Ripley Castle (Photo: Kate Hersch)
Newby Hall (Photo: Kate Hersch)
Castle Howard (Photo: Kate Hersch)
Harewood House (Photo: Kate Hersch)
By Kate Hersch
December 12, 2023
We laughed our way through the gorgeous Yorkshire countryside.
That is how I will always remember this ICAA trip through the north of England. How lucky to be among such natural beauty while being treated to special tours of the stately and historic houses. The delicious and wine-soaked lunches helped ease the travel, while lectures delivered by experts kept us at full attention. Best of all, however, were the gracious homeowners and estate keepers who took us in and shared their unique experience owning and operating these treasured houses.
Our one job was to get on the bus. ICAA President Peter Lyden, Classical Excursions’ Chas Miller, and Oliver Gerrish, an architectural historian, took care of the rest. On the bus to such historic estates such as Sutton Park, Ripley Castle, Castle Howard, and Constable Burton, we got to know our fellow travelers.
The participants were of all ages and careers; some had been on many ICAA trips, but for many, this was their first experience. Our group consisted of enthusiasts with diverse interests, interior decorators, landscape designers, teachers, architects, and entrepreneurs; we had them all. Of course, the common thread for all was the desire to learn and share our knowledge of art history, gardens, and decorative arts. Thankfully, everyone also happened to be an absolute hoot.
Something magical happens when you are surrounded by like-minded curious people. The joy of seeing such historical and beautiful buildings is infectious. We realized how incredibly lucky we were to have been afforded the opportunity to see such majestic homes and gardens in a special and unique way.
One morning we found ourselves being towed by a tractor to Danby Hall in a tiny shed. When we emerged from our “vehicle” Danby Hall spilled out in front of us, with a sea of gorgeous green grass and grazing sheep. Not an everyday experience
Castle Howard certainly needs no introduction as it is deservedly famous worldwide. We, however, were given a private nighttime tour which was full of wonder and romance. After the tour, there was a seated dinner in the Grecian Hall. A true ‘pinch me’ moment. Dinner conversations were lively as we made comparisons to the other houses we visited, picked favorites, and enjoyed much laughter recounting this and other ICAA experiences.
Home base was Middlethorpe Hall, the ideal location to rest and freshen up between activities for those five nights. My suite was charming and spacious and quite English; floral upholstery, warm, and cozy. I, for one, blended past and present as I drifted off to sleep after days of touring such huge and enchanting houses filled with Chippendale, John Carr, Robert Adam, and Capability Brown’s best.
I woke each morning ready for the proper English breakfast at Middlethorpe Hall, but my enthusiasm to start another day with old and new friends was energetic. Our group was so charming, warm, and fun. I tried to sit with different people each morning. There is a distinct feeling when you are with kindred spirits sharing an adventure. We were a troop on a mission, welcoming all to participate.
Newby Hall was the ideal final stop on our final Yorkshire tour. Richard Compton and his son were onsite to welcome us into their family home. Rich with the most divine furniture, luscious family portraits, treasures from a Grand Tour, and an amazing collection of Davenport China. We were dazzled.
The true treat was the garden. We wandered in awe among hundred-year-old plantings, glasses of champagne in-hand. We were giddy as we took in each unique area. The sheer vision, forethought, and care to create and maintain such delightfulness is a gift to all who visit. We could have spent days in just the garden, but there is never enough time… we were needed at the Orangerie for dinner.
For this dinner, I had the pleasure of being seated next to Rupert Cunningham, the architect of the restoration of Brockfield Hall. Earlier in the week, we had toured the house and its incredible collection of paintings by the Staithes group of artists. As the sun went down our spirits soared as we savored our last night in Yorkshire. We ended our tour with the gift of new friends, a connection to the houses and gardens of Yorkshire, and a yearning for our next great incomparable travel itinerary with the ICAA.
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