Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Phil Hopkins
Group Travel Editor & Theatre Correspondent
12:00 AM 22nd June 2024

When History Replaces The Hong Kong High Rise!

“The extended Hopkins clan can’t make it,” I said, hoping that my Cantonese friend would come to the rescue. “There’s been a last-minute hitch.”

I had use of a three-bedroom period ‘cottage’ within minutes of the main Castle Howard estate, close to York, for three nights, and feared that me and my other half would be rattling around like peas on a drum.

“Fantastic,” came the reply in semi-broken English, “my auntie and sister are here from Hong Kong and have never stayed in a castle. We’ll be there tomorrow evening!”

The invite had gone out. The Asian contingent would soon be on its way and, clearly, the confusion had already begun!

A castle? I thought. More a stately home and, even so, we were only in one of the ‘Big House’s’ estate properties a short three-mile drive from the Howard family’s ancestral home!

Nevertheless, all would be made clear soon enough.

It was Friday night and we had just driven the 50 miles from our Leeds home, along the A64 York Road and into the picturesque village of Welburn in the Ryedale district of North Yorkshire, with its string of beautiful properties, a pub, coffee shop cum delicatessen and picture postcard village church complete with spire.

Listed with English Heritage, newly refurbished Chanting Hill Farmhouse is more a family home than a ‘cottage’, and is geared up to accommodating six adults, as well as four-legged friends, within its beautifully appointed walls, each room having been finished to a high standard.

As someone who has done a lot of property development, I appreciate some of the fine finishes: brass curtain rails held solidly in place by carefully decorated lengths of 3x2 strips of wood.

For the uninitiated this means, heavier, high-quality curtains, like those required for a period cottage of this type, can be hung without fear of collapse due to the use of cheap, plastic runners!

And that is Chanting Hill’s charm: vintage furnishings with lots of accoutrements from Castle Howard’s surplus vaults: black and white wall paintings and furniture that you would likely find in an antique shop, only you get to enjoy them in a working, living home, albeit for just two or three days.
“Ooh, we get a voucher for the gift shop and there are six tickets to visit Castle Howard itself,” said Mrs H. “That’ll be nice,” she added whilst unpacking enough food for a small army.

“Well, we have dinner tonight, three breakfasts, two lunches and a couple more evening meals to think about,” she said, clearly removing the need to spend money on any evening fodder at the village pub, The Crown & Cushion. Filipino thrift was alive and well!

Nevertheless, our stay at Chanting Hill gave us the initial opportunity to sample life as Lord and Lady of the manor, certainly in the 24 hours before the Cantonese massive arrived!

Chanting Hill Farm where comfort meets tradition
Chanting Hill Farm where comfort meets tradition
“I’ve set the dining room table for two, each of us at opposite ends,” announced my wife. The only thing missing was a resident butler!

Under normal circumstances, the dining room comfortably seats seven guests and also has a wood burning stove to keep occupants warm in the winter.

Just off the farmhouse kitchen is a convenient cloakroom and boot room with stairs down to the cellar, where guests can find laundry facilities.

However, beyond the practicalities of the cottage itself, Welburn is perfectly located for York (15 miles), Whitby (29 miles) and Scarborough (30 miles) but, if you want something even closer then look no further than the amazing Eden Camp Modern History Theme Museum, a 10-minute drive away and where you can experience the sights, sounds and smells of life on the Home Front during the Second World War.

Originally envisioned as a food production site, visionary entrepreneur, Stan Johnson, bought the site in 1986 and the rest, as they say, is history, and what an amazing legacy he has left.
Eden Camp - 'Living History' at its best
Eden Camp - 'Living History' at its best
Back at the farmhouse – we really had to stop calling it a cottage - our first night proved problematic: which of the three bedrooms should we sleep in? Decision made we went out like lights but not before my wife had expressed concerns that such an old building might be haunted.

“You’ll be fine sweetheart, just go to sleep!” Fortunately, she did. Despite a HUGE bed I had still been kicked to death by the early hours although I was wise enough to appreciate that it was all my own fault for being in the wrong part of the bed at the wrong time of night!

Upstairs has three bright bedrooms and two bathrooms, one of which features a roll-top, claw-foot bath and separate walk-in shower. From there you can gaze at the spacious garden and enjoy enviable views of both Castle Howard and open working farmland.

The property is located in the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and should the mood take, guests staying at Chanting Hill Farmhouse can walk north from the property and enjoy the grounds of the estate, which features an array of splendid temples and monuments.
Next morning we met the Cantonese contingent at Castle Howard where we set a new world record for taking photos!

The ‘Big House’ is breathtaking and even better when you top your visit off with lunch at the Courtyard Café.
Three centuries of architectural splendour
Three centuries of architectural splendour
Fingers itching Mrs Hopkins could not wait to spend the £20 gift shop voucher that had been left for us in the cottage: four jars of preserves later I knew I would, at least, get to enjoy some of the unexpected bonus, albeit over breakfast.
Lunch in Castle Howard's Courtyard Cafe
Lunch in Castle Howard's Courtyard Cafe
Back at Chanting Hill Farmhouse our Hong Kong guests loved their home for the evening expressing a desire, like my wife, to locate the resident ghost: again, I had to disappoint!

We were ordered to the sitting room with its comfortable seating, wood burning stove and large window seat whilst a Cantonese buffet par excellence was produced from two peppers, a bag of carrots and lots of other mysterious ingredients, after which we all went for a walk in the village.

The Crown and Cushion pub is within 100m of the house and appears to serve excellent locally sourced produce. The village of Welburn also has a Bakery / Deli / Café called 'Dogh' which serves a delicious choice of breakfast, cakes, freshly baked bread and sweet treats as well as afternoon tea. Pizza, salads and paninis are also available.
Next morning there was an air of Asian anticipation as the prospect of visiting York left a whiff of excitement in the kitchen air.

Again, one of Chanting Hill’s chief features, is its location. So many great tourist attractions from the Captain Cook / Dracula story in Whitby to the Roman ruins of York are just minutes away.

The Castle Howard estate has six cottages for rent in two primary locations including Welburn and Coneysthorpe.

However, there is no ghost guarantee with your booking although the International Ghost Research Foundation once declared York as the most haunted city in Europe due to its bloodstained history and over 500 hauntings…….and that’s only a 15-minute drive from comparative serenity!

Approximately £1,182 for three nights (summer)

Booking / Details