A ROPE bridge across a lagoon, lofty tree houses, super-dupa slides and a zip wire.

If only we had young children.

“You’re lucky, you can get away with going on all of this,” I told one parent, as he emerged from the chute of a slide, his legs wrapped around a small boy. “We would love to, but without kids, we’d look a bit odd.”

The children’s adventure playground at Castle Howard is unrecognisable from the days when our children and their friends visited.

Opening in summer last year, Skelf Island is an exciting extension to the already-large play area. A wonderland world made up of ingenious treetop structures connected by rope bridges, slides, nets and climbing equipment. In a word, it’s fantastic.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Adventure playground at Skelf IslandAdventure playground at Skelf Island

We watched as youngsters of ages - there is no restriction - tentatively clambered up, then having gained confidence, whizzed back down.

The imaginatively designed new playground is inspired by ‘Skelves’ - elfin creatures named after the long disappeared Medieval Henderskelfe Castle which Castle Howard replaced. Their mythical dwellings - fantastical pods - can be seen in the surrounding trees.

Sadly childless, we contented ourselves with hot drinks and cake at the Boathouse café. With every table taken, we sat outside overlooking the South Lake.

We really didn’t mind having to take a back seat at the playground – after all we had just enjoyed a lovely walk, taking in the beauty of Castle Howard’s grounds.

It’s what we set out to do, driving up there in hail and sleet, which miraculously cleared as we turned off the A64, making way for bright sunshine.

It’s easy to find Castle Howard - head east from Leeds along the A64 until you see the signs. It’s about 20 minutes drive from York.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Castle Howard, North YorkshireCastle Howard, North Yorkshire

We walked around the Atlas Fountain - turned off on the day we visited - and along the shore of the South Lake where swans and geese bobbed about in the choppy waters.

All the lakes and ponds at Castle Howard - made famous as the main setting for the period drama Brideshead Revisited - are man-made. The South Lake was fashioned in the early 1720s, while plans for the larger lake - the Great Lake - to the north of the house, did not materialise until the 1790s.

Daffodils were starting to appear and will soon create quite a spectacle on banksides around the estate.

The views across to the house - designed and built in the early 18th century by John Vanburgh, who when given the job had never built a house before - cry out for photographs.

We walked to the Temple of the Four Winds, also designed by Vanburgh, and sat down to appreciate the view. From here you can see for miles across the surrounding countryside. You can also see the Howard family’s grand mausoleum in the adjoining field, with its colonnade of 20 pillars.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The South LakeThe South Lake

‘I do design to build a burial place near my seat of Castle Howard, where I desire to be layed,’ the 3rd Earl wrote I his will. Designed by Hawksmoor, it was completed in the 1740s and continues to be used by the Howard family.

You can follow a circular walk bordering Ray Wood, which is frequently overlooked by visitors and is well worth a detour. Standing on a hill - the site of an ancient woodland - this wonderful swathe of interesting trees and shrubs has undergone several transformations over the past 300 years.

At one time it was filled with statues, cascades, fountains, pavilions and summerhouses, but all of these features disappeared by the middle of the 18th century. All that remains of the sophisticated waterworks is Ray Wood Reservoir, which was rebuilt in the 1850s to supply water for the Atlas and South lake fountains.


In the 1940s Ray Wood was felled, but in the 1970s George Howard and his designer, James Russell, decided to reinstate its winding pathways as a framework for ornamental planting in a woodland setting.

Today, in a collection of national importance, there are nearly 800 species of rhododendron - magnificent in spring - as well as wild roses, magnolias, hydrangeas, viburnums and maples and rowans.

Many of the plants have come here from the other side of the world, brought back by some of the great plant hunters of the 19th and 20th centuries.

With so much evergreen foliage, the wood is a great place for games of hide and seek in all seasons. I’ve hidden here undiscovered, while my kids carried out a search, many times myself. At present, a pair of wellies is advisable.

You can walk up to the reservoir. If you look carefully at its central stone plinth you can see carvings of fish and other aquatic creatures.

Walking around the gardens of this magnificent house is a day out in itself, but if you want to take a peek at Castle Howard’s opulent interior the house opens on Saturday March 21.

For more details including prices visit castlehoward.co.uk; Castle Howard, YO60 7DA Tel: 01653 648333