G headed up to York to visit me on the weekend before Halloween. Having the car allows us to explore more of the Yorkshire countryside, so we decided to spend our weekend out and about rather than in town. After a bit of research, we decided to spend the Saturday at Beningbrough Hall, a National Trust property about ten miles out of the city.
Beningbrough Hall is a beautiful baroque building in North Yorkshire completed in 1716. It was owned by John Bourchier, whose grandfather signed the death warrant of King Charles I in 1649. Over time, the house was passed from family to family, at one point being used as a stud farm by Lady Chesterfield until it was requisitioned by the army in 1939 and used as temporary lodgings for British and Canadian soldiers.
It was acquired by the National Trust in 1958 but it wasn’t until 1979, when the Trust formed a partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, that the house really came into its own. Today it is used to display significant 18th-century portraits in their traditional historical context. The Hall also features interactive galleries to help visitors of all ages understand how to read portraits, as well as acres of parkland and beautiful gardens.
Unlike most stately homes open for visitors, like Castle Howard or other National Trust properties, Beningborough isn’t about preserving the original furniture or ‘look’ of the house itself. It’s more like visiting an art gallery in a beautiful, historical setting; the paintings are the focus, rather than the history of the families who lived there, although the interesting political leanings of some of Beningbrough’s inhabitants do inform some of the galleries and displays.
I’m lucky enough to have grown up wandering around art galleries so really loved being able to explore Beningbrough’s collection and the stories it told, and the interactive galleries were brilliant for introducing people to portraiture, especially young children. There were copies of sculptures you were invited to feel (you could even cast a nose for one sculpture!), a tool which allowed you to explore the stories behind family portraits, and the opportunity to pose for your own, amongst other things.
Given its military history, Beningbrough had also set aside a room for a World War II exhibition. It focused on the stories of some soldiers who had gone missing during the war after the discovery of letters between senior officers and the soldiers’ parents. It was an especially moving exhibition which I felt had been particularly thoughtfully curated and was really worth taking some extra time to explore.
Once finished at the house we headed outside to check out the parkland and gardens. It was a beautiful autumn day, still quite mild, and we settled on a bench amongst age-old trees to eat lunch looking over the vast meadows. Golden hour was just arriving, so we promised to come back in the summertime to explore more and instead made our way to the walled garden, which was absolutely lovely, before stopping for coffee and cake ahead of the drive home.
I’d really recommend Beningbrough to anyone remotely interested in architecture, art, or gardens – or if you’d just enjoy a parkland wander or bike ride in the Yorkshire countryside. The National Trust website has some circular walking routes to try out, and although the main season is between March and November, half of the Hall and all the gardens are open at weekends and on bank holidays throughout the winter. Click here for more information on prices etc.
The following day we decided to take the drive over to Whitby Abbey, one of Yorkshire’s most iconic sights. The road to the coast was an adventure in itself – we kept wanting to pull over the views were so beautiful! – but we made it to the Abbey, high up on the cliffs. Whitby was Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula, and there’s no question that its imposing ruins have something eerie about them, as though something could creep out from behind the pillars at any moment.
The first monastery at Whitby was founded in around 657AD, but the ruins we see today are actually the remains of a 13th-century Benedictine abbey founded following the Norman conquest. The majority of the Abbey was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. Click here to read more about Whitby’s rich and complex history (English Heritage can tell you better than I can!).
There was pretty good parking nearby, a decent exhibition of artifacts and a shop selling all sorts. I remember thinking that the price was pretty high, especially for students, but having checked the website it seems quite reasonable – it may well be that the price shifts up during the summer season, so it’s worth checking ahead of your visit if this is a significant factor. I’m glad we went to Whitby though – it was a fabulous sight and we had a brilliant day for it, made all the better by visiting so close to Halloween, as Dracula himself even made an appearance!
Have you been to Beningbrough or Whitby? Do you have any recommendations for places to visit in Yorkshre? Let me know in the comments!