Carlton Towers: an unusual overnight experience staying in a stately home

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Jess and I had an unusual experience a few weeks ago when we stayed overnight in a stately home. This is not something we – and I am guessing you – are used to. And it was unlike anything we’d experienced before…

The stately home in question is called Carlton Towers and is in the small village of Carlton (now, there’s a surprise), near Selby in Yorkshire. We were there to make macaroons (and you can read about this, excellent experience, on the Britmums blog) and, because we live in London, it was suggested that we could stay overnight before the course began the following morning. This option is something that other guests coming to Cooks, the Carlton School of Food, are offered, as otherwise all attendees would have to live nearby. However, I imagine that the experience will be rather different from ours. I am assuming that, as Cooks becomes more established, the overnight issue will evolve.

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I should say first that Carlton Towers is glorious. It is a magnificent house, the ancestral home of the Duke of Norfolk and can trace its roots back to the Domesday Book of 1086. Today’s house (the residence of Lord Gerald Fitzalan Howard, a direct descendant of Edward I) dates back to early Jacobean times although much of it was built in the 19th century and is Victorian Gothic. It really is a spectacular building, set in 250 acres of land. You can see at first glance, especially once you’ve walked through the very beautiful Venetian drawing room, why it would be an excellent wedding venue, and indeed it does host a number of these. As we found out.

We were told before we came, that Carlton Towers was not, and this was emphasised, a hotel. That may be true, but if you are going to allow people to stay overnight, you do have to look after them. At least a little.

We came on the train from London to Selby. We arrived at Carlton Towers in the late afternoon and were greeted by someone who told us that there was a wedding going on, so could we please stay in our bedroom until at least 6.30pm. This was rather a surprise, especially as the bedrooms had no television, radio or wi fi (or at least, wi fi which worked). We were offered a drink (funnily enough, the first thing you see when you enter the house is a wooden bar), but no food, and waited. We were rather hungry, and pretty much trapped! I have to admit that we felt abandoned.

We peeked out of our room a little later to see if it was safe to explore. It wasn’t until after 7pm.

We had been told to arrive by 6.30 as that was when we would be having supper. In fact, we had brought some glad rags to wear, so were a bit baffled when we were brought up some hunks of cheese, a small quiche and salad on a plate. We were also given a bowl of fruit (but no knives to cut the fruit up). This was not quite the supper I was expecting, and, as mentioned, if you have guests to stay over, you need to look after them or at least warn them in advance that the supper will be light and small. The next day, at the macaroon making, we were given tea and cake, and that would have been a pleasant addition to our evening meal.

I asked the guy who brought our food if he could perhaps bring us some more bread as we were really hungry and he came back with a bowl of tortilla chips (apparently all he could find!). We guzzled them all up, but  I have to say, we were not at all full, and were also uncomfortable as we had to eat on our beds. It was such a strange experience.

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However, when we were able to explore a little, we did feel privileged. After all,  when do you ever get to go a place like this and wander around? Normally you pay for admission and walk through rooms with a guide, standing behind roped off areas. At Carlton Towers we could just mooch about our own way. This meant visiting the Venetian hall, going into the library area, seeing what books Lord and Lady Gerald enjoyed reading (lots on architecture and horses, plus some by Miranda Hart and Rupert Everett) and admiring the many family photos (including some with the Pope, no less). We also went up into the Clock Tower and admired the remarkable views.

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In the Venetian hall

I love history (as you may know from reading this blog), so it was amazing to walk around the house. We still felt a bit intimidated though as it was huge and there wasn’t anyone there to tell us any information or point out exactly what we should take note off. We weren’t exactly sure where to wander and were scared off at one point by the barking of Lord Gerald’s dog! Still, what a place. There were so many rooms, twists and turns, lots of staircases and paintings. But with all those rooms, with all their knick knacks, I have to admit that I kept thinking ‘what a place to keep clean’!

The following day we had breakfast downstairs before starting the course. We then went downstairs (again) to the kitchen area, and that was brilliant. The kitchens have been redone, but still have a real sense of Downton Abbey about them.

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A montage of the names of all the different, original, rooms downstairs in the kitchen area

After the course we were shown around and that’s when we felt we learnt about the history of the house and (by far the best bit) were shown the priest hole below one of the rooms in the nursery Wing (which houses the five oldest bedrooms).

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Pulling up the trap door to the priest hole

This was used to hide a Catholic priest during the Reformation, until he was discovered and killed on the lawn. It was really strange looking through the glass panels into the room below, while access was down an old staircase hidden in a cupboard. That room must have witnessed some amazing stories.

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The steps down to the priest’s hole
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Inside the priest’s hole

So, all in all, we had a fascinating and unusual time. We didn’t really feel looked after (at least until the course) but we did feel as if we were experiencing something genuinely different. If we came again, however, we’d bring some food!

Read about:

Our visit to Dr Johnson’s House

Our visit to Hever Castle

Disclosure: We stayed over at Carlton Towers to take a macaron course which was on a complimentary basis. All the opinions contained in the blog post, however, are ours.

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21 Responses

  1. Hannah

    Wow that’s some house! Bummer that you had to stay hidden away because of a wedding though- would have been nice if they had arranged something else since you were still a guest.

  2. Milosz Zak

    Am I the only one who thought of Downton Abbey after reading this one? I think you might have also been treated to an authentic meteorological experience too.

  3. Els Mahieu

    Very interesting history with the priest trap hole! A pity about the service maybe, but hey, still a nice place to stay in!

  4. Anonymous

    Sounds like quite a bizarre but unique experience, amazing to get the place virtually to yourselves though, I’d love to wake up and go poking about looking for history like that. What an experience. – Heather Cole

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