We have been Downton Abbey fans since it began, had Downton dinners, 7-9 course dinners, hired kitchen help complete with aprons, and of course dressed the part. So today, after buying tickets to visit 2 other times, we were really going to Downton (Highclere). They call it Highclere, but we all really know it is Downton Abbey.
We didn’t realize when we bought the tickets, they were for a Special Guided Tour. We found out today that it included a gift bag and tea, complete with sandwiches and cakes.
We were to arrive at Highclere at 1 pm and since we don’t have a car we got a taxi. We went to the front desk this morning to reserve a taxi and the dispatch was sure we should leave by 12noon. We thought it was a little early as it is only a 28 min drive, but dispatch wouldn’t go for 12:15.
As it turned out, Google maps led the driver to the wrong entry so we ended up arriving at about 12:55. Just in time to enter the gates. The gates opened at 1 pm and we were to be at the door of the castle at 1:30. We had ½ hour to tour the gardens but as it was really cold we had enough after ½ hour.
At 1:30 the staff opened the door. We didn’t see a footman and never saw Carson. Alas! We were given the instructions that there were to be no photos taken in the house. Hence, no interior photos are included in this blog.
We were welcomed into the entry, where we left our coats, and on into the Saloon. The Saloon was smaller than it comes across on the show but ceilings are just as high.
Lady Carnarvon met us there and welcomed us and she gave us a brief history of their home. The history was very condensed as the home has existed since the 700’s.
From the Saloon we went to the library, seeing the couch where Lady Mary, Lady Grantham, and Lord Grantham sit, the fireplace where Matthew stood up, and many other scenes took place. It was much like the program with a couple of pieces of furniture moved around.
To get to the drawing room you must go thru a music room which is a small room for small gatherings. According to the tour guide, there hasn’t been any music in the room in the recorded history. On the walls are embroider tapestries, and I checked to see, sure enough, they are actually embroidered from floor to as high as I could see. There are a desk and chair that had belonged to Napoleon. When there is a wedding on the site, Highclere has the bride sit at the desk to sign the marriage certificate.
The drawing room is much like the show, with furniture moved to different places. There are lovely antiques in the room, not shown; for example, a tea holder.
A smoking room was where the men gathered after dinner parties and look quite comfortable. There are 3 game tables, one with inlaid gems which are quite lovely.
We went to the dining room which is much like the show, only a small portion is shown. I noted that the table did not have a cover and appeared to have scratches and marks on it much like ours. I did not feel so bad after seeing that table.
The dining room is very long and the table, which has many leaves, opens to seat about 30. I could just imagine our dinner in that dining room, what a dinner we could have. I did note that there was no chandelier. Hence, the candelabras on the table during the dinners.
We went upstairs using a back stairway. We got to see the bedrooms of Lady Grantham, Sybil, Lady Mary, and Lady Edith. We could picture them in those bedrooms! We could also picture Lady Mary and Lady Grantham carrying poor Pamuk down the hall as we walked down it. We had quite a laugh over Pamuk. Dale and I commented on how the fire that Edith started was all repaired! There were other Downton Abbey fans in our group and it was fun to share these moments.
As we went down the wonderful staircase back to the Saloon, I thought of Lady Mary. I ran my hand down the banister the entire length imagining myself as a lady in a beautiful gown descending elegantly into the saloon.
We were able to spend some time in the Egyptian exhibit. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun with Howard Carter. Dale and I saw many of the original items in L.A. back in the ’70s but it was interesting to see this. Many of the items here are recreations as the originals went back to Egypt.
We went on to the gift shop to collect a gift bag then to the coach house where we were treated to a special tea. Gluten-free was not a problem as they brought me my own sandwiches and cakes, and very good cakes I must say.
Our taxi was waiting for us after the end of the afternoon. We went on back to downtown Winchester for a last mulled wine and evensong in the Winchester Cathedral.
What a wonderful stay we have had.