through a large park gate and cross two fields to a junction with a bridleway. Turn left and in 150 yards follow this along the side of a very reedy beck. You soon reach Ganthorpe, a hamlet of limestone houses with an 18th century hall and a tiny green furnished with a fine stone cover for the village pump.
Cross over the village street on to Sleigh Lane and in about 250 yards turn left through a gate to descend across fields through pretty Mowthorpe Dale. In three quarters of a mile near Birkdale Farm, the valley's tiny beck is joined by another to form the feeder for two
large and popular fishing lakes. Turn right when you reach the access track to the lakes and, after a short climb, and just before the farm entrance gate, go left on a grassy bridleway.
In 150 yards, and in front of a small barn, turn left again across the middle of a field, staying well above the ponds. The path is easy to follow through Ox Pasture Wood and across arable land before it climbs from a beck over the final field into Bulmer. Turn left along the village street.
The simple Norman church is well worth a visit. There's a rather battered monument, one of the oldest in Yorkshire, to Sir John Bulmer who died in 1268, a 13th century font and. attached to the outside of the porch, a slab decorated with a Greek key border, to Christopher Thompson, who "wrought in iron and Brass" for 45 years for the Howards, Earls of Carlisle.
It's to the Howards' achievements in stone, though, to which we must now turn our steps. Follow the street round two sharp bends and then go left under a huge oak tree on the lane to the village hall. From here a path crosses fields where there are distant views of the family mausoleum.
Go left when you reach the road from Bulmer to Ganthorpe and in 200 yards turn right on a path through Brandwith Wood to reach the 4 mile long ride which acts as a grand entrance avenue to the house. It's punctuated by a line of monuments on such a grand scale that visitors coming in from York and the south cannot fail to have been impressed.
Turn left up the ride to the Pyramid Gate of 1719, the central point for a castellated wall with bastion towers of Mediterranean aspect stretching out along the ridge on either side. Just before you venture through the formidable arch look back down the road to the equally impressive Carrmire Gate of the late 1720s, nearly a mile away, and then on, another mile, to the column on a hill top erected to the 7th earl in 1870.
Now go through the gate. Ahead the 100 foot Obelisk of 1714 is visible, marking where visitors turned right to the house.
From the Pyramid Gate we now turn right along the lane towards Gaterley where the Howards' obsession with covering the landscape with monumental architecture can best be appreciated. Away on the right is the pyramid of 1728. Soon after there is a good view of the house itself, on the left.
In another 300 yards turn left at a sign to Coneysthorpe. Three of the finest monuments now come into view. Away to the right is Hawksmoor's Mausoleum of 1728, described by Pevsner in his 'North Riding' as "extremely noble in design" and of "a majestic simplicity". To the left is the Temple of the 4 Winds, of 1724, a "little masterpiece", by Vanbrugh. The buildings together were classed by Sacheverell Sitwell in his 'British Architects and Craftsmen' as "beautiful as anything similar" in Europe. The path now descends to the New River Bridge of 1743, with its rusticated decoration and colossal heads, one of the finest of 18th century bridges, even though it serves only pedestrians and the occasional farm vehicle.
After this plethora of architectural treasures the rest of the walk returns to normality with gentle landscaped pastureland alternating with densely planted woodland. Follow the green track over the hill past the Temple of the 4 Winds and down the side of the long, massive park wall to a gate where you enter Ray Wood.
In 100 yards go half left away from the logging track along a path which soon joins the lane from Coneysthorpe to Bog Hall. (The track could be used as an alternative). Now go straight over an open field to rejoin the same track to Coneysthorpe. When you reach this
attractive estate village, turn left along the street to our starting point.