A chronicle of fall quarter abroad at Oxford, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
York Part III: Castle Howard
On Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel (in which I thoroughly pigged out on sausages and ham), we set off a little northeast of York for Castle Howard. This magnificent palace, built for the prominent Howard family in the 18th century, is set between two lakes, both of them man-made, but still beautiful. As we entered the extensive grounds, gazing across the lake to the grand house on a hillside, I think we all had a feeling of "wow." The weather was overcast and a bit misty and cool - typical English weather - but that didn't stop the lawns from sparkling, stretching out all around us.
After a stroll around the house, during which we assessed its architecture and imposing exterior, we set off along the lake at its rear, strolling on a beautiful manicured path flanked by Greek statues. The water was still and dotted with ducks, and soon we reached a little hill capped by an Ionic temple, in which the estate occupants used to have a spot of tea after a brisk walk over the grounds - talk about lavish! The temple, stoic and beautifully proportioned, was surrounded by a field of grazing cows, beyond which was another hill on which stood the family mausoleum. Our professor explained that the 18th-century Europeans were captivated by the scenic picturesque, and indeed this was an idyllic scene: classical architecture, with pastoral cows nearby, a bridge arching across a winding river, the mausoleum lingering behind trees and towering against the sky. Basically, this was a form of living, breathing, outdoor artwork, intended to inspire certain feelings in anyone who witnessed it. There's a reason the estate was designed and laid out as it was: to promote a picturesque aesthetic. And indeed, it was stunning.
After tramping through wet grass, passing right by some cute woolly black cows, including a massive bull who paid us no mind, we found ourselves at the mausoleum, beyond which we could gaze and see, for the first time, the full stretch of the walk we'd just taken, from the cows and Greek temple, then across the lake and back to Castle Howard itself. The pictures don't do the impact of this place justice. It was a view I could have contemplated for a while, probably one of the most grand I've seen so far in England, but soon enough we took the walk back to explore the interior of the house.
Now, this house was the complete opposite of Hardwick Hall. Open, airy, and filled with classical marble busts and colorful portraits and fresher landscape artwork, it reminded several of us of Mr. Darcy's Pemberley estate in Pride and Prejudice. Indeed, this was my first impression upon entering the house (I know, total English-lit nerd), and I wandered its halls dwelling on the descriptions and incidents from that novel. The house was lavish, sure, but in a transfixing and well-considered way. Most stunning of all was the dome in its center, flanked with dozens of Corinthian columns and lined with windows through which we could look out at the lake, garden, and distant hills. I can't say how much I loved this house and its spacious interior, which made me want to sit and read a novel or perhaps sit down at the grand piano, or just gaze outside for hours. Much different than the stuffy claustrophobia I felt at Hardwick!
One last detail: inside the house we found a painting of the grounds almost as we'd seen them from the mausoleum, framed after the fashion of a neo-classical picturesque painting. Talk about being idealistic in designing your estate! (These old-time British lords had too much time and too much money.)