Powderham Castle occupies a beautiful spot on the banks of the River Exe near Exeter. It’s a stunning setting and it’s no wonder it’s such a popular destination. In fact, Powderham Castle is currently sitting at number 3 of 124 things to do in Exeter on Tripadvisor. That’s pretty impressive given the competition out there…and that Powderham Castle isn’t strictly in Exeter (but on the edge of nearby Kenton).
We decided to check it out for ourselves…
Entry to the castle is by guided tour at set intervals throughout the day. So after parking up and making a quick pit stop for a cake and a drink at the café, we joined our guide.
Powderham Castle is steeped in Devon history, with the Earl & Countess of Devon still calling the estate home today. As a result, there’s a really nice blend of historic and personal stories attached to the castle. Modern photos and possessions sit alongside antique furniture and mementoes of the Courtenay family. It’s also great to see such an historic building still being lived in.
Our guide was very friendly and informative and achieved a good balance of sharing the history of Powderham without overloading us or rushing us through. The castle itself was stunning; ornately decorated and furnished and with huge framed paintings in most rooms. One of the first rooms we entered was the Great Hall, boasting an incredible wooden ceiling bordered by the family coats of arms.
The tour drew on figures from throughout the family’s history. But it was the enigmatic Kitty (the ninth Earl of Devon) who really captured our imagination. Known for his opulent parties and extravagant tastes Kitty’s mark is clearly visible on the house. This is most apparent in the stately setting of the Music Room, which Kitty commissioned. There was sadness in Kitty’s story, however. He was forced to live abroad in exile for much of his life due to being a homosexual. But the passing of time has returned Kitty to his rightful place as a proud part of the castle’s history.
Secret doors aplenty
When it comes to stately homes and castles, secret doors are pretty much my favourite thing. If your home is a castle then it almost feels obligatory to slip in the odd secret stairway or corridor. I’m pleased to say Powderham Castle definitely didn’t disappoint. It felt like barely a bookcase was left without some form of entry or exit cunningly concealed within. I soon found myself competing with the children on the tour to discover them first as we entered each new room. Going one step further, a secret wall/window was even unveiled to us at one point. This was a completely new one on me as our guide casually cranked the wall above the fireplace away to reveal a window behind.
One of the most striking parts of the tour was the grand staircase. Painted in an incredible duck egg blue and with intricate carvings, it was a really incredible sight. The staircase was featured in the 1993 film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Remains of the Day, starring Anthony Hopkins and the divine Emma Thompson.
Photos aren’t allowed on the tour, but you can check out photos of the staircase and other parts of the tour in Powderham Castle’s Countrylife feature.
Powderham Estate, grounds and deer park
After the tour, we went for a wander around the gardens and estate. A pretty chapel sits on the edge of the formal gardens. Beyond this, there are sweeping views out over the estate. Powderham Castle is famous for its deer and the deer park is home to around 600 deer. You can even take a deer park safari if you want to get closer to the action.
The Forge, woodcarver, country store and Orangery restaurant
Near the car park is a small forge and woodcarver’s selling handmade goods. The woodcarver was really friendly and talked us through the different types of wood and tools he worked with.
At the Kenton entrance is the main country store, restaurant and garden centre. There’s quite a range of items for sale, from food to flowers to gifts. But it’s the farm shop that’s always the big draw for us and it’s a good place to stock up on treats.
Walks from Powderham Estate
Given the setting of Powderham Castle, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of walking opportunities nearby. Powderham Church is supposed to be well worth a visit and the Exe Estuary Trail passes the estate. The 16+ mile trail runs between Exmouth and Dawlish on either side of the Estuary and is a great walking and cycling route. We covered the Exeter to Turf Hotel stretch in our Exe Estuary Trail blog post.
A permissive footpath connects the estate with the Exe Estuary Trail near Starcross and then on to Dawlish Warren. It’s not the most scenic stretch of the Trail, as much of the route is separated from the estuary by the railway line. But it’s still a nice walk and of course, once you reach Dawlish Warren the walk through the nature reserve and along the beach is spectacular, with views across to Exmouth and out to sea.
Find out more about Powderham Castle, including opening hours, admission prices and events.
Find out more about the Exe Estuary Trail.