My fascination with Wray Castle started back in September this year when I visited the inside of this enormous mock-gothic Victorian house properly for the first time. It was whilst writing about Wray that I then came across its November ‘hard hat tours’ and thought what a great thing they too would be to share with you on the blog – after all, anything involving the term ‘hard hat’ does sound rather adventurous! If you haven’t seen my previous post about Wray Castle, you may benefit from taking a look before reading about the hard hat tours below.
This is the third hard hat tour I’ve done this year (others being visits to the Windermere Jetty construction site, and a tour of Force Crag Mine in the North Lakes), so at this rate I’ll need to invest in my own hat! Wray’s tour promises to take curious visitors up out-of-bounds staircases and through locked doors to see the house from a new perspective.
The cold weather had certainly kicked in when I returned to Wray this weekend, and as you are advised to dress up warm for the tour, I was already doing a pretty good impression of the new Michelin woman when I added the final layer in the form of a high-vis jacket, fitted my hat, re-applied my camera and camera bag, and was supplied with a torch. I could barely move, and summer suddenly seemed a distant memory! It was clear the tour was going to be good fun though when one of the other participants dropped to one knee and his wife exclaimed, ‘But you’ve asked me already!’ He was only tying his shoe lace…
We started our tour at the front door of the castle and, after a brief bit of history starting with its construction in the 1830s, headed through a small door at the bottom of one of the turrets and up a stone spiral staircase. After a bit of a climb we ended up on a portion of the roof, and learnt about some of the work and restoration that has taken place over the years here – the building’s so complicated that it’s no wonder the accountant who designed the castle drank himself to death before it was finished!
We then looked inside one of the inner spaces of the roof, and out of some other hatches at further areas of roof on the other side of the building.
Many of the most interesting events in Wray Castle’s history relate back to the days when it was leased to the Merchant Navy, who used the building as a residential training college for radio officers. Unfortunately there was a fire in 1971, which is said to have been caused by a lit cigarette rolling under the floor boards, so the Billiard Room was seriously damaged and needed significant restoration.
Next stop was the Billiard Room, which you see on a standard castle tour and which has a secret door back to the original spiral staircase – it’s a good job these areas aren’t all open to the public or you could get well and truly lost! Then it was on to the Merchant Navy’s kitchen, and a modern add-on to the castle which isn’t currently in use.
One of the last parts of Wray Castle you visit on a hard hat tour is the cellar area which was used by the servants – this is where your torch comes in handy!
One of the great things about the tour is that because the history of the castle is far from complete, staff at Wray are still unravelling its story – it’s imperfect, but fascinating because of that. Wray apparently attracts former Merchant Navy cadets who trained here, and they usually have lots of tales to tell too!
And as this was my third hard hat tour for the blog this year, how many hard hat tours can you go on without a photograph – I reckon I could get a job in demolition dressed like that!
Wray Castle’s hard hat tours take place at the weekends throughout November (and have taken place in previous Novembers too, so hopefully this will continue in future years). Currently there’s a small charge of £3 to National Trust members and non-members on top of the standard castle admission price (which is included in NT membership) – for more information and booking, visit Wray Castle online. You can also go on a standard castle tour as part of your admission price too.
- To learn more about the history of Wray Castle, its regular tours, and things to do here, visit my post from earlier this year.
Thank you very much to the National Trust for their assistance in the production of this blog post. As always, although I do my best to ensure the accuracy of information I provide, do note that any inaccuracies in this article will be my own and not those of the tour guide!
Have you been on one of the Wray Castle hard hat tours, or have you memories of the castle in one of its former lives? If so, let other readers know by leaving a comment below!