The Yorkshire castle that has been in the same family for 650 years

Bolton Castle has been in 
Tom Orde-Powlett’s family since it was built in 1379, now it has fallen to him, his wife and young family to ensure its future. 
Catherine Scott reports. 
Pictures by Simon Hulme.

Tom Orde-Powlett pictured with his wife Katie at Castle Bolton, near Leyburn..Picture by Simon Hulme
Tom Orde-Powlett pictured with his wife Katie at Castle Bolton, near Leyburn..Picture by Simon Hulme

Bolton Castle sits impressively at the entrance to Wensleydale. Built more as a luxury home than a fortress, its current custodians are on a mission to make its history more accessible to the public.

Falconry displays, archery, reenactment weekends and reintroduction of wild boar are just some of the sensitive attractions introduced by the young Orde-Powletts for whom its future has been bequeathed. There are no stag parties haring around in off-road vehicles as part of the diversification that many English estates have had to adopt to survive.

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“We have introduced quite a few things but we are very keen to ensure that they are relevant and in keeping with the castle,” says Tom who was a decorated soldier before returning home.

Tom Orde-Powlett pictured with his wife Katie at Castle Bolton, near Leyburn...Picture by Simon Hulme

As well as being one of the country’s best preserved medieval castles it is one of few (if any) castles that has never been sold and has stayed in the same family for centuries.

“I suppose a sense of responsibility does come with knowing that, but also a great sense of privilege,” says Tom Orde-Powlett the current custodian of the castle with his wife Katie and four young children.

Originally built as one of the finest and most luxurious homes in the land, the castle bears the scars of over 600 years of fascinating history and has not been lived in for some time. Tom, and his young family live in nearby Bolton Hall still part of the 12,000 acre estate. Tom’s father, Harry, the 8th Baron Bolton, is still very active and looks after most of the estate while Tom takes care of the rest.

The couple moved back to Yorkshire in 2007 after Tom left the army. For Katie, who worked for Conde Nast in London before uprooting to Yorkshire, it was not quite the shock you would expect.

Tom Orde-Powlett pictured with his wife Katie at Castle Bolton, near Leyburn...Picture by Simon Hulme

“I might have been living in London but my family are farmers from Sussex and the farm has been in our family for generations and so I love and understand the countryside.”

Initially Katie threw herself into running the castle tea shop and marketing the castle but with four young children she has taken a bit of a back seat.

Hector, ten, Flora, eight, Cressida, seven and five-year-old Rufus, are the latest in a long line of Orde-Powletts and before them Scropes, to call the historic estate home.

Bolton Castle was built by Sir Richard le Scrope, Lord Chancellor of England to Richard II. Building work began in 1379,

Tom Orde-Powlett pictured with his wife Katie at Castle Bolton, near Leyburn..Picture by Simon Hulme

The castle is most famous for its role in the ‘imprisonment’ of Mary, Queen of Scots during the Tudor period, although Tom takes issue with the word ‘imprisonment.’

“She was much more of an honoured Royal guest than a prisoner, although most people seem to think she was imprisoned here.”

She spent six months at Bolton Castle after she fled to England following her defeat in battle in Scotland. She was allowed to wander the estate lands and go hunting, and she learned to speak English at the castle. She was later taken to Staffordshire, where she spent the next 18 years before she was finally executed in 1587.

In 1630, the Scrope male line became extinct, but the castle was inherited by Mary, an illegitimate daughter who married Charles Powlett, later the first Duke of Bolton, thus keeping the castle in the family.

Castle Bolton, near Leyburn has been in the same family for nearly 800 years.Picture by Simon Hulme

Tom’s father Harry is the eighth Baron Bolton, and he lives at The Fothering House in Wensley and is in charge of most of the estate.

It was Harry along with his late wife Pip who restored Bolton Castle’s impressive medieval gardens and grounds to their former glory in 1994 and the gardens at Bolton Hall.

There is now a maze, vineyard, herb garden, bowling green and rose garden.

An archaeological survey in 1994 revealed an interesting range of medieval plant life around the castle, so, when rebuilding and replanting, they tried to adhere to the principles set out by medieval writer Albertus Magnus.

Magnus described the plants in a pleasure garden as, “refreshing the sight with the variety of their flowers and causing admiration at their manly forms in those who look.”

The herb garden now contains more than 50 varieties of culinary and medicinal herbs, all of which were in common cultivation in the medieval period. Although historically there would not have been a vineyard this far north, the one recently established in the lee of the castle is stocked with a modern hybrid, frost hardy and early ripening variety of red grape, Vitis Vinifera x Vitis Amurensis.

The Mary Garden is a recent addition in 2017 and was the brainchild of head gardener Elizabeth Carter.

“After the Reformation, a lot of Mary Garden’s were created with plants associated with the Virgin Mary, such as marigolds and hollyhocks, by the Catholics so that they could keep a connection with their faith after it was outlawed,” explains Tom.

As well as falconry displays and the wild boar herd, which was introduced in 2010, Tom holds an annual Curlew Festival.

“Our population here in the Dales is the remaining global stronghold,” says Tom, for whom conservation and the environment is clearly a passion.

He is heavily involved in looking at the effects of the implementation of the post-Brexit environmental land management scheme in 2024.

“It will be a massive change but we should be in a strong position to respond to a more environmentally-focussed agricultural policy.

“We have such beautiful countryside which has been managed for so many years by the same families of farmers and game keepers who are looking after some of the UK’s most threatened birds as well as landscapes that are cherished by so many people.

“It is important that the Government listens to the people at the grass roots.”

Conservation is really very much at the heart of what the Owrde-Powletts are doing at Bolton castle and the surrounding estates.

Tom’s father has an interest in renewable energy and it is something he has embraced and is now using in Bolton Hall by utilising ground source and even hydro electricity.

“We are always looking at more sustainable ways of doing things, of marrying the old and the new. We need to embrace modern technology.”

Because the castle is privately owned, without the support of charities like English Heritage and the National Trust, every penny spent has to be earned by the family first. This means they always have to be on the lookout for new commercial opportunities while keeping it relevant to the history of the castle.

As Tom’s father did before him they have increased the number of weddings and private celebrations, and school activity days. It also acts as a film location (it previously ‘starred’ in All Creatures Great and Small, Heartbeat and the Oscar-winning film Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett).

A calendar of events for all ages normally runs throughout the year, although with the current coronavirus pandemic Tom said he had taken the difficult decision to close Bolton Castle to the public.

“Due to the current coronavirus situation The Bolton Castle team has taken the decision, for the safety of our customers, to temporarily close until further notice,” he said in the statement.

“Please follow us on social media and the website and newsletters for updates as they occur. We at Bolton Castle will welcome you back soon.”

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