APPROACHING Castle Howard, visitors are enchanted by the avenue of Christmas trees set at intervals along the drive to the stately home.

Sprinkled with tiny white lights, they form a fairy tale route to the historic house that each year attracts thousands of people from across the world.

The trees - majority of are grown in Windsor Great Park in Berkshire, with the remainder transported south from Scotland - are among around 100 that help to create what has become an annual Christmas makeover for the historic house.

Many of the locations for the trees, both inside and out, are planned well in advance as part of the decorative event - this year called Angels on High.

“There are set places for a number of them,” says Alastair Gunn, Castle Howard’s head of landscape and gardens, who oversees the operation. “There are around 42 on the driveway and always a big tree on the north front and the large tree that stands in the Great Hall.”

Nicholas Howard, who runs the 10,000-acre estate, selects the tree that will take pride of place in the Great Hall.

“This year we brought in the tallest tree we have ever had, at 25 feet,” says Alastair. “In the past they have stood at between 18 and 20 feet. It was not easy getting it inside and into position.”

A team of staff from the gardens and building services departments helped to negotiate the tree through the Grade l-listed surroundings. “There is so much marble and also works of art that we had to be aware of,” says Alastair, who has worked at Castle Howard for a year and was previously gardener at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. “It is briefly terrifying and we were quite anxious until it was up.

“The trees are all of a high quality, but this one has to be as near perfect as possible as it is looked at so closely by so many people.”

In contrast to the towering spectacle in the Great Hall, Nicholas Howard and his family have as their own centrepiece a small oak from their own estate, decorated in either gold or silver. “It goes in a particular place in the east wing, in a metal ice cooler,” says Alastair.

Nordmann firs are chosen to grace the interior of the house. Renowned for their symmetrical shape and low needle drop, they are the biggest selling Christmas tree in the UK. “Needle drop is an important consideration, especially for the trees in the house,” says Alastair, “We make sure we don’t site them too close to radiators or the open fire in the Great Hall.”

As part of the makeover, one of the upstairs rooms is this year filled with one tree - a small horse chestnut, one of a number earmarked for felling due to disease. It was Adrian’s idea to use it and it looks stunning, its branches casting spider web shadows across the ceiling.

“Bringing it inside, we realised that it was twice the width of the door, so it was quite tricky.”

Trees placed outside include the Norway spruce, a traditional Christmas tree which has been popular in Britain since Victorian times.

Alastair especially likes the trees in the Stable Courtyard, where a cosy indoor Christmas market takes place. “They are dense trees with not too many lights, they look lovely.”

Working with the Howard family, the designers overseeing Angels on High - creative producer Charlotte Lloyd Webber and theatrical designer Brette Gerecke - specify how many trees of what heights go where. “We might then shuffle them around, or reduce the height of one or two to create the best look,” says Alastair.

After Christmas the trees are chipped, with the chippings used to make compost or for pathways.

“The Howards are very environmentally-conscious people and are moving to make the house as environmentally friendly as possible,” says Alastair.

At this time of year the garden team busy themselves with winter tasks such as clearing leaves, cutting back borders and general maintenance jobs.

*Castle Howard’s Angels on High runs until Saturday December 23. For more information on opening times visit