If you thought that National Trust properties are all antiques, ancient stately rooms and picture perfect interiors, think again. Castle Drogo, located on the edge of Dartmoor near Drewsteignton, is a baffling mix of old and modern, with the added intrigue of being very much a work in progress. The last castle to be built in England, Castle Drogo dates from the early 20th century and looms dramatically on the hillside above the River Teign. With all the trappings of an ancient castle on the outside but lifts, electricity and other modern trappings all part of the original plans, this is an intriguing property and a far cry from other National Trust properties.
Built for the Drewe Family, of whom the head Julius Drewe was the founder of the wealthy Home and Colonial Stores, this country house is thought to be the last one to be made entirely from granite. Construction was difficult, facing problems from the weather, the economy and the onset of World War I. Following its handover to the National Trust serious problems with damp became apparent, with the castle’s flat roof and many leaded windows aiding water to seep into the house. The National Trust are now fully employed in serious restoration work to solve the damp problem and save this impressive Grade I listed building from ruin.
Rather than close up the castle during the work, the National Trust have imaginatively reworked their internal exhibitions to allow visitors an insight into the construction work – both old and new. Visitors are given the chance to see the work for themselves as well as visiting those rooms that are in a fit state to be able to display the heirlooms and furniture from the original property. The exhibitions tell the tale of the Drewe family and the construction of Castle Drogo, including the problems faced with the onset of World War I and the shortage of labour that followed. Children are encouraged to become detective with a series of orange envelopes placed around the property with pointers and clues to the various rooms and exhibits. The castle is full of secrets in its current state – with whole libraries of books, tapestries, even a grand piano and other valuables hidden tantalizingly behind protective covers.
Whilst the house is a unique chance to see National Trust restoration work in progress and is suitable for older children, those with pushchairs or little ones will struggle a bit inside the house. Upstairs, where treasures such as old typewriters, fishing nets and telephones are set out enticingly within reach of little fingers in what presumably must be temporarily accessible displays, the ‘don’t touch’ motto of the National Trust of the past is inevitably and understandably still going strong.
Outside, there is plenty of space for the kids to let off steam with lovely formal gardens and picnicking spots. If they still have energy to spare, there are some beautiful walks from Castle Drogo along the Teign Gorge and down to the riverside at pretty Fingle Bridge. Castle Drogo also has a great restaurant with the usual hearty National Trust fare. A gift shop and a plant store are available for those with money to splash.
Castle Drogo is definitely a far stretch from your ordinary stately home and you can also feel directly involved as the money from visitors is so desperately needed to aid the restoration of this magnificent building before time runs out. Family entry to the house and gardens is £21.80 with lower prices available for the garden only. Entry is free with National Trust membership.
For more information on visiting Castle Drogo, please visit the National Trust Castle Drogo visitor website here.