I was fortunate enough (and very excited to say the least) to be able to visit the real “Downton Abbey”, Highclere Castle last week!
Here is a glimpse of the place where the show is filmed (or was filmed, since Season 6 production just wrapped up and this will be its last season):
Highclere castle is situated near Newbury, an hour from London by train. And of course, this being the UK, it rained… But no matter the weather, the magnificient building and the majestic grounds still take your breath away as you arrive….
The victorian castle belongs to the same family since 1679, and they still live in it, which is why visiting time is limited and only some of the rooms are open to the public.
The gardens are absolutely beautiful, though the lack of sun didn’t do them justice. It’s a shame we don’t see much of them on the show. You can even buy some of the plants at the gift shop to recreate your own garden at home!
Sadly, no photography is allowed inside the castle. But gazing through the library, dining room, drawing room, the saloon and some bedrooms was a great experience, everything looked so much better than on TV. And of course walking down the grand staircase was the highlight of the visit!
The dragon is one of the emblem of the castle:
And much to my disappointment, Carson didn’t come to open the door when I rang the bell…
This is the back of the castle, where Thomas Barrow plots his next scheme while smoking. The “downstairs area” does not exist, the kitchen and servants quarters are filmed in a London studio.
Real fans will also remember this “folly” which is seen in the earliest seasons:
The actual Downton Abbey storyline is loosely inspired by the real inhabitants of the castle, mainly Lady Almina, an American woman who married the Earl of Caravon at the turn of the 19th century, bringing along an impressive dowry and who turned the castle into a military hospital during WW1. Her life story is fascinating and documented in a book. The cellars of the castle are home to an Egyptian exhibition, as, back in 1922, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered the Tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, with his archaeological colleague, Howard Carter.
If you want to visit Highclere castle, be aware that it’s only open to the public in Easter and over the summer holiday. Tickets are sold 6 months in advance and sell out very fast. (I bought mine on February 1st and there were none left for the whole summer season 10 days later).
And now let’s wait for Season 6 to start on ITV in just a few weeks!