Highclere Castle, better known as Downton Abbey here in the United States. The primary reason for my trip to Europe. The cast of Downton Abbey is as real to me as my own family. The real inhabitants of Highclere, Lord and Lady Carnarvon, are the eighth Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, with Highclere being the seat of the Carnarvon family for over 300 years. The grounds of Highclere have actually had some type of buildings and/or inhabitants pre history. The current castle was designed in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry.
No cameras are allowed inside the castle. Fans of Downton Abbey will be happy to know the interior is exactly as it appears on the TV show. I wish I could post pictures for you in this post, but I don’t want to be sued over a copyright.
The Library has over 5,560 books, many of them ancient-looking. Dark wood and deep red curtains give a rich, regal look to the room. I imagined one of the servants using a duster along the rows of books just before the arrival of weekend guests.
If you enjoy large tapestries, the Music Room will make you swoon. They cover the walls and are over 400 years old. Beautiful designs made rich with gold thread. I would love to describe the furniture in this room for you, but I was so awed by the walls I don’t remember the furniture.
If I could choose one room at Highclere as my favorite, it would be the Drawing Room. Dear God, I fell in love! The walls are covered in bolts of green French silk given to Lady Almina in 1895. The chandelier was a wedding gift and took my breath away. The “rococo revival” style of this room includes furnishings dating back to 1730, lots of gilt – you know Miss Marly – I love that gold bling! The arched gilded doors lead from the Drawing Room to the Smoking Room, where the rugged, aged leather furniture is perfect for the gentlemen guests at Highclere.
The Saloon is perhaps the most famous and most popular room in the castle. The fireplace has a large iron facing which puts out a tremendous amount of radiant heat according to one of the guides. Rose colored tufted easy chairs flank the fireplace in a cozy seating area, while tables and straight chairs make up a few other conversation areas.
Thick, ornate arched columns hold up the gallery balustrade, while the coats of arms of Highclere’s occupants from years past line the walls between the two. Staff members are required to know each coat of arms – I can’t imagine learning that much history!
Beautiful wall sconces and table lamps give the Saloon a lovely soft ambience even during the day. A good book, a cup of strong hot tea and a chenille throw in front of the fireplace would make up a perfect autumn day.
The grand staircase rises to the galleried bedrooms on the second floor. The stone balustrade is quite impressive and I believe is at least a foot across the top. Tourists are allowed to climb the staircase and follow the balustrade around three sides. The view from the gallery into the saloon below is lovely. Can’t you just imagine Carson up there surveying his kingdom? Downton could not run without Carson and Mrs. Hughes.
More sconces and paintings line the walls of the second floor. I wonder just how many lightbulbs it takes for the castle to function in a year’s time?
Lady Sybil, Lady Edith, and Lady Cora’s rooms are all open for viewing. We did not see Lady Mary’s bedroom. Their dressing rooms adjoin the bedrooms and predate our modern closets. The bedrooms are large enough but, surprisingly, they are not lavishly furnished.
I follow Lady Carnarvon’s blog at http://www.ladycarnarvon.com and just read this week that the going in and out of each others’ bedrooms on the show would not be necessary, but certainly adds to the show. The bedrooms have connecting doors, which would have come in handy when the gentleman had the audacity to die in Lady’s Mary’s bed, don’t you think? Poor Mary, always in a drama with the men in her life.
The tour leads from the gallery back down and out through the lower level. Tourists are not allowed in Mrs. Patmore’s domain, but we did see the servants’ stairs and the hallways. My mind’s eye saw Daisy and Anna, along with Bates and the dreadful Thomas scurrying along the lower level attending to their duties.
I encourage you to include Highclere in your plans. The tour is reasonable at less than $25 U.S. dollars. The drive from London to Highclere takes about an hour and is a nice ride through the English countryside.
Would I go back? Absolutely! Was it worth the expense of the trip to Europe? Yes, yes, yes!
Next up: Lunch in an English Pub and on to Stonehenge. I hope you will join me!