This is the one you mustn’t miss

Raby is the perfect castle. From the outside, it’ looks like a medieval fortress, from the inside, a palace. The formal gardens are spellbinding, and the landscape is dotted with hordes of deer, what else could you ask for?

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Raby Castle’s heritage is one of the most precious in England. It has a royal history, with King Cnut the Great owning it before the Normans arrived. Nothing from that period survived beside the prestige, but Raby is still a great example of the evolution of castles through history. Today Raby is a mixture of Medieval, Regency and Victorian styles. Looking at the castle from the outside, it still looks like a fortress, but without much of its exterior defensive structures.

The castle proudly presents nine towers, all from different periods. The oldest one is the Kitchen Tower dating from the 14th century (with a kitchen that was still active in the 1950s). Raby Castle was the ancestral home of the Neville family. Here they orchestrated a marriage that produced two kings and one queen. Here, they planned the revolt that would bring their demise.

There was a moment in time when Raby was almost doomed. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Crown sold the castle and Castle Barnard to a politician named  Henry Vane which was paid for with Vane’s wife money. He could only run one castle, and he had to choose so he chose Raby and used materials from Castle Barnard to rebuild it, ensuring the survival of one castle and the decay of the other…

The Vanes were not as powerful as the Nevilles, but they also had a proud heritage. In 1356,  another Henry Vane (predecessor) was knighted by the Black Prince, son of Edward III, on the battleground at Poitiers, where he forced the French King to surrender; the Vane coat of arms still features the golden gauntlet of the surrendered king.

During the English Civil War in the middle of the 17th century, A later Henry Vane supported Parliament but not the execution of Charles Ist, and due to his support, Raby was not destroyed like many other castles. it twice fell under siege from the royalists (it was the only time it saw real fighting in all its history). In both cases, the siege failed, and the castle suffered minimal damage.

Unfortunately, not everything survived these troubled times… Henry Vane’s son, also named Henry (surprise) became a radical Protestant and so the best solution was to send him away to the New World (America) where he became the governor of Massachusetts. He came back to England and fought on the side of the  English Parliament, and was later sentenced to death in 1662 when the monarchy was restored. Why was he sentenced to death?  Because the King thought that Vane the Younger was “Too dangerous a man to let live”.

The Vanes continued their social advancement, and at the beginning of the 18th century, they were elevated to the peerage and had bestowed on them the title of Baron Barnard. It was the 1st Baron who almost destroyed the castle. The new Baron and his wife were unhappy with the match that their son had made for himself. They couldn’t prevent him from inheriting the castle or the title, but they decided to destroy its value and attempted to destroy it entirely by taking the lead from the roof. The son had to take his parents to court to protect the castle. But this event means that much of the medieval artwork and the Neville artefacts of Raby Castle are gone.

It was the 3rd Baron Barnard that started the alteration of the castle, turning its medieval rooms, which probably weren’t the most comfortable ones, into modern staterooms. It was also time to get rid of its outer defences. During this period, the landscape was altered, and the medieval castle began a new chapter as a stately home.

The 3rd Baron was elevated to an Earldom, and later, in 1833 the 3rd Earl became the Duke of Cleveland. This was a title the family managed to lose when their male line ended with the next generation.

More works were done during Victorian times when the entrance hall was remodelled to allow modern carriages to enter the castle lower hall. Other renovation work included the creation of the magnificent octagon room.

The Vane family still lives in Raby Castle (which means only part of the castle is ever open to the public), and today it is the home of Henry Vane, 12th Baron Barnard. For more information: Raby Castle official website

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It is the perfect castle to visit, and they still want to improve it

Chasing Castles Review

We visited Raby Castle during a summer break. I had checked the castle website and learned about a special tour for kids which runs before the official opening, so we arrived extra early to sign up for it. The tour was led by “Mike the Footman” and lasted almost 2 hours. It was GREAT! It is not easy to get my kids engaged when we visit castles, but he managed to do it easily and gracefully with plenty of charm and humour. It was also wonderful to explore the halls of Raby Castle while they were empty of visitors.

A tour for kids: To date, we have visited around one hundred castles and stately homes, and it was the first time we encountered this simple but genius way of making a visit to a castle great fun. The tour was not a real historical tour of the castle (and Mike explained this to us that in advance), instead, the focus was on the little details kids would enjoy about medieval Georgian and Victorian history, some sort of live version of the TV show “Horrible Histories” and it could easily be run in almost any of the places we have visited, and it would work!  The kids learned about castle defence as well as how people went to the loo in Victorian times, plus we ended the tour taking plenty of great photos. If you are planning to visit the castle with children, make sure you do it while the tour is available.

After the tour, I had a bit of time to spend in the castle before I joined “the adult tour”, and was happy to discover an introductory film in the entrance hall. Embarking on the second tour, I explored again most of the places we visited during the children’s tour, but now the stories had an adult focus and were dedicated to the broader history of the castle. The adult tour took an hour and a half, and the tour guide was funny and knowledgeable. If you do not like guided tours, the castle is also open for “free roaming” with many of its rooms open to the public. There are guides in each of them (it was interesting to see Mike in one of the rooms without his costume). You can also find information sheets in each of the rooms. Whatever you do, don’t miss the great hall, the place where hundreds of knights stood in 1569 and decided to rebel against Queen Elizabeth I.

Whilst I was participating in the second tour, my other half explored the grounds with the kids. There were two different children’s trails on offer: the one that took place in the walled garden was easier than the one in the grounds (especially during our strange and scorching summer). Raby Castle is home to several hundred deer, and it was a lot of fun to hike around the massive grounds and find them. If you are looking for more activities to do with your kids, don’t miss the coach house and the adventure playground.

When we left the castle, I was also happy to receive a questionnaire asking me about my visit. It is clear that the people who manage this unique castle care very much about their visitors and about the experience they give them. To sum up: Raby Castle is one of the best castles to visit in England. It has a rich history, a fantastic wow effect when you visit the state rooms inside, and most importantly it has the best management team we have encountered so far.  They make you feel extremely welcome, and they encourage everyone to feel engaged. If you are interested in castles, history, or enjoy beautiful gardens and landscape, this is one of the best days out you could have. If Raby Castle was a restaurant, it would easily be in the Michelin Guide, and I would give it 3 stars which means it is one of the three best castles we have visited so far!

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