STANDING proudly on a hill, Temple Newsam House is visible for miles around.

The distinctive mellow brick stately home can be seen from the busy M1 motorway passing nearby, and from vantage points across the surrounding countryside.

Sometimes called the Hampton Court of the North, the Tudor/Jacobean dwelling is famous as the birthplace of Lord Darnley, husband of Mary Queen of Scots.

Stepping inside the magnificent Great Hall gives a flavour of the decorative art treasures to come. A fine fireplace, wooden panelling, decorative plasterwork, beautiful stained glass and portraits – the first clutch of many throughout the house, of family and other notable gentry connected to the estate throughout the years.

There has been a large house on or near the site for almost 1,000 years. In the Middle Ages it was the property of the Knights Templar - hence the name Temple; Newsam derives from a local settlement, but it was Thomas Lord Darcy who built a new four-sided house in the 16th century.

After his execution for treason the house was given by Henry Vlll to Lord and Lady Lennox whose son Lord Darnley was born there. It fell into disrepair until it was brought by the financier Sir Arthur Ingram in 1622 and largely rebuilt as a three-sided dwelling.

His descendants lived there for the next 300 years and their presence is everywhere, in family portraits and the decorative furnishings they chose.

Guided tours take place every hour until February 15 when tours are combined with open access. Our guide was Robert Lee, who clearly knew every inch of the mansion.

Leading us through a series of splendid rooms, from drawing rooms to dining rooms, libraries, boudoirs, dressing rooms and bathrooms, he picked out points of interest, telling the tales behind them.

The house is famed for its wallpapers, which in many rooms are sufficiently striking to render the furniture - including many pieces by local craftsman Thomas Chippendale - of secondary interest to visitors.

Bold, delicate, bright, subdued, loud, wild and wonderful, these mainly hand-blocked wallpapers are influenced by cultures across the world.

The most interesting has to be the stunningly decorative paper in the exquisite Chinese Drawing Room. Dubbed ‘the world’s most expensive wallpaper’, it made international news a couple of years ago for the amusing story behind it.

The room was decorated in the 1820s by Lady Isabella Hertford, the mistress of King George IV when he was Prince of Wales. She lived at Temple Newsam and decided to jazz up the Chinese-inspired wallpaper - a gift from the prince - in the drawing room by cutting out exotic birds from her copy of John James Audubon’s famous book Birds of America and pasting them onto it.

Today, first edition copies of the book have been known to sell for more than £7million.

The dizzying design in the Gothick Room, which those on our tour agreed was revolting, takes its name from the unusual wallpaper which was found in 1993 on some wall linings hidden inside the chimney flue 50 years earlier. Block-printed, it would originally have been put up in 1758.

“It may not be to everyone’s taste, but you have to appreciate the work that has gone into it,” says Robert, before pointing out a small stag’s head scraped into the wall - a possible example of Tudor graffiti.

Leeds Corporation, now Leeds City Council, who manage the estate, bought it in 1922, securing it for the enjoyment of the people of Leeds. The historic attraction lies beside the popular Home Farm Rare Breeds Centre and is surrounded by gardens and parkland with numerous walks.

Moving from room to room, floor to floor, offers an insight into different historical periods, fashions and styles. Ornate carvings are ten-a-penny, many of fantastical beasts, from lions to gryphons to wolves. The creatures are themselves due a stint in the spotlight as the subjects of a forthcoming exhibition, Fantastical Beasts at Temple Newsam.

Robert led us into the long picture gallery with its numerous seascapes, landscapes and warscapes. Robert indicated a series of faces - members of the then royal family - within the plasterwork stretching the length and breadth of the vast space. “It also served as a ballroom, and a gymnasium,” he explains. “If bored, the residents would walk circuits in it.”

Temple Newsam was used as one of the locations for the TV drama Victoria, and has featured in other productions including Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

It was also, for many years, the location of an open-cast coal mine, which encroached upon the property until the late 1970s. Landscaping is ongoing to put right the damage.

Robert showed us an amazing musical clock made in 1765 by royal clockmaker George Pyke which was put on display following a £40,000 restoration. It plays eight tunes from the Georgian period and when the barrel organ is running, figures spring into life, including musicians, dancers, a waterwheel that turns and ships that sail across a choppy sea.

For children, there is the chance to dress in period costume.

Tales of ghosts, a two-poster bed, a bed slept in by Henry Vlll - although not at Temple Newsam - and pint-sized baths in the servants’ room formed part of our entertaining tour.

Robert left no stone unturned, describing the lives - some happy, some sad, some tragic - of those long-dead people staring down from the walls. “I don’t know how you remember all this,” I said. “I know all their histories,” he replied. “I almost feel like I know them.”

*Temple Newsam, Leeds LS15 OAE W: T: 0113 336 7460. The house is open now for guided tours and for open access from February 15. Fantastical Beasts runs from March 30 to November 3.