From Castle Howard to Chatsworth House - what some of our big country houses are doing this Christmas

With Christmas fast approaching, we take a look at some of our country houses and the festive displays and exhibitions you can visit.

For many people, a day out at one of our historic mansions is as much a Christmas tradition as going to the panto and watching reruns of Morecambe and Wise specials on the TV. Here are six eye-catching displays you can enjoy from around the region...

Harewood House

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Following the success of 2019’s award-winning A Night at the Mansion, created by acclaimed multimedia artists Davy and Kristin McGuire, the country estate near Leeds returns with another impressive show.

Caitlin Wall helps set up the toys for the Upon a Christmas Wish display at Harewood House near Leeds. (Tony Johnson).

This year’s festive striking visual display at Harewood is called Upon a Christmas Wish, created by the self-styled “connoisseurs of make-believe”, Lord Whitney.

The Leeds-based artistic studio specialises in immersive stories and experiences and the show created for Harewood revolves around the story of a young girl who is granted a festive wish to experience a Christmas like no other.

It includes festive-themed theatrical sets, starlit rooms, shadows dancing and moving set-pieces, as well as poetry and a cinematic soundtrack.

This weekend sees the final Festive Gift Fair, plus there is a Winter Walk and Talk with Harewood’s head gardener (December 9), Calligraphy Workshops (December 11) and a Winter Bird Watching event (December 15) to look out for.

Two children explore a Christmas display at Castle Howard, near York. (Jonathan Gawthorpe).

Upon a Christmas Wish runs to Jan 3. Tickets are available to pre-book at www.harewood.org

Burton Constable

Sir William Constable’s old stately pile, between Bridlington and Beverley, reopened its doors last month in time for the festive season.

The Elizabethan mansion offers visitors the chance to meander through 30 rooms filled with fine art and furniture that have been transformed with seasonal floral displays, decorations and garlands.

Retro Christmas at Kiplin Hall, Richmond, takes you back to the 70s. (Simon Hulme).

Also making a welcome return is the popular behind-the-scenes tour Cobwebs & Cream Teas, where expert guides grant you access to the cellars, attics, rooftops and the various nooks and crannies in between – all of which is followed up by a festive afternoon tea in the Stables Kitchen.

Cobwebs & Cream Teas runs until Dec 19. For ticket prices, opening times and how to book, visit www.burtonconstable.com

Castle Howard

Christmas is always a big deal at Castle Howard and this year the country estate near Malton isn’t holding back with its festive display which includes a 28ft tall real Christmas tree – believed to be the largest decorated indoor tree in the country.

An estimated 1,500 metres of fairy lights wrap around the giant spruce tree, which stands in the Great Hall (apparently it is too large for its usual spot by the staircase).

“We believe that this is the largest real indoor Christmas tree in the country, standing around eight feet higher than the impressive tree normally installed in Buckingham Palace,” says Nicholas Howard, the current guardian of Castle Howard. “It is certainly the largest we have had.”

The tree is one of the centrepieces of the Christmas in Narnia display. The Long Gallery has been transformed into a winter wonderland inspired by the classic CS Lewis book series The Narnia Chronicles that reimagines some of the places encountered by Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.

“For our displays, visitors don’t just step into the world of Narnia, they retrace the steps of the Pevensie children from their familiar surroundings at the home of Professor Digory Kirke into the world of perpetual winter ruled over by the White Witch,” says creative director Charlotte Lloyd Webber.

As well as being visually stunning, there is an accompanying soundscape, created by Karen Monid, that evokes both the 1940s and the magic of Narnia.

Christmas in Narnia runs to Jan 2. For more information and to book, visit www.castlehoward.co.uk.

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Kiplin Hall

If, like me, you grew up in the 1970s, or have a fondness for the decade that fashion supposedly forgot, then this just might be the festive exhibition for you.

Kiplin Hall, near Richmond, has gone all kitsch this year with A Retro Christmas! which features everything from foil decorations and macramé baubles to popular toys from the era, all of which are used to decorate the hall’s historic rooms. 

There’s also a chance to catch some of the fashions of the day on the Long Gallery catwalk, while the tea room menu serves up some nostalgic flavours.

Curator, Alice Rose, hopes the displays will trigger happy memories for people.

“Described as the decade that made modern life, the 1970s were a really interesting time. This event is very much a celebration, intended as a tonic after a very strange couple of years. The toys and decorations on display are intended to bring back fond memories for people from their own lives,” she says.

“By exploring a more recent and recognisable period, we are able to stimulate people’s own memories, starting conversations about days gone by and how much life has changed.”

It’s not just a misty-eyed look back through rose-tinted glasses, with issues such as the winter of discontent, power cuts and the three-day week all explored.

But there is plenty to lift the spirits, like the disco ball trail in the gardens and a raffle to win items from the displays including a reproduction Chopper bike and space hopper. Happy days....

The exhibition runs until Dec 12 when the hall and gardens close for winter. For information and ticket prices, go to www.kiplinhall.co.uk/

Chatsworth House

For many people when the festive decorations go up at Chatsworth House it’s a surefire sign that Christmas is on its way.

This year, the Derbyshire estate marks 20 years since it first opened for the festive season.

Back in 2001, the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in February that year had a devastating impact on the countryside and rural communities.

At the time, Chatsworth normally closed from October until Easter, but the 11th Duke of Devonshire decided to keep the house open in the hope that it would help the local economy. What was originally intended as a one-off event attracted thousands of visitors and has become the biggest event in the calendar for the estate.

This year’s standout feature is a snow installation in the Inner Court, while rooms on the Christmas route for visitors evoke seasons past from the traditions of the Victorian era and the world of Charles Dickens.

Meanwhile, the chapel features the sound of festive music and in a nod to contemporary ideas of Christmas there is an inventive use of recycled materials to illustrate the potential of sustainable decorating.

Christmas at Chatsworth runs until Jan 9. For more details, go to www.chatsworth.org/

Nostell Priory

This year’s festive theme at this Palladian treasure, on the Doncaster road, near Wakefield, is a simple one – namely “celebrate nature”.

Natural materials have been used to spruce up the house and courtyard, and starting from this weekend, and continuing until Christmas Eve, families will be able to join Percy the Park Keeper’s Winter Wander Trail.

Meanwhile, in the house itself a Christmas dinner party is brought to life, featuring decorated trees, festive greenery in the hearths and seasonal floral arrangements.

The house is open seven days a week during the festive period.

Christmas at Nostell runs until Dec 24. For more details, visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/nostell