Saturday, 31 August 2019

Wray Castle

If I went to IKEA tomorrow and bought a flat-packed fortress, it would probably look just like Wray Castle. Or it would do if I got someone else to build it for me, as my efforts at flat-pack unfortunately tend to look like Dennis the Menace's tree house until they just fall apart completely.

Wray Castle

Anyway. Wray is not an ancient castle. It was built in 1840 as a Gothic Revival place, so the turrets and arrow slits were never actually used for firing projectiles at Roundheads or invaders during a siege. It's also a very squat building when you see it up close, but the exterior is very impressive nonetheless.

It's very different inside. I mean this with the greatest of affection, but it reminded me of a cross between a town hall and the set of Why Don't You?, that iconic 80s TV show that was presented entirely by kids making Rice Krispie cakes and marauding around the place like a televisual Lord of the Flies.
Wray Castle Interior
Someone messaged me to say it reminded her of Byker Grove
rather than Why Don't You. She's right.
But before we get further into that, here's a bit of history for you:
  • Wray Castle was built in 1840 for James and Margaret Dawson from Liverpool - he was a retired surgeon and she came from a wealthy background.
  • Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust, came to visit his cousin Edward who had inherited Wray Castle from the Dawsons. Hardwicke loved the place and became vicar in Wray church.
  • In 1882, Hardwicke bumped into a young Beatrix Potter in the grounds at Wray Castle - her parents had rented the place for the summer and she and Hardwicke became good friends. She went on to buy nearby Hill Top.
  • The castle was left to the National Trust in 1929 and had many uses subsequently.
  • It was originally a youth hostel and then from 1931 it contained the offices of the Freshwater Biological Association. You probably won't be surprised to hear that the FBA is concerned with freshwater science and research.
  • Bizarrely, Wray Castle was classified as a ship from 1958 and 1998. RMS Wray Castle was a training ship for radio officers. There was even a student bar in the room that had been used as an eel reservoir by the FBA.
  • In 2011 it was opened to the public - apparently the National Trust had looked at other options for its use but it attracted so many visitors that they decided to keep it as a tourist destination.
And that's the thing about Wray; its location in the Lake District makes it a hugely attractive attraction for families. We arrived on a wet Saturday lunchtime and the very cheerful receptionist said "we have LOTS of children in today" in a way that left it very much open to our own interpretation. We could either take that piece of information and run a mile, or we could return to our people carrier and unleash 8 kids of our own into the melee.

As it was, we just stuck to having an enjoyable time wandering around the place. There's no original furniture in any of the rooms, which does make it ideal for children who want to run around a bit. However, for the first time in the six year history of my National Trust membership I did find myself questioning whether there's enough at Wray to really justify the £11 entry fee (or £27.50 for a family). It's undoubtedly a great property with a huge amount of potential, so hopefully they'll persevere with their events and continue to find good use for the space.

The estate includes lovely shoreline onto Lake Windermere:
Wray Castle on Windermere

And the view of the fells from the castle are beautiful, especially with a bit of sunshine:
Wray Castle view across the fells

But on to the scone. I was very impressed by the size of the Wray Castle scone but I think its size may have worked against it. It was very dry and it didn't taste very fresh. It had also followed hot on the heels of a sublime scone that we'd had earlier at Fell Foot - although each scone is taken on its own merits, it was a bit like when someone on Strictly does a show-stopping, jaw-dropping jive as the penultimate dance of the night and then the final couple have to come on and do a waltz to Three Times a Lady - it's just an extra challenge that they could have done without.

Wray Castle scone

But Wray Castle is well worth a visit if you're already an NT member - it's impressive with very friendly staff.

Wray Castle: 4 out of 5
Scone: 3.5 out of 5
Surely the only room in the whole of the National Trust that was used as an eel reservoir and then turned into a student bar: 5 out of 5

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