Like all such national treasures, and there are many, Harewood House in West Yorkshire has to earn its keep. The list of events and things to see and do has multiplied since I was there last. Craftmaking workshops and demonstrations are now part of the experience. You can practise calligraphy, learn to weave willow, or make wreaths with dried flowers., Rounded off nicely with afternoon tea, but none of this compulsory. You can still have a great day with just the basics. I wish I’d paused to visit the exhibition Harewood on Film because the house and extensive grounds have taken a starring role in many a drama. My chief purpose in being there, however, was to entertain an 8 year old. You can imagine that the adventure playground and petting zoo had prior claims on our attention.
Nevertheless, it was hard not to admire the beautiful gardens, though some of the statuary caused rolled eyes. The times were very different. The finest craftsmen of the day were employed when Edwin Lascelles started building his new home in 1759. Locally born architect John Carr, popular interior designer Robert Adam, renowned furniture maker Thomas Chippendale, and landscape gardener extraordinaire, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, all combined their expertise to magnificent effect in creating Harewood.
After scrambling and tumbling in the playground, we set off to explore the grounds, following the edge of the lake to the Himalayan Garden. The plants were waist high and above. Huge gunnera rippled in waves down to the stream, which you could cross by means of stepping stones. The garden must be stunning in May-June, when the rhododendrons are in bloom. Stopping to pay homage to the Stupa, we climbed back to the top of the gorge, and spent a happy 10 minutes sending leaves plummeting down the cascades to join the stream, far below. Simple pleasures.
Some of the trees were amazing in girth. One or two were home to fairies. And another, potentially good for climbing. We arrived at the Walled Garden ready for a hot drink. Not the warmest of days and we were consigned to outdoor picnic tables, but the cheese and ham panini hit the spot for the youngster and my cherry bakewell slice was divine. There wasn’t even a crumb left to photograph! Healthy looking plants marched across the lawns in an orderly fashion while the borders harboured some beautiful specimens. We were a bit disappointed to find that the promised boat ride across the lake wasn’t operating, but he’s young and fit and we were back round the lake in no time.
Flamingos stood to attention on one leg, while the aviary showcased birds of every size and description. The penguin pool wasn’t so easy to capture on camera, but I did manage a kookaburra and a snowy owl. And a shaggy goat story! The house was open by this time, and I was anxious for a bit of warmth. And we certainly received a warm reception. The staff were knowledgeable and happy to chat, and I couldn’t help but be impressed by the opulence and sheer wealth on display. Ill gotten gains, and definitely over the top by today’s standards, but beautiful.
Back in the fresh air a glimmer of sunshine persuaded us to take the North Park walk to All Saints Church. An exhibition of stained glassware by Chris Day referenced the slave trade, which contributed to Lascelles enormous wealth.
Exiting through a secret tunnel brought us to a maze filled with willow creatures in a woodland play area, and the adventure was over. A good day’s entertainment, I thought, and only a bus ride from Leeds City Centre.
I haven’t yet finalised my Christmas plans, but I could be tempted by Upon a Christmas Wish. I might even wish for a little snow to enhance the experience. But not yet awhile!