Days out: Harewood House

The symmetric grandeur of Harewood House. Photographs: Richard McDougall
15 Aug 2013 @ 2.00 pm
| Entertainment
The symmetric grandeur of Harewood House. Photographs: Richard McDougall
The symmetrical grandeur of Harewood House. Photographs: Richard McDougall

Our third grand day out at a grand house in three months. Harewood House is the one I was least familiar with, so most interested in.

We were grateful for the review tickets as the headline price for entry to the house and gardens would have been £40 for our family. In these tight times, this is a lot to ask. Would it prove to be worth the price?

Like Beningbrough, Harewood House is another fine example of an 18th century stately home. It was built by John Carr of York and furnished by master cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale. It was also the home of HRH Princess Mary.

Although I prefer the external architecture of Beningbrough, the front of Harewood is impressive. Perfect symmetry, flanked by fountains and centred on the modern statue of Orpheus, in all his glory. Beyond stretches the vista of Capability Brown.

And the state rooms are amazing – lavish, with the most incredible attention to detail. The children were really engaged for once! The secret door in the library, dressed with books sounded like something from a Scooby Doo mystery, which had their imaginations running wild.

Below stairs, the old kitchen was dominated by an amazing range and row upon row of copper pots and pans. With daylight limited you knew your place, but again knowledgeable staff helped the children gain an understanding of how “life downstairs” once bustled.

Epic adventure playground
Epic adventure playground
Below stairs - the scullery
Below stairs – the scullery

Then on to the highlight, as far as eight-year-old Freddie and Imogen, 11, were concerned: the adventure playground. Sometimes I feel I could dispense with the history in these reviews and just cut to the tyre swings…

Certainly our two would happily spend the day in the fantastic wooded play areas, complete with zip wire, massive aerial walkways, swings, roundabouts and climbing frames.

“Them slides is epic!” pronounced Freddie, clearly showing he has inherited his father’s word skills.

Down to the Courtyard Café and time for refreshments: a reasonably priced £1.80 for a pot of tea for one. The sandwiches looked amazing (especially the Yorkshire ham), but it was the dandelion and burdock cake that really caught our eye… Its delicious flavour had our taste buds tingling and our memories reeling back to the 1970s and grandma’s larder!

While we were munching and reminiscing, our daughter confounded us with a question about Einstein’s theory of relativity. Clearly Harewood is good for their minds…

Refreshed, we went to see the penguins, huddled and malting in the summer heat, being fed sardines (this happens daily at 2pm), before wandering through the bird gardens. Here we admired many tropical species and we had a very one-sided conversation with a blue and gold macaw.

Looking out to the gardens from one of the state rooms
Smile and wave boys
Smile and wave boys – the penguins await dinner

Leaving the birds behind we walked lakeside, a gentle perambulation, until we found ourselves suddenly leaping over a stream via stepping stones into the Himalayan gardens.

Among the jumbo sized plants the an afternoon stroll turned into an epic voyage of exploration. Hiding somewhere amongst the bamboo was the Harewood Stupa, a Buddhist monument built in 2004 by monks from Bhutan. It is the only one of its kind in the UK.

We never made it to the formal gardens on the other side of the lake, as there were too many fantastic things to see and do in an afternoon. A detour via the second-hand bookshop completed a fantastic day out. For once, there really was something for everyone.

So yes, it’s pricey. But as a family treat, it is certainly good value for money.

The lowdown | [email protected] | 0113 218 1010
Harewood House, Harewood, Leeds, LS17 9LG

Times and prices

The grounds and gardens, Bird Garden and courtyard are open every day (except 23 Dec 2013-3 Jan 2014)
Main season (until November 3, 2013) opening hours as follows:
Gardens, Grounds & Adventure Playground 10am – 6pm
Bird Garden 10am – 5pm
House State Rooms 12pm – 4pm
House Below Stairs 11am – 4pm
Terrace Gallery & Terrace Café 11am – 4pm
Courtyard Café & Shop 10am – 5.30pm
Bookshop 11am – 3pm

Including state rooms: adult £14, senior citizen £13, child/student £7, family £40
Grounds & below stairs only: adult £10, senior citizen £9, child/student £6, family £30

Getting there

Harewood House is roughly 27 miles from York, about 40 minutes in the car.
It takes about two hours via train and bus: find details on the Transport Direct website