Castle Drogo, 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.
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.
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.
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.