HIGHCLERE CASTLE, ENGLAND – When it comes to escapism, you can’t do much better than a period drama about the English. It’s probably why Downton Abbey is a worldwide success.
I finally got the opportunity this summer to go and visit Downton Abbey or Highclere Castle as it’s properly known. If you’re a fan of the show, you should go. If you hate the show, you should go too.
We arrived just after 10 am and waited in line for tickets (£15/adult). It moved quickly. But once we got inside Highclere the ground floor was busy. As you can imagine, Highclere is more popular than ever thanks to the show attracting people from around the world including big names like Kate Middleton. We saw many tour buses parked outside and as even as we left more were still arriving. So if you go, be prepared for crowds. Otherwise, perhaps try and get there early, as soon as the doors open (9:30am).
The upkeep of Highclere is $1.5 million per year. I’m not certain how that compares to other English stately homes, but it does seem a lot and it’s no wonder that the owners, Geordie Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon and Queen Elizabeth II’s godson, and his wife, Fiona Aitken, Lady Carnavon (apparently they met in 1996 at a dinner party and bonded over mournful WWI poetry) have opened their doors to the public and the cast and crew of Downton Abbey (they get around $4500 per day for filming rights).
Unlike other English stately homes, there were many rooms that were open to the public for viewing. I enjoyed perusing the rooms as it immediately made you reflect on the show and the characters you’ve come to enjoy. Much of the furniture is the same. The red sofas are there and seem smaller in real life as do most of the rooms, particularly the sitting room. My friend explained that they probably use a wide angle lens in the show to create a sense of space. I have to say that Highclere is not as big on the outside either as it appears in the show!
Many of the rooms allow you to peek in only, like the one were Pamouk dies. So you aren’t able to get a full glimpse of it all, but it still satisfies your curiosity. On reflection, I wish I had spent more time upstairs looking at the tapestries, photography and wall art. You do feel a bit hurried when so many people are behind you trying to get through. I did take a moment and leaned over the balcony to view the double volume reception below. It really is quite grand. And then I finished it off with a slow walk down the stairs just like Edith and Mary would do! Sadly, there was no ‘downstairs’ on display. I would have liked to have seen the kitchen or servants quarters but the third floor was not open to the public.
Bottom line: I loved Highclere Castle. It brought Downton Abbey to life. Can’t wait for the next season – even if its going to be just a bit camp.
I thought I’d throw in some memorable quotes from the show.
The Dowager Countess: “What’s a weekend?”
Thomas: “Are we to treat him as the heir?”
O’Brien: “Are we heck as like! A doctor’s son from Manchester? He’ll be lucky if he gets a civil word out of me.”
The Dowager Countess: “I’m a woman Mary. I can be as contrary as I choose.”
Sir Richard Carlisle: “I want you to marry me?”
Lady Mary Crawley: “Why?”
Sir Richard Carlisle: “Because I think very highly of you.”
Lady Mary Crawley: “Very highly. Goodness.”
Lady Rosamind: “There’s nothing like an English summer.”
Lady Mary Crawley: “Except an English winter.”
Lady Mary Crawley: “Sybil is entitled to her own opinions.”
Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham: “No. She isn’t until she is married, then her husband will tell her what her opinions are.”
Mrs Isobel Crawley: “What shall we call each other?”
The Dowager Countess: “Well we could always start with Mrs Crawley and Lady Grantham.”
p.s. Who’s your favourite character? The Dowager Countess does have some great lines!