On Sunday I went to Castle Drogo, which is just a few miles further on from Exeter in the SW of England. Having joined the National Trust a month ago during my visit to the Lake District the first really warm weekend of the year gave us the excuse we needed. We had to start taking advantage of the fact that living here in Somerset we are within an hour of some of the most beautiful houses, gardens and coastline in Britain.
Castle Drogo is not just the last castle built in England; it is possibly one of the last private homes to be built of granite and it is an imposing building, almost fortress like from the outside. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Julius Drewe, retail tycoon and founder of the Home and Colonial Stores, it was actually built between 1910 and 1930. Drewe had discovered that he had as an ancestor a Norman baron named Drogo de Teigne and apparently determined to build a castle on the acres that had once belonged to the baron.
Although the outside appears strongly influenced by medieval design, inside the rooms are warm and comfortable and very much of their time. From the very beginning it was a castle with all the latest home comforts – central heating, electricity and lifts for example – although poor Julius Drewe had only one year in the completed building before he died in 1930.
A visit to Castle Drogo is made even more memorable by the views of Dartmoor and the Teign Valley, above which it rises so imperiously. The Arts & Crafts inspired gardens and the acres of land around the castle offer fabulous walks and there really should be no cause for complaint. However, this post is really an excuse to sort through some of the photographs I took and have a little bit of a moan.
I know we expect a lovely tea room at NT properties and there has to be a shop to catch us on the way out. I understand that English Heritage required the industrial kitchen equipment to be moved from the castle so we have to be catered to elsewhere. However if you can find your way down past the pictures of one of the most wonderful buildings I have ever seen you will see the ‘Castle Drogo Visitor Centre’ which now sits squat next to the car park and through which you have to make your way before you can get on to the drive up to the Castle. Please feel free to disagree but I think Lutyens would be horrified. Worse still, with the ‘state of the art’ centre only opened in 2009, the castle itself is in constant need of funds to prevent it falling into disrepair. How ironic.
What do you think? It is new and it will be screened by hedges eventually; it is also very environmentally sound. But although it did serve one of the best scones I have had in a tea shop I hate the thought that this is the first and last thing a visitor sees of Castle Drogo. Take a visit next time you are in Devon and make your own mind up…