I’ve always thought about visiting Powderham Castle, a stately home in Kenton on the outskirts of Exeter, and when May Day dawned with clear skies I decided to seize the day. Set back from the road and surrounded by its own deer park, I’d only ever caught glimpses of the castle from the road and train, and with towers that reach up to fluffy clouds, it’s the stuff fairytales are made of.
Privately owned, Powderham’s the home of the Earl and Countess of Devon, and I love the fact that they still live there with their children. We arrived just in time for the hourly guided tour of the castle, so we made our way up the sloping driveway that led us into the courtyard and joined the group.
While I stood in the courtyard with my gaze pointing to the Heavens I was brought back to earth by the unmistakable jingling of a Morris dance getting started. Yes, in true May Day style, a happy group of Morris dancing ladies jigged, clamped and stamped their way around the courtyard, ending with a heartfelt whoop!
Entertainment over, we followed our tour guide George into the castle to discover nearly 1000 years of family history. As George was bringing one of the drawing rooms to life with the personalities behind the faces in the paintings, he gestured for me to step forward and sit on the chair used by the queen herself when she visited the castle with the Duke of York. Oh what fun. While George regaled the group with the story of how the Duke of York ripped his chair during the royal visit, I focused on sitting up straight, making the most of my big moment with an enthusiastic yet regal grin.
The castle’s beautiful, not only in décor and furnishings (and don’t get me wrong they’re stunning), but also in that when George tells the tales of the earls who have called it home you can almost see them. You can almost picture the party one of the many Williams threw in the deer park because there wasn’t room for his guests in the castle, you can hear the excited chatter of the sisters who were painted when one was betrothed, and you can imagine the silence that fell on the castle when one of the children sadly died after standing too close to a fire in her gown.
The tour lasted for an hour before we stepped back outside and into the sunshine. I’ve been hoping to wander woodland while the bluebells are still out before spring fades to summer, and we wandered our way along to the woodland garden hopefully. Just far enough from the castle and deer park to mean that many visitors don’t seem to find it, this corner of the estate’s our favourite. With free entry back to the estate for seven days, we loved it so much that we’re heading back next weekend to picnic under one of the trees.
The American Garden was planted more than two centuries ago, and it’s home to elegant trees, woodland flowers and a Gothic pavilion. A carpet of carefree bluebells brought tears to my eyes, a stream babbled and the smell of the rhododendrons filled the air. The kind of spot you could wander, play and sit for hours, next time we’re going to walk up to the Belvedere Tower and take in those sweeping views over East Devon.
The castle and grounds are open from 1 April to 27 October, Sunday to Friday 11am to 4.20pm.