Carlton Towers in North-East Yorkshire
Unfortunately I’ve missed the boat with hot Prince Harry.
It looks like Meghan Markle may be about to pip me to the Princess post. My dreams of living a privileged life in a grand house in the country with the most eligible bachelor in the world are just that – dreams.
Still, Prince Harry aside, I was recently treated to a privileged insight into how the other half live – I was invited to spend a night at Yorkshire’s Carlton Towers – the Grade-I listed, 250-acre country estate hidden away in a quiet corner of Yorkshire, just 30 minutes from the ancient city of York.
It was Carlton Towers that played Windsor Castle in the hit British TV Drama, Victoria, with Jenna Coleman you know, and it’s a pretty spectacular place.
Carton Towers is home to Lord and Lady Gerald Fitzalan Howard and their children, all of whom live on the estate in their own quarters in the south wing of the house. Their home boasts staterooms, a picture gallery, drawing rooms and a cookery school and sits vast grounds with manicured gardens, parkland, farmland and woodland.
The home’s 16 exquisitely appointed bedrooms have been individually designed by Lady Emma herself and combine elegant chintz and panache perfectly.
Four-poster beds, heavy floral drapes, antique pieces of furniture, gilded mirrors, opulent lighting and scatter cushions galore compliment family photos and just the right amount of dust-free trinkets, china and old books. It all adds up to an air of refreshing familiarity – a far cry from the monotony and predictability or any designer hotel room.
The second I walked into my room – Lady Marigold (pictured above) – I sighed heavily with contentment. I dramatically threw myself on the luxurious bed and switched the kettle on. No TV, no telephone, nothing to suggest that my room was a modern-day guestroom or that I was laid there in the 21st century – I had been transported back to a 19th-century advantaged English way of life. A Lady taking a rest in the bedroom of her grand house in the country.
I sunk back into an abundance of pillows and scatter cushions and admired the elegance and detail of my surroundings – heavy blue-and-white patterned wallpaper, matching drapes and coordinating bed spreads and cushions. A beautiful dressing table featuring leather-backed books and an oversized, ornate, fabric covered stool. It was a perfect little oasis of tranquillity – the type of room one sees in House Beautiful magazine staged with elaborate lamps, a bed fit for a princess and a window box that looked out over the estate’s very own vineyard. It was all mine. Even if it was just for one night.
Lady Marigold is, by all accounts, quite a modest room when compared to other guestrooms, the most regal of all being the two-story Baroness Tower accessed by a spiral staircase, and usually used as a bridal suite at the many weddings that take place here.
Spacious en-suite bathrooms feature roll-top baths, Victorian-inspired suites, gold taps, and all the trappings of a bathroom fit for a princess. All that’s missing are a couple of Ladies-in-Waiting refilling one’s Champagne flute.
Don’t expect to find these beautifully appointed rooms listed on Bookings.com though. Carlton Towers is strictly NOT a hotel. One cannot just book a room for the night. However, as of December 2017, one will be able to experience life as a Lord or Lady on the estate.
Carlton Towers has just launched a three-night festive short break designed to immerse their guests in a 72 hour-long English-country experience like no other.
Now imagine this… Huge double panelled oak doors that open up to the magnificent Venetian Drawing Room that played Windsor Castle’s Long Gallery in Victoria. The room is adorned with Christmas regalia with the centre-piece being the imposing ornately stone carved fireplace trimmed with evergreens, candles and pine cones. A roaring fire crackles and lights up the hand-painted panels and antique furniture creating a festive, low-lit ambience.
Show-stopping oversized Christmas trees feature in the corner of the state rooms, drawing rooms and sitting area. Decorated tastefully to within an inch of their lives with elegant glass baubles and hundreds of twinkling fairy lights – all meticulously decorated by Lady Emma.
A collection of colourful presents wrapped in vintage Christmas paper sit at the base of each tree. Christmas songs play in the background and the mouth-watering smell of freshly-made mince pies rise from the restored Victorian kitchens below.
A highlight of my stay at Carlton Towers was most definitely the gala dinner hosted by Lord and Lady Gerald themselves in the Venetian Drawing Room.
After a historic tour of the house with a glass of Champagne in my hand, Lord Gerald, Lady Emma, and their other guests (14 of us in total) were shown to our seats around the giant dining table covered in crisp white linen and dressed with candelabras and floral displays, crystal glasses, silver cutlery and napkins featuring sprigs of thyme and purple heather.
Lord and Lady G’s hosting skills are indisputably beyond compare. Their authenticity, warmth and humour, public school brogue and love of a fair few glasses of decent plonk ensure that an evening in their company is simply splendid – full of laughter, and of course lots of bloody good wine.
Each of the five mouth-watering, perfectly presented courses was served with a different tipple.
Phil Callus, Head Chef at Carlton Towers bounds into the room ahead of each course and introduces each one in detail, emphasising the origin of the local ingredients used, many of which are produced on the estate or sourced from local, organic suppliers.
Meanwhile Sprout the Jack Russell, who evidently suffers with ‘little dog syndrome’, yaps and chases the tails of black Labradors Frank and Fonz as they lollop excitedly into the room whilst we tuck into our main course. I feel something warm and moist on my arm – I look down to find the wet nose of one of the Labs sniffing out the partridge dish in front of me (bird sourced on the grounds of Carlton of course) This only adds to magic of the evening – just another idyllic detail reinforcing the fact that we are all house guests at a rather fun, rather posh dinner party in the very posh home of a proper Lord and Lady in Yorkshire.
Lord and Lady G ensure that they are the last to leave their party, and this little party of ours was in full flow until the wee hours.
I slept like the proverbial baby that night. And woke to the sound of birds tweeting, rather than children bickering. After a leisurely bath and a deliciously fresh, full English breakfast featuring the tastiest of sausages made from the posh Oxford and Sandy Black pigs that live in the grounds of Carlton, I spent some time wandering around the house.
Guests are encouraged to roam freely around Carlton Towers. There are no red ropes and glass cabinets keeping me at arm’s-length – everything on display in the house (and there’s a lot!) is as it should be and would be in any family home.
Family photographs featuring VIPs such as HRH Her Majesty the Queen, the late Princess Diana and The Pope, sit alongside family portraits, and intimate wedding shots cover every surface in the family drawing room. The chair that Lord Gerald’s father, Miles Stapleton-Fitzalan-Howard, the 17th Duke of Norfolk, sat on in Westminster Abbey for Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, surely a rarity that would be guarded elsewhere, sits at the top of the grand staircase for all to sit on and admire.
The Armoury, the Bow Drawing Room and the Beaumont Room, which houses the bar, are the perfect places to sit with a book and have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Or wander downstairs into the basement where the kitchens, the Duchess’s Dining Room, The Housekeeper’s Sitting Room and Cooks – The Carlton School of Food are located. It really is a free-for-all here at Carlton Towers.
Cooks really is at the heart of this grand house.
Located in the refurbished servants’ passage, it is easy to imagine the heat and hustle and bustle once upon a time, as staff prepared a lavish feast for one of Carlton’s great social occasions. It’s been beautifully restored and is straight out of Downtown Abbey.
A short break at Carlton Towers wouldn’t be complete without a little recreation. We took part in a number of outdoor country pursuits on the estate, including a spot of clay pigeon shooting and an off-road 4x4 experience around Carlton’s woods.
We also tried our hand at brewing our own beer at the onsite brewery, Little Black Dog, and cheese making on a course run by Cryer & Stott, who supply their incredible cheeses to Her Royal Highness – The Queen!
Carlton Towers is no incredibly unique is so many ways – for me though, the icing on this royal cake is its home-away-from-home feel that comes from the ‘access all areas’ policy. Everyone who stays at Carlton Towers is a VIP.
Returning home, back to reality after such a fairy-tale 48 hours was hard. Very hard.