I’ve never been inside a private castle. Sure I’ve walked through very large homes with hundreds of other tourists reading the labels in each room, listening to tour guides or docents, deciding which pieces of furniture or which pieces of art I liked, but I’d never walked through the front door of a real castle as a private guest.
I walked into Naworth Castle in Cumbria, northern England with our small tour group, sorting out whose luggage was going to which room, etc. My own room was comfortable with an en-suite bathroom, and my window looked out onto the well-manicured courtyard. The caterer’s kitchen and public rooms were one floor away.
Over our four nights, we ate dinner in three different rooms – the White Dining Room with its large fireplace, the Philip Webb Library or Old Library, so named for the man who decorated it, and the Great Hall which is very large indeed. This room has very high ceilings – probably 30’. There’s a slight raised area on one end where the masters of the house would sit to dine, and the rest of the castle’s occupants would dine below in long tables.
The night we dined there I had a vision of the movie Tom Jones with people eating with their hands, tearing meat off of large joints of roasted animals, amid raucous laughter. While we had appropriate utensils, we dined on delicious and creative food served gracefully by the Chef’s assistant, and we all participated in the serving, passing plates of vegetables to our companions, pouring water for each other, etc.
The conversation was fun, punctuated by the reciting of poetry ranging from a slightly blue limerick to a wonderful poem written the day before by one of our group. Wordsworth was read in anticipation of our visit to the Lake District the following day where he and so many English authors had lived – from Wordsworth and Coleridge, to Beatrix Potter to John Ruskin, who many people believe was the “father” of the Arts & Crafts Movement and whose home Brantwood was our first stop that day.
Despite these modern conveniences, Naworth’s thick stone walls are filled with history. Among many others, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones stayed there, walked the floors we walked on. Inevitably, one imagines the conversation around the fireplace in the White Dining Room was about decoration of the walls. And so the large Burne-Jones frieze over the fireplace came to be.
Though we were honestly tired each evening after a long day’s touring by motorcoach, we didn’t let that stop us from taking a little time to walk in the Walled Garden which now incorporates part of what used to be the castle’s moat. A glass of wine while the sun goes gracefully down over the castle walls wasn’t a bad way to begin our evening’s festivities.
While at Naworth we toured places like the Holy Island, so named for the early Celtic holy men who came from Ireland to bring Christianity to Britain. It’s a tidal island, and so we had to be careful to pay attention to the tide schedule. This meant our visit across the inlet to Lindisfarne House (some call it a castle), was in the early morning.
Edward Hudson, the publisher of Country Life, bought what used to be the fort on Holy Island and hired Edwin Lutyens to modify the structure and Gertrude Jeykll to design a lovely, small walled garden some distance away to grow vegetables and flowers.
I felt truly privileged to stay at Naworth Castle and I want to share that feeling with you. We hope to have many more tours based at Naworth in the future so that you can feel the same way I felt. Next year, there will be two tours based at Naworth – one in May and one in September. Both feature techniques and designs of embroidery and other needlework. And we are thinking about one visiting houses and gardens, and one on sketching or culinary arts. But more on those later.