Castle Drogo, Devon

Castle Drogo, Dartmoor, Devon
 

Castle Drogo, Dartmoor, Devon

 

It has taken us a while to get around to visiting this place even though it’s one of the most local of the National Trust properties. Perhaps part of the reason is that it’s currently undergoing extensive restoration so there’s not much to see from the outside. Unless you are heavily into scaffolding and tarpaulins that is. Above, the only part of the structure that is visible today.

In spite of appearances, Castle Drogo (here) is relatively recent. Designed by the renowned architect of the time, Edwin Lutyens, it was finished in 1930, built in the medieval style as an ancestral family home for Julius Drewe, the founder of ‘The Home and Colonial Stores’ who retired a millionaire, aged just 33. As you do. Sadly for Lutyens and Drewe the construction did not go quite according to plan. Lutyens used asphalt on the flat roof, a new and relatively untested building material at the time, which failed before the Castle was even completed. It has leaked ever since and by 2012 the steel infrastructure was under severe threat. The National Trust embarked on a six year, multi million pound project to make the building watertight which is due to conclude in October this year.

Perhaps things will improve when the furniture is returned, but for me the interior of Castle Drogo wasn’t especially inspiring either. Mike suggested that it had no soul, a comment I found later had also been made on Trip Advisor, where it receives mixed reviews. To me it just seemed cold and bleak.

 
 

Castle Drogo, Dartmoor, Devon

 

Far more interesting was the opportunity, now standard practice at National Trust renovations it seems, to go up on the roof.

There are restrictions. One has to don a luminous hard hat and hi-vis waistcost. My hat was too big and like being at Royal Ascot on a windy day I found it necessary to hold it in place which perhaps rather defeats the object. Prospective climbers of the scaffolding tower also need to be a minimum of 1.5m in height which could have been more of a problem, given that is pretty much where I am. Fortunately I was not submitted to the indignity of being measured. Nor was there need to declare recent consumption of a large glass of Pinot. Which is also just as well. One of our favourite hostelries is conveniently located en route and it was close to lunchtime. And almost the weekend (this rationalisation thing is really useful isn’t it?). We ate at a table once host to David Bowie. I had the lamb curry. I don’t know what he had.

 
 

 

The view across Dartmoor from the top of the scaffolding.

Along with the next shower of rain.. By the time we’d descended we were getting wet.

 
 

Castle Drogo, Dartmoor, Devon

 

But really, it is the gardens which make this place.

Apparently there was a fight between Lutyens and Drewe as to the location of the formal gardens. The architect suggested they be placed on the eastern elevation overlooking the gorge of the River Teign which flows beneath the castle. Drewe’s preference was for a place slightly removed from the castle where the family could relax away from the view of the servants. Well, of course. In the end both won. The gardens rest in Drewe’s nominated position, which necessitated more digging out of rock and the construction of terraces, but to Lutyens contemporary design.

 
 

 

Imagine what it will be like in a month or two when the rose beds, the perennials on the middle terrace and the wisteria, clipped low on the top of the far wall, are all in bloom.

 
 

 

The long vista through the garden culminates in a tantalising glimpse of the moorland hills beyond.

 
 

 

For the moment it is all about tulips, which provide splashes of colour against the hard granite landscaping.

 
 
 

 

A vibrant combination of purple, orange and red.

 
 

 

The castle walls and crenelations are mirrored in the structures within the garden.

 
 

 

Erythronium

 
 

 

But for me maybe, the most enjoyable part of all was a quiet wander through the woodland, or rhododendron garden, now almost at its peak. Sheltered from the wind and with new pools of colour around each and every corner it was a lovely place to finish up the day.

 
 

 

Would we go back? Yes, probably. There are longer walks on the estate for better weather days, down into the River Teign gorge. And it would be very interesting to see what the castle looks like when the scaffolding is removed in October and the interior has perhaps had returned to it a little more of that essential soul.

 
 

 
 
 
 

2018-04-27T14:25:29+00:00April 27th, 2018|Tags: |

62 Comments

  1. derrickjknight April 27, 2018 at 11:55 am - Reply

    Beautifully photographed. It must be 40 years since I visited

    • Jessica April 28, 2018 at 9:54 pm - Reply

      Thanks Derrick. The setting makes for great photographs. None allowed in the house but it would most likely have been too dark anyway.

  2. Libby April 27, 2018 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Oh those vistas; that view through the gardens of the moor is just amazing! Yes, would love to see it all with the roses in bloom. Many thanks for the introduction: will put it on my want-to-visit list….

    • Jessica April 28, 2018 at 9:56 pm - Reply

      I hadn’t expected the gardens to be quite the feature they were. Really lovely. And yes, the gap in the hedge was inspired!

  3. Mark and Gaz April 27, 2018 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    What a nice flavour of the place! Hopefully you get to go back in October and be able to share with us your photos.

    • Jessica April 28, 2018 at 9:59 pm - Reply

      It looks like the gardens would have plenty to offer in October too, plenty of acers around the place with their Spring leaves already unfurling.

  4. Peter Herpst April 27, 2018 at 3:04 pm - Reply

    The gardens are a delight and, like you, my favorite part was the woodland/rhododendron garden. How unfortunate that the roof failed from the very beginning. Like the others, I’m looking forward to your return visit with, perhaps, a return of some of the soul of the building.

    • Jessica April 28, 2018 at 10:01 pm - Reply

      I seem strangely drawn to woodland gardens at the moment, perhaps because they are giving me so much inspiration for my own. But there is something uniquely satisfying about wandering through trees.

  5. ginaferrari April 27, 2018 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    I love that glimpse of the moorlands through the gate at the end of the garden.

    • Jessica April 28, 2018 at 10:03 pm - Reply

      It’s wonderful isn’t it, especially in the brief moments when the sun was out picking up the colours of the moor.

  6. bitaboutbritain April 27, 2018 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed that – your writing made me smile and it is also one of those places, like you, that has been on the list for awhile. I’m sure it’s been covered in scaffolding for years! So – by the sound of it, it’ll be clear by the time we’re next down that way. Preferably when those roses are out. Btw – there’s usually a little plastic adjustment inside hard-hats; the NT is clearly not up to speed on its risk assessments… (yawn). 🙂

    • Jessica April 28, 2018 at 10:12 pm - Reply

      To be fair the guides did spot the loose hat. But I managed to pass the ‘look down’ test without it falling off so it was deemed satisfactory. It looks as though they still have quite a lot to do, there is effectively a field full of granite blocks which need to be reinstated and more still to be removed. I’d be worried about October if I was the project manager, but next year’s rose season will surely be OK!

  7. Linda B. from Each Little World April 27, 2018 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    Nothing like mature hedges and trees to make one gasp at the view. Love the red, orange, purple combo of Tulips. They just glow and it really is that mix that makes it. I tend to think of two colors and it looks like three is also the magic number here. And I have a couple of white Rhodies but that hot pink one is amazing. The color is almost supernatural.

    • Jessica April 28, 2018 at 10:48 pm - Reply

      The tulip combo really works doesn’t it. The red adds a depth that perhaps wouldn’t be there otherwise. I shall have to try it next year, mice permitting.

  8. Denise Maher April 27, 2018 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    The first photos bring to mind a penitentiary. What a character Lutyens was, and your post brought all sorts of old bio details to mind, like his affair with Vita Sackville-West’s mother. Glad you visited!

    • Jessica April 28, 2018 at 10:55 pm - Reply

      If anything the penitentiary effect is even stronger inside the building. No photos allowed sadly. It put me in mind of a horror story I once read, about an evil castle where the walls moved. I never knew Lutyens had such an interesting history!

  9. Cathy April 27, 2018 at 7:30 pm - Reply

    So lovely to see it Jessica – I wish I could cut hedges like that! I visited once when I was doing a book for the NT (on bulbs, I think). My husband came with me and the main ‘takeaway’ from the place (we visited in January/February) was the Parrotia persica. They are at the four corners of the main garden, and I think you can see them in some of your photographs (outside the yew hedging, formally trained as little walk-under canopies in each corner). They would not be flowering when you were there. But they had a massive impact on us and we are now obsessed with Parrotia. So this is definitely a pretty fine garden, as Lutyens and Drewe planned it, if you can visit in most seasons and have such a strong memory. Nick still speaks of planting a Parrotia woodland (more of a dreamer than I am, although that seems impossible!) We have one small plant in a pot, but we do love it because of Drogo. Just wish I could have visited later … maybe I will some day! And thanks so much for your pictures!

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 7:25 am - Reply

      Yes, the Parrotia are still there. I can imagine they must be a spectacle in all seasons, but in autumn especially. There were many things that suggested that this is a true all seasons garden, quite a feat given the exposed location. The hedges aren’t just for decoration!

  10. Charles April 27, 2018 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    I went nearly 40 years ago, wonderful gardens. The house was fun, it had a lot of interesting memorabilia, a good collection of G A Henty etc. I believe the son and heir was killed in the First World War, which I think does give the place a melancholy air, but I did not find it without soul. I think if you visit a building site it is more difficult to pick up a vibe.

    I lie the mad idea of building a medieval castle in the early 20th century, very like a sane and British version of mad Ludwig in Bavaria.

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 7:32 am - Reply

      There’s nothing like a bit of British eccentricity is there. You’re right about the son. The chapel was built at a later stage in the development and is something of a shrine to him. Drewe was deeply affected by it, as you can imagine. I’m sure the house will return to its former glory as soon as the builders move out. And in the future, hopefully, they won’t have to worry about the leaks.

  11. wherefivevalleysmeet April 27, 2018 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    The grounds look really lovely at this time of the year. I don’t remember how long it is since we were there, but I too climbed up to see the view from the scaffolding. I am surprised by how little it has changed since we visited.

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 7:36 am - Reply

      And from what I could gather from the guide there is a lot still to do. They are more or less removing all of the structure above the flat roof level, hence the granite graveyard up the drive. There is still one entire section awaiting work. That’s without taking out and resealing each and every window. It’s been a massive undertaking.

  12. Ali April 27, 2018 at 10:41 pm - Reply

    It looks stunning. I like the way the formal garden echoes the blocky lines of the castle. Was it featured in an architecture awards programme with George Thingy? Sorry, that is so vague!

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 7:42 am - Reply

      I don’t remember the architecture awards but I could quite believe it. It’s maybe not the sort of house I’d have chosen but I can see the enormity of the achievement. Just a shame about the roof!

  13. Susan Garrett April 27, 2018 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    Some beautiful colours. It would be touch and go for me on the height restriction.

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 7:44 am - Reply

      The best things come in small packages, that’s what I was always told as a child.

  14. Heyjude April 27, 2018 at 11:46 pm - Reply

    We visited something like 10 years ago and found the castle itself to be rather uninspiring. TBH all I remember are cold grey corridors. I don’t remember the gardens looking so lovely either, but the woodland walk was rather nice. Maybe another visit is due once the renovations have finished. It is however located in a wonderful place.

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 7:51 am - Reply

      Yes, the grey walls are quite overwhelming. I think because the blocks are so cleanly cut, it has none of the wear and patina and irregularity that would give it the character of age. It felt like going into a construction project before the internal plaster went up.

  15. germac4 April 28, 2018 at 1:31 am - Reply

    The gardens look lovely & it will be interesting to see them fill out over summer & future years. I love walking through woodlands … I’m sure that would be my favourite part too.

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 7:55 am - Reply

      The woodlands really are lovely and at their best in Spring. They are exactly as I’d like to achieve here, except sadly I won’t be around in 100 years to see it mature.

  16. Kris P April 28, 2018 at 5:11 am - Reply

    The tour of the castle was worth it to get that magnificent view from the roof. The grounds blew me away. You don’t see gardens like that here (and I say that having visited The Huntington Gardens just today). Much as I loved the colorful tulips, I enjoyed the woodland shots even more.

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:14 am - Reply

      I discovered in the woodland just how effective trees are as a windbreak. There is a gate at the end of it which leads to an open walk beneath the castle, exposed to the moor. It was freezing! Back through the gate and into the woodland the wind dropped to almost nothing.

  17. Chris Townsend April 28, 2018 at 7:30 am - Reply

    It’s been ages since I visited this one as well. Gardens are looking good , lovely photos.
    Interested to know the name of the place for a bit of lunch, thinking of visiting this one later this spring.

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:18 am - Reply

      Hi Chris. It was the Oxenham Arms in South Zeal. https://www.theoxenhamarms.com/
      The place is steeped in history and has much character, as well as good food!

  18. Amy at love made my home April 28, 2018 at 8:31 am - Reply

    When the house – castle! – is furnished as it is “normally” it is lovely and feels very homely, and you forget that you are in a castle at all. It isn’t good though at the moment, I totally agree, I do recommend a return visit when it is “done” because I think you will see a different side of the place. Hope you will enjoy that anyway, I know that we much preferred it before work started than while the work has been going on, as we have visited it more than once in both states. The gardens were looking lovely weren’t they!

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:30 am - Reply

      Thanks for that Amy. We will go back, I’m intrigued to see what the castle looks like with the scaffolding removed, as well as the restored interior. I do know what it’s like when work is going on, it’s not as if we haven’t had our own building site experiences! The gardens look as though they could be just as spectacular in autumn too.

  19. Anna April 28, 2018 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    We caught a glimpse of Castle Drogo in the distance on a rainy June day many years ago Jessica. It looked rather grim and forbidding so we didn’t visit but maybe on a summer day it would be a different matter. Fabulous tulip combo and I love that gap in the hedge.

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:33 am - Reply

      The granite does give it a forbidding appearance, inside and out. And grey skies certainly don’t help! We had sunshine and showers, it does make all the difference when the sun shines.

  20. Jacqueline Mumford April 29, 2018 at 7:50 am - Reply

    Not the prettiest building that I’ve seen but worth going for the gardens and walks and must look differently beautiful in all seasons. Fabulous view from the tower and love those vistas that most large gardens have. The meal and wine sounded pretty good as well Jessica !!! XXXX

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:36 am - Reply

      The wind was certainly whipping us about on the top of the tower! A clear reminder of how exposed a position the castle is in. It makes it even more remarkable that they’ve managed to create such a garden there. The hedges really do help.

  21. Sam April 29, 2018 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    We visited Castle Drogo, oh, about 14 years ago..! Yikes. I remember loving the gardens (and my then 4- and 2-year-old boys running around as we pushed our 6-month-old baby daughter in the pram!). I recall these fantastic views (super photos, Jessica) and the house – I don’t remember scaffolding so it was probably before they started the renovations. It’s in a lovely part of the country.

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:40 am - Reply

      They started work about six years ago, so well after you were there. There’s very little of the house to be seen at the moment. It will look quite different when we go back. The landscape on Dartmoor is wonderful from wherever you look at it. We’re very lucky to have it on our doorstep.

  22. Steve April 29, 2018 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    I last went there many years ago and at the time the garden was typical of NT properties……….not great. However your photos suggest it has improved and as I have a short holiday near there in a couple of weeks then maybe we will get there.

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:45 am - Reply

      I hope the weather improves.. for you and for me! Let me know if you would like any garden recommendations, there are plenty to choose from down here.

  23. Chloris April 29, 2018 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Lovely spring garden but you wouldn’t have got me climbing the scaffolding. But I expect you are used to teetering on dizzying edges gardening where you do.

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:48 am - Reply

      I was doing so just yesterday! The scaffolding tower feels quite safe because it has proper stairs, plenty of structure around it and a handrail. A bit more than the builders’ ladder we had when the chimney was done here. It’s worse coming down than going up though..

  24. snowbird April 29, 2018 at 11:53 pm - Reply

    I’m with Chloris! Swear she stole those words out of my mouth, I do loathe climbing in all it’s forms!xxx

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:49 am - Reply

      You are to heights what I am to water!

  25. snowbird April 29, 2018 at 11:54 pm - Reply

    Marvelous photos….a lovely garden too, well worth the visit.xxx

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:51 am - Reply

      Thanks. I do love a garden which leaves me with ideas.

  26. bittster April 30, 2018 at 1:08 am - Reply

    Well you took some excellent photos, and the woodland walk looks very calming, but I think the gap in the hedges is the only part of the house and gardens that I really loved. It all seems a little municipal, but then I guess not all gardens have to suffer the mess which is my own!

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:58 am - Reply

      I do know exactly what you mean by municipal. Perhaps that’s why I too was more drawn to the woodland. But the formal garden had some features I really loved, like the wisteria on the top of the low wall. It’s not often you get to look down on wisteria and really get amongst the blooms. The garden being separate from the house creates an impact too. You sort of come across it unexpectedly, entering through a gap in the hedge. It is a ‘wow’ moment.

  27. Beth @ PlantPostings April 30, 2018 at 2:43 am - Reply

    Oh, that is beautiful! And the view of Dartmoor…incredible!

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:59 am - Reply

      Thanks Beth, it is!

  28. Torrington Tina April 30, 2018 at 6:08 pm - Reply

    One of Mr TT and my favourite places, we try to go several times a year. We knew it and loved it before the renovations, we love the gardens and the wider landscape, and the walks down in to and back up from the gorge are invigorating. Your photos are stunning, as always.

    • Jessica April 30, 2018 at 11:22 pm - Reply

      Next time we will definitely do the walk down into the gorge. We were a bit pressed for time last week and the weather decidedly iffy. But I’ve heard it is lovely.

  29. Diana Studer May 4, 2018 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    I wonder how they achieve those frighteningly geometric hedges?

    • Jessica May 4, 2018 at 10:38 pm - Reply

      It’s impressive isn’t it. I had to touch one to make sure it was real. I trimmed our rather more diminutive hedge today and I can tell you it looks nothing in comparison!

  30. pollymacleod May 8, 2018 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    Beautiful photos Jessica. The one of the view through the hedge gate is pure symmetry.

    • Jessica May 9, 2018 at 6:48 pm - Reply

      It’s a stunning view isn’t it. The long vista through the garden leading to that gap was a masterstroke.

  31. Brian Skeys May 23, 2018 at 6:23 am - Reply

    We have visited twice, once in February, when it snowed! I was really taken with the garden and its layout, even in the February visit, which is a sign of a good garden structure. We were told on our visit that Lutyens advised against the flat roof but the owner insisted.

    • Jessica May 23, 2018 at 11:00 pm - Reply

      Then on Drewe’s head be it. Literally!

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