Castle Howard launches guided dog walks to share secrets of the estate while exercising your pet

Little can be more inspiring than a dog walk in the woods, within one of the nation's most scenic settings.

But with great access to the grounds surrounding Castle Howard can come a responsibility, to the countryside and to the countryman's code.

New guided dog tours have been launched sharing some of the estate's secrets, and an insight into the outdoor workings of one of the nation's finest stately homes.

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With more people than ever enjoying the countryside, said gamekeeper Clive Harrison, there is also a call for understanding.

New guided dog tours have been launched sharing some of the estate's secrets

"The countryside is there for everybody to enjoy, and everybody should have that right," he said. "It's about how we conduct ourselves when we do.

"When people come to the countryside they are often coming for recreational purposes, but the countryside is also a living, working environment that must be respected.

"This is to inform and to educate and to learn about conservation," he said. "We should all leave the countryside how we found it, or make it better before we leave, but never make it worse."

The new guided dog walks, which launched yesterday (June 4), have been inspired by a significant increase in visitors to the wider 8,800 acre estate in the Howardian Hills.

Many people are unaware of the finer aspects of the countryside code, gamekeeper Clive Harrison says

With a sudden rise in dog ownership over the past year has come more dog walkers, reflected Mr Harrison, yet many people are unaware of the finer aspects of the countryside code.

With gundog specialist and trainer Amy Bates, the guided walks will take in the lesser known areas of the estate as an adventure to explore.

They are aimed at enjoying the health and wellbeing benefits that nature can offer, while learning about the importance and challenges of protecting the British countryside.

"It's not that many years ago we had to mow the footpaths," reflected Mr Harrison. "That's not a problem now, they are absolutely stampeded at times with people.

"I don't think we will ever return to the way things were, people are enjoying the countryside more."

Within the vast grounds of Castle Howard are hundreds of acres of woodland and farmland and parkland, nine tenanted farms, scrubland, ponds and streams, as well as landmark historic monuments.

Among those to feature within the guided walks are the Temple of the Four Winds, commanding stunning views across the hills, as well as one of the estate's most mysterious follies, an 18th century pyramid designed in 1728.

But when it comes to caring for the countryside, the focus is on the estate's conservation and environmental efforts, native wildlife, agricultural management and shoots. There are conservation crops, beetle banks, safe havens for young hens and nesting swans.

There are private follies, not usually open to the public, and adventures to be had, said Mr Harrison, though 'not too many', while the tour will take in a bluebell woodland aptly named as 'pretty wood'.

Mr Harrison, raised in Hovingham where he trained as a keeper, had served as beat keeper on the Nunnington estate before joining Castle Howard. He is less a tour guide than an educator, he laughed, and is keen to share his knowledge.

"People often tend to see the open grassland, and think it's a public path," said Mr Harrison.

"Actually there's a good chance there are nesting birds such as groundlark, or curlews and lapwings, all vulnerable to people or dogs or both, not sticking to public rights of way.

"The idea of the walks is really to inform and to educate, on what goes on in the wider estate. And also the part that the public can play in that, in helping us along the road."

Castle Howard, an historic setting home to generations of the Howard family, was built over the course of 100 years from 1699 and is popular with visitors, especially for its dog friendly walks and September dog festival.

Guided dog walks on the estate have proved so popular they have nearly all but sold out already until September, with the estate now looking to launch more dates.

The ambition is to share insight into the wider estate's management and conservation efforts, while raising awareness of how to be a responsible visitor to the countryside.

"We show a lot of the grounds they might not usually see, and areas of woodland the public might not usually visit," said Mr Harrison.