Last week I told you how I like to visit castles when I’m on vacation. You could read a post about our visit to Sherborne Castle in Dorset. But when on holiday in England last July we also visited Highclere Castle, which you might know better as Downton Abbey!
Highclere Castle has been the home of the Carnarvon family since 1679. It is now of course widely known as Downton Abbey, the stunning period drama which I have loved from the start.
So when we decided on a trip to England last July, I wanted to stay somewhere within driving distance from Highclere Castle so that we could visit the estate. We had bought tickets in advance as it can get really crowded, especially during the summer months.
After a bit of queueing, we finally entered the grand front door and went inside.
Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside, but the interior of Highclere Castle is as sumptuous as the interior of Downton Abbey! A lot of the furniture was used during filming and all over the Castle are pictures of television set.
Slowly we passed from room to room… slowly… as there were soooo many visitors! But we were allowed to take our time and ask questions to the staff. The big difference between seeing the interior of ‘Downton Abbey’ on television and in Highclere Castle is that you can see the ceilings and the height of the doors and rooms. It was all breathtakingly beautiful and so real!!
- The Saloon: this is the heart of the house. It was designed in a gothic style with rich decoration. Here you can see the Crawley family having a drink after diner. From the gallery on the first floor you can look down to the saloon.
- The State Dining Room: in this room the family still has dinners. The room is dominated by a great portrait of Charles I, painted by Van Dyck.
- The Library: this room is used a lot during the TV series. It is a double library which contains over 5500 books, the earliest dating from the 16th century. It is a focal meeting point for drinks and conversation before and after lunch and dinner.
- The Music Room: this is a sunny south-facing room with a magnificent 18th century baroque ceiling.
- The Drawing Room: this is also a south-facing room, covered in green silk.
- The Smoking Room: this room contains some 17th century Dutch paintings
- The bedrooms: off the first floor gallery are several bedrooms, some of which can be visited.
- Downstairs: there are old staff dining rooms, the cellars, sitting rooms, utility areas and kitchens. Mind, thsese were not used in Downton Abbey.
The 5th Earl of Carnavon was extremely interested in Egyptian history and years on end he went to Egypt during the winter months.
He acquired concessions to excavate over 16 years near Luxor. He discovered and purchased Egyptian artefacts and he created one of the most extraordinary Egyptian collections in the world. In 1922 he discovered the Tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Tutankhamun, together with his archaelogical colleague Howard Carter.
Unfortunately a couple of weeks later he died, after which a lot of items of his collection had to be sold by his widow in order to pay death duties.
There were however heaps of artefacts tucked away in Highclere Castle, until it was all re-discovered by the family in 1987. These can now be visited in the Egyptian Exhibition. Mind, you have to pay extra to visit this exhibition.
Gardens and woodlands:
Highclere Castle is set in 1000 acres of sweeping parkland. It’s a delight to see how the scenery and the parks blend in. The woodlands are quite extensive, but we sticked to visiting the gardens, which are all well maintained.
- The White Border: an array of white flowers and plants: white roses, clematis, peonies,… providing wonderful foliage throughout much of the year.
- The Secret Garden: this part of the garden can be reached through a gate in the White Garden. It is a garden with curving herbaceous borders and serpentine path
- The Wood of Goodwill: this is a newly planted woodland area.
What did we buy in the gift shop?
Of course a visit to Highclere Castle isn’t complete without a visit to the gift shop… and of course Highclere Castle takes advantage of its connection with Downton Abbey… so here’s what we bought:
- Three books written by the current Countess of Carnarvon:
- Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey: a biography about the 5th countess of Carnarvon.
- Lady Catherine and the real Dowton Abbey: a biography about the 6th countess of Carnarvon (when I have read both, I will write a review in the ‘bookclub’ section of my blog!)
- At home at Highclere – Entertaining at the real Downton Abbey: this really is a beautiful book. It’s all about entertaining at Highclere and it tells the story of four real life weekends from 1866 to 1936. It also refelcts on how the current Countess entertains at Highclere. The book contains heaps of stunning photographs, but also recipes and interviews with people working at Highclere. It cost 30 GBP, but this book is definitely worth it! First I wanted to buy the souvenir guide but for 9,50 GBP that is a bit pricey for what you get. This book however is so much more worth its money!
- Wildflower seeds: I wanted to buy a birthday card for my godmother, but since she is a keen gardener, I thought these wildflower seeds would be much more appreciated than a card!
- Two t-shirts for my daughters: on one the famous Violet Crawley quote “what is a weekend” is printed, on the other it says “her ladyship”.
- A bookmark.
- ‘His Lordship’s gin and tonic drops’: sweets for my husband.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Highclere Castle and I wish I could have stayed a bit longer and did a bit more walking in the woodlands…
I certainly can recommend a visit to all those who like castles and gardens, walks and nature, art and architecture and… Downton Abbey!