Back in 2008, we almost visited Castle Drogo, the last castle built in England. We were looking for somewhere to take a break but, instead, met a bus in a narrow lane. It was a harrowing experience and, as it turned out, we didn’t get to see Castle Drogo. Today, however, we rectified that.
Mind you, the lanes were just as narrow, and the hedges either side over ten years taller. This made for a bit of a hair raising journey as, not for the first time, I was glad we have a Mini. Still, we made it in one, unsquashed piece.
Drogo is an extraordinary place. Built on a granite promontory, it looks for all the world like a new build. The granite blocks, the hardest rocks in England, each individually cut by craftsmen and inspected before use, are bright and unmarked by age. The whole thing is light coloured.
It’s quite an amazing view when you leave the low lying tea-room/shop/ticket office complex and walk down the ‘drive’ to the castle.
The castle was designed by one of Mirinda’s favourite architects, Edwin Lutyens. He was employed by the British Raj to create New Delhi at the same time but, Drogo was his opportunity to create a ‘modern’ medieval castle for a man with seemingly unlimited wealth and desire.
That man was Julius Charles Drewe, a self-made man who retired at age 33 rich beyond imagining. He opened a chain of grocery stores, starting in Liverpool, and, was very successful. As well as the grocery world, Julius was also rather interested in genealogy. Along with his brother William, Julius worked on the family tree. He eventually employed a professional who managed to trace the family back to Edward Drewe, Recorder of London.
Now, this is going to sound a bit weird, but this is the same Edward Drewe who is in my family tree. I discovered the link back in 2010 and posted about it twice. The first post is here. Subsequently, I discovered a rather unsavoury report which, it would appear, Julius didn’t bother telling anyone. I wrote about that, here.
My connection to Julius aside, his genealogist made a tentative connection with the Norman Conquest, suggesting that an early Drewe was, in fact, a baron called Drogo of Teigne. His name has been preserved in the nearby village of Drewsteignton. The name was like a magnet to Julius. This was the land of his ancestors. He had to build a castle there.
And so he did.
Flicking through the pages of Country Life, Julius came across the up and coming architect, Edwin Lutyens and knew he had to have him on board for the massive project. Building work started in 1911, was interrupted by the Great War then was completed 21 years later in 1932.
It’s fair to say that we both loved Castle Drogo. While looking like a castle from the outside, the inside is very comfortable and the family rooms are cosy. This is not something usually attributed to castles. And the kitchen, pantry and other staff areas look beautiful as well as functional.
Mirinda was very impressed by the extraordinary dolls house which belonged to Mary Drewe and was hand made by carpenter William Hodder in 1906.
Unfortunately, the dolls house is being restored, so you can’t see inside. I was amazed that it not only has electricity but also plumbing. It’s beyond me why a dolls house needs plumbing. I guess Mr Hodder’s mate the plumber thought it would be really cute to have working taps. And a flushing toilet.
Possibly my favourite thing was the pestle and mortar.
It seems that whenever Mrs Rayner, the cook, used it, the noise could be heard all over the castle. (Note that Mirinda is not actually touching the pestle. That would not be very good and we are careful National Trust members.)
As well as the amazing castle, there are also the gardens to wander around. They include the biggest croquet lawn I’ve ever seen as well as numerous terraces leading up to it. I feel I have to say that I thought the terraces were far too symmetrical. I agree with Alan Titchmarsh. You shouldn’t be able to see everything from one end of a garden to the other. You should be drawn to investigate the bits you can’t see.
Having spent a goodly amount of time at the castle we decided it was time to partake of a high tea. To that end, Mirinda had been trying to book a table at Mill End, a rather lovely spot not far from Castle Drogo. The booking procedure, according to the website, is you only need to book during holidays and on the weekend. Mirinda emailed them but, according to them, booking was still not necessary.
It turns out, you need to book 24 hours ahead of any time you wish to visit Mill End.
We turned up, walking by the almost empty garden full of tables and chairs then through to reception, noticing dozens of empty dining tables and chairs. We asked the receptionist about having high tea. She shook her head and said they were full. We looked around, incredulous. She followed our gaze then said that, very soon a lot of people would be turning up.
I was reminded of a couple of things. There was the empty Lebanese restaurant in Stockholm and the rather expensive place in Oslo that didn’t approve of Mirinda’s shoes. There was also the Mad Hatter’s rather rude suggestion that there was no room for Alice to sit down to tea.
Anyway, we left the car park and headed for Tavistock where we had a lovely panini and a Peroni at the Café Liaison before going for a walk around the town.
Sadly, the Pannier Market was just closing as we turned up, so we just wandered around a bit before heading back to the cottage.
I should mention that it was very hot today. In some parts of England the temperature reached 30°. Combined with yesterday, this confirmed the prediction I had from the Lady from St Mawes that we would have summer this Monday and Tuesday. Conversely, I have had predictions from two people who claim we are to have thunderstorms tomorrow. We shall see.