Most newly-weds like to start out in a new place. But Tom Orde-Powlett and Katie Gribble begin married life this month at Tom's family's castle. Yvette Huddleston and Walter Swan report.
Bolton Castle has belonged to one family for all its 600 years and now the torch has passed to Lord Bolton's eldest son, Tom Orde-Powlett and his fiance Katie Gribble.
"I took over the running of the castle from my father in late April last year," says 28 year-old Tom, "and Katie moved up here about a month later." The couple are planning to get married at the end of this month and are looking forward to an exciting and challenging future.
Since it is privately owned, all profits earned through ticket sales go back into the maintenance of the building. There was a grant of about 1m from English Heritage during the 1980s and '90s, but since then the castle has been self-financing which means that Tom and Katie, 30, are very hands-on.
Most of the maintenance work is done by Eton-educated Tom, helped by Robert, an experienced historical re-enactor from Sopot in Poland who has qualifications in ancient building restoration and blacksmithing. "I was really lucky to meet Robert," says Tom. "Katie and I had gone out for a meal at the Foresters Arms in Carlton-in-Coverdale. Robert was behind the bar and we got talking. I asked him if he would like to come up to the castle to have a look around and he started to come up every day to help out; he was really enthusiastic and very informative." After a few weeks, Tom offered him a
job at the castle and he has been there ever since.
Strictly speaking, the castle is no longer the family home – it was until 1647, but after the castle had been partially ruined by Cromwell during the Civil War, nearby Bolton Hall was built. Tom and Katie live in a cottage in the village of Castle Bolton, which is handy for getting to work in the morning. For Tom, coming back home to Wensleydale "feels really good".
For seven years he was an officer in the Irish Guards and was awarded the Military Cross in Iraq in 2003. Tom commanded a platoon at the age of 23 and was among the first wave of soldiers into Basra. All 36 members of his platoon came home and he was later promoted to captain.
"The last couple of years when I was in the army, I found that after having been home on leave I really missed Wensleydale," he says. "I love it here, so I am very fortunate."
As a child Tom spent a lot of time at the castle, growing up around what must be one of the best playgrounds imaginable. "My dad spent 20 years looking after the castle," he says, "so from the age of about seven I was here quite a lot. It was a really great place to be able to play in.
"It makes the place very special to you. And it makes you want to do the best you possibly can for the place. But the castle can have that effect on people who don't have that family connection – Robert wants to spend his life here restoring it." Between them, Tom and Robert have significantly spruced up the castle, including the apartments where Mary Queen of Scots and her servants were imprisoned under Queen Elizabeth's orders in 1568. Mary arrived on July 16 of that year with only the clothes she stood up in and it was during her stay at Bolton that discussions were held in York to decide what should become of her. Mary appears to have been treated well while at Bolton, receiving many of the local Catholic nobility, and was eventually moved from Bolton in the middle of a snowstorm on January 26, 1569 to Tutbury.
Tom and Robert hope that eventually it might be possible to extend restoration to re-roofing and providing floors for partly-ruined sections of the castle. The structure was weakened by the Cromwellian siege and later by the Great Storm of 1761. Katie has taken over responsibility for the castle's gift shop and tea rooms, bringing with her the eye for quality and detail she employed when working for Cond Nast on GQ magazine. She certainly has a vision for improving the quality of experience for visitors to the castle.
"We'll stock the usual kinds of products – biscuits, preserves, toys and so on – but try and make them a bit more special," says Katie. "The castle is amazing and I do want to do it justice. I want to sell local goods in the shop, and in the tea room, as much as possible, what we sell will be from local producers and suppliers."
She is always on the lookout for suitable local merchandise, even when she is down in Lewes, in Sussex, close to her home. That's where she spotted jars of Rosebud Preserves and realised they are produced near Masham, no distance at all from Bolton Castle.
The tea room will benefit from this approach where the menu, under Katie's influence, will offer what she calls simple fare: for example, home-made soup, pat and brioche, brie and onion tartlets, ploughman's lunch and cheese platters. Even the Thai fish cakes will be made with locally sourced ingredients. "There is a new organic bakery in Leyburn – Westfields – and we will be using their bread," says Katie. In effect, the shop will become, in part, a delicatessen. Katie foresees that people from Castle Bolton and nearby may well use the castle as a local store. "That would be great. People don't have to pay admission to come into the tea room or the gift shop. There is no local shop here, so it could be quite a good addition to the local amenities." She has help from the two ladies who work in the shop – Alma who has worked there for 20 years and Marjorie, a local farmer's wife.
Given Katie's expertise in marketing, there are several areas of the castle's business that she and Tom would like to expand, especially relating to school visits. "I want to offer schools more than just having a look around the castle," says Tom. "So they can try on period costumes, have a mediaeval banquet for lunch if they like and they can try out different activities like calligraphy, candle dipping and coin-making."
The castle is also a popular venue for private parties, social events and, in particular, weddings. "We already have quite a lot of weddings here," Katie explains, "but we would like to do more. At the moment we don't offer a full service but in many ways it's nice for people to individualise. At a lot of places you have to use the catering that's provided: here, we're more flexible and, within reason, we let people decorate the castle however they like, which makes it more personal." Tom and Katie's own wedding will take place in Sussex – the bride's prerogative.
The couple, who met at a St Patrick's day lunch organised by the Irish Guards ("it was very lively!" says Katie), are also keen to develop the castle's potential as a filming location. It has already appeared in ITV's 1980s Ivanhoe series, All Creatures Great and Small and Heartbeat and more recently on celluloid in the Oscar-winning film Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett – "although you would have to know the building very well to recognise it," says Tom. The castle's palpable sense of history also lends it an air of mystery – this is a place where the past and present live side by side. Inevitably, with the passage of time, stories concerning ghostly presences have arisen.
"Sometimes the girls in the tea room hear footsteps," says Katie. "I've never heard them, but I do often think about the history of the building." Tom admits that he has occasionally sensed "something" when he has been working alone in one of the castle rooms. "But it has always been a nice presence," he says. "Like someone watching over you, nothing malign." The castle's impressive timeline, that stretches from the time of Chaucer, demonstrates both the staying power of the building and the energy and commitment of the family it belongs to."This is our life now and it's really exciting to have such a challenge," says Katie. "Everything we do here is about the long term," adds Tom. "So we will try things out – and if something doesn't work, then we will try something else."
There are a number of events at Bolton Castle over the summer.
July 27 – the James Herriot half marathon fun run.
August 1-3 – a Medieval weekend, a living history event with 25-40
re-enactors as fletchers, brewers, blacksmiths etc.
August 15-17 – an Armada living history weekend.
August 30-31 – a 15th century living history weekend.
For more information, call 01969 623981