Birdsall House owner Lady Cara Willoughby on her favourite places in Yorkshire

Lady Cara Willoughby and her husband the Hon. James Willoughby were married in 2005, and live at the historic Grade II-listed Birdsall House, near Malton. It is one of the leading wedding venues for the North of England.

My husband and I both studied at University in Scotland – he was at Edinburgh, and I was in Glasgow, studying graphic art. We’d known each other for a long tome before we got engaged, and vividly remember when, on my first visit to Birdsall, I realised that Yorkshire was where I truly felt at home. I may well have visited the county before, but that was the time when it all fell into place, and truly registered with me.

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?

James and I both work from home, so there’s nothing better than getting out, with the family, and getting off into the Moors or the Wolds, but better yet, going over to the coast. Yorkshire has some of the best coastline in Britain, and we love it all. We actually co-own a beach hut in Bridlington with some other families, and having get-togethers there is such a lot of fun. We often go to Hunmanby as well, and Whitby is another favourite – particularly for the fish and chips at the Magpie Café.

Lady Cara Willoughby of Birdsall House, Malton, North Yorkshire.Lady Cara Willoughby of Birdsall House, Malton, North Yorkshire.
Lady Cara Willoughby of Birdsall House, Malton, North Yorkshire.
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What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?

Getting a gaggle of good friends together, and setting out for a good walk with the prospect of a pub lunch together to share some good food. We’ve got three dogs of our own, Inkie and Teazle, who are both Cocker Spaniels, and Ottie, who is a young Red Labrador. When we’ve done a good few miles, the dogs are all so tired that they just want to sit in the car – but I’ve been so pleased to see, in the past few years, that so may pubs now welcome dogs, and that there are treats and bowls of water for them.

Do you have a favourite walk/ view?

All of the area up and around Garrowby Hill, and there are places up there where, almost unbelievably, you can see right across Yorkshire, certainly as far as Drax, and Doncaster, if the visibility is good. When I’m up there, I always feel as if I’m on the very edge of the world. There are days when the dappled sunlight, from the chasing clouds, is spectacular.

Birdsall House, Malton, North Yorkshire.Birdsall House, Malton, North Yorkshire.
Birdsall House, Malton, North Yorkshire.

Which Yorkshire sportsperson would you like to take for lunch?

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Our children are pretty passionate about Malton Rugby Club, so may I please request a lunch for all the wonderful people who run it, and organise the fixtures and the organisation itself? It would be a big “thank you.”

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, or past or present, would you like to take for dinner?

There are two. The first is Sir Michael Palin, for his unique take on life, his wonderful documentaries, and his glorious sense of humour, and the second is the larger-than-life Jeremy Clarkson. Outspoken, controversial, straight-talking, opinionated, but someone who (I think) has done a great deal to champion farming causes. I believe that his mother had a lot to do with the development of the Paddington Bear brand, so I’d be even more delighted if he could bring Paddington along as well, and I will provide a jar of my own home-made marmalade.

Lady Cara WilloughbyLady Cara Willoughby
Lady Cara Willoughby

What’s your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’ ?

Malton. Because it still has a character all its own – and lots of independent shops. Here’s where you can find Paley’s, a proper hardware shop that will sell you a bag of nails, and others with home-made cakes and ice cream, everything from bakeries to the livestock markets on Tuesdays and Fridays. A lovely, vibrant atmosphere.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

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The friendliness that we encounter every day. People genuinely want to help, to make life easier. There’s an honesty and forthright way of talking, and – of course – the landscape.

Do you have a favourite restaurant/pub?

There are a few great pubs, such as the Pipe and Glass, but the new Izakaya restaurant and lounge bar in Grape Lane in York takes a lot of beating. Superbly authentic food, and a wonderful atmosphere.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

Scoops, in Malton, for just about any and every ingredient for food that you could ever desire. They call themselves “abundantly stocked,” and they are not exaggerating at all. I love the place. I’m not a great cook, but I love cooking – and there’s a difference.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it?

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The food on offer in pubs and restaurants has improved immeasurably, and the county’s reputation for sourcing and cooking really first-class produce has gone international. On the downside, I still cannot believe that our rail services are so awful. You can be at York station, waiting for a train to Malton, and then, hey presto, there’s an announcement that it has been cancelled. We deserve better than that. And the A64 is a disgrace, crammed full with traffic, most of it because of the unreliability of the alleged rail “service”. How people get to work on time is beyond me – and the sad fact is that, well, many of them don’t.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

David Hockney, for his unique view of the county’s landscape, and his international reputation. I went to see an exhibition of his work not so long ago, and I thought to myself ‘Those trees look familiar,’ and they were the ones he’s painted up at Thixendale, which is on our estate land. I felt so proud.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

Totally. Birdsall is our home and our workplace, and we are constantly developing it and thinking of new ways to preserve it for the generations to come. The latest idea – which will happen this year – is to make the old kitchens into a modern night-club and after-event space which can be used for guests at our weddings. They can enjoy the ceremony, and the meal afterwards, and then dance to their heart’s content.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

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Apart from Birdsall? It must be York, and a walk along the walls (you get great views into so many private gardens!) and then over to Parliament Square, and The Shambles. It’s a small city, but full of life, and atmosphere. You’ll need at least two days to fit most of it in, and you still won’t have seen all of it!

Birdsall premiers a promenade theatre production of The Secret Garden in late May and June.