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A review of Belvoir Castle

Muddy makes like Queen Vic and spends a day living like royalty in Belvoir Castle - well sort of...

LOWDOWN

There’s nothing quite like a castle to make you feel like a five-year-old princess again. Home to the Duke of Rutland’s family since 1067, this stately country pile is a Grade I-listed historic castle that’s undergone some serious renovation work in the last few years and more recently the addition of a new £2.5 million artisan shopping village, The Engine Yard.

Belvoir Castle exterior – picture credit Nick Fry

Following a week of torrential downpour, I was lucky enough to get a sunny day and once I’d made my way up the steep hill, I wandered into the Rose Garden. Carved into the hill and sitting in front of the castle the roses here have all been planted by Emma, the current Duchess of Rutland and were in full bloom when I visited. You can also see the striking statue of ‘Winter‘ by Caius Gabriel Cibber (1630-1700) which proudly presides over the garden. This year also marks the beginning of a £200,000 restoration of the Rose Garden, following the rediscovery of the original plans drawn up by the 19th century designer Harold Peto in the Castle archives.

Muddy blending in with the roses

The castle doors open at 11am but you can explore the grounds from 10.30am so after exploring the Rose Garden, I made my way inside into the Pre-Guard Room which is basically a corridor but not your average one – it’s lined with 100 ‘Brown Bess’ muskets’ and leads you into the Guard Room which is the main entrance hall of the castle.

Here I met John, a cheery security guard who told me that the castle was featured in The Crown as well as scenes from other flicks including, Victoria and Abdul, The Young Victoria and The Da Vinci Code.

After learning this exciting piece of trivia, I started my tour from the stairs and turned left into the Picture gallery. It’s an absolute must for art lovers and includes works by David Teniers, William van de Velde, George Stubbs, Thomas Gainsborough and more, but perhaps the most familiar, is the iconic Hans Holbein portrait of Henry VIII which has been on display in the castle for more than 200 years and caught my eye immediately.

Pic Credit: Sam Churchill

Meanwhile, the Regent Gallery is housed in the large tower you see as you come up the castle drive – its crystal chandeliers are stunning and the room is filled with paintings, ornate mirrors and some tapestries from the Gobelin factory, Paris which were purchased by the 5th Duke and Duchess of Rutland. There are also some pics here of the current Duke of Rutland’s family. 

The Elizabeth Saloon – named after the 5th Duchess Elizabeth – is decked out in a French Rococo style and is one of the most magnificent rooms and one of my fave.  It contains many beautiful features including a hand-painted ceiling which tells the story of how the peacock acquired the ‘eyes’ in his tail from Argus, the giant. There’s also French panelling which dates back to 1730, silk damask panels (not originals though), ornamental cabinets, carpets from Tournai, Belgium, and even a slice of Queen Victoria’s Wedding Cake safely preserved in a beautiful gilt-wood table cabinet at the end of the room near the windows. Unfortunately you can’t go inside, you can just peer in through the door.

You can also peek into some of the bedroom in the castle – there’s two small ones that you can find off the Ballroom which feature delicate Chinese silk wall hangings and wallpaper. There’s also the King’s Room, named after King George IV (previously the Prince Regent) and a friend of John 5th Duke – the room has also been used by Queen Victoria, Edward VII and Queen Elizabeth when she was Duchess of York.

As you come back downstairs you can have a wander into the the Old Kitchen which immediately made me think of Downton Abbey’s Mrs Patmore. There’s small larders here, an old oven, roaster and a boiler and you start to get an idea of how busy this part of the house was.

OUT AND ABOUT

If you’re feeling rather peckish about now, it’s a good time to tuck into Afternoon Tea at the castle and I bet you didn’t know that the idea of afternoon tea was first thought of at Belvoir Castle! In the 1840’s the seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna Marie was visiting the Duke of Rutland and asked the butler to bring her some tea with sandwiches in the late afternoon. The new trend was passed onto her good friend Queen Victoria, who then apparently encouraged it at court. The Queen and Prince Albert then began taking the traditional Afternoon Tea after 3pm. So if you want to carry on the tradition you can either visit the tea room for sandwiches, home-made cakes and scones with jam and cream or book the Duchess’ Afternoon Tea (£58 for two).

After you’re done, get lost on the acres of greenery outside. The Capability Brown landscape makes for the perfect walking day with over six routes. Following a two-year restoration programme, which cleared over 500-acres of woodland and brought the lost plans of Capability Brown to life, the gardens at Belvoir Castle now look better than ever. You can also explore the Root & Moss House, Tufa Grotto and look for the tallest Yew tree in Europe (it’s hard to miss)!

Explore the Japanese Gardens before following the trail through to the Duchess Garden Walk. Once here and on the steep slopes you’ll see various unusual shrubs and trees that thrive in acid soil including the Katsura tree from Japan, with its beautiful heart-shaped leaves. But its most unusual trait is the amazing burnt sugar or candy floss aroma it produces in the Autumn. They say when it’s in full bloom if you stand underneath it with your eyes closed and breathe it in, you’ll think you’re in a sweet shop!

For a spectacular view of the whole gardens, stand at the top of the steps with the Monkey Puzzle tree on your right.

When you’re done in the gardens, head to The Engine Yard across from the entrance to the estate. Here,  Victorian buildings, originally constructed in 1850, are now home to a selection of artisan shops. There’s also a lovely garden centre, Cocoa Amore, a deli, a beauty and wellness spa, The Fuel Tank restaurant, kids shops, homewares and earlier this month a brand new gin bar, Balloon Bar.

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: Out of towners, those who like to explore gorgeous grounds, gardens and step back in time and learn more about history. Fans of The Crown! If you’re a local and you’ve not been, there’s never been a better time.

Not for: Those who struggle with walking (lots of uneven grounds and one big steep one to get to the castle) if this is the case, you can always stop over at The Engine Yard and have a nose while the rest of your party explores the castle.

Cost: Ticket prices for the Castle and Garden start from £18 adult, £9 children (under 4s free) for a free flow tour which runs from 11am – 4pm. You can also book guided tours which start at 11.30am, 1.30pm and 3.00pm and last 1-1½ hours. They do not need to be pre-booked, guides will be waiting at the time slots for visitors in the Pre-Guard Room.

Belvoir Castle is open on selected dates from Saturday, March 2 throughout the year from 11.00am – 5.30pm (check website for an up-to-date schedule).

Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Leicestershire, NG32 1PE

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