Carlton Towers is a Gothic Victorian house, a fantasy mash-up of Hogwarts and medieval castles. Situated an hour south of York, scenes from the TV series ‘Victoria’ were set in this historic house.
The Lord of the castle, Gerald Fitzalan-Howard and his wife Lady Emma hosted myself and other journalists in the palatial Venetian Drawing Room for an evening banquet. Gerry, as we were permitted to call him, believes that the series Downton Abbey was based on their house. Certainly below stairs is a Downtonesque warren of rooms along a dim tiled corridor: the great kitchen, the game room, the dairy, the housekeepers’ sitting room, all add to this impression.
Upstairs, a sequence of enormous state rooms, linked by tall double doors, is a triumph of baroque extravagance. Start with the Venetian room, clad with linenfold oak panels, many decorated with paintings, dominated by an enormous crested stone fireplace, crowned by a moor’s head within which roars a log fire. Above the panels twinkle walls embossed with Venetian gold dusted polished plaster. Overhead opulent crystal chandeliers cast a warm glow. Terracotta and green silk curtains with tasselled velvet tie backs frame the tall windows, elsewhere the walls are studded with bevelled mirrors, the floors with Persian carpets, the tables boast sprigs of local flowers in vintage silver, while blue and white porcelain and majolica-ware perched on the shelves. At my dining place I found a gold embossed name card.
Lord and Lady Gerry are fun hosts; typical English eccentrics, fond of a drink and a laugh, feeding the dog at dinner. They are one of Englands oldest families, dating back to William the Conqueror. Tracing their lineage to just after the Norman Conquest; they are even mentioned in the Domesday book. Lord Gerry quipped:
‘We were big in the middle ages!’
The Fitzalan-Howards have plans to turn Carlton Towers into foodie central: it now runs cookery courses in probably the most magnificent kitchen I’ve ever seen. I’ve now got serious kitchen #goals: pale marble surfaces by a Middlesborough stone mason, old coal stoves, the original encaustic tiled floor, butler sinks, gleaming copper saucepans, hand built wooden cupboards.
Lord Gerry has planted a walled vineyard, we discussed natural wines. Just behind the house, is Little Black Dog, a craft beer brewery which also makes beers to order, for instance ‘wedding beers’. We had a class in cheese making, cheese tasting accompanied with story telling of their trip around France, with Yorkshire affineurs Cryer and Stott. Carlton Towers are currently looking for a baker to set up a sourdough bakery on site. They aim to promote and use, wherever possible, local Yorkshire produce.
Other activities are available: I got to drive an expensive 4×4 through the forest, negotiating steep hills and muddy ditches. The jeep can tip up to a 30 degree angle and as an amphibious vehicle, it also has a snorkel.