When we visit Highclere Castle on Thursday, September 11, 2014, we will probably be thinking more of  Downton Abbey, the PBS Masterpiece series, than of the sumptuous home of the Earls of Carnarvon.  Victoria here, as eager to see the Castle/Abbey as anyone.  I truly believe that a large part of the credit for DA’s success in America is due to the setting at Highclere Castle:  The grounds, the enormous house designed in the most extravagant of Victorian neo-Gothic style, the magnificent interiors of the family’s drawing rooms and bedchambers, the stark simplicity and dullness of the servants’ world below stairs. The contrasts could not be more vivid.

Downton Abbey, PBS Masterpiece

The Crawley family, headed by Robert, Earl of Grantham (High Bonneville), live at the fictional Downton Abbey, filmed at Highclere Castle, the home of the Earls of Carnarvon.  Most of the  upstairs scenes are filmed in the rooms of the Abbey or on the grounds.  The servants quarters have been recreated as they would have been in 1900 to 1930 at studies on nearby Ealing,  West London.  In this 4-minute video, creator and writer Julian Fellowes takes you through Highclere. Click here.

Another look at Highclere as Downton Abbey is an 8-minute fragment of the program Countrywise visit.  Click here

As almost every one knows, Downton Abbey has been a phenomenal success with audiences in Britain and North America, and elsewhere.  The four years of the series have won numerous awards for its creator, Julian Fellowes, for its costumes and settings, and for the actors, some of whom have become “household names.”  Probably taking first place would be Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, whose pithy comments delight audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.  Click here to see some favorite moments.

The Inimitable Maggie Smith As Violet, Dowager Lady Grantham

   We’ve seen four seasons of Downton Abbey now, and all the episodes are available on DVD and from PBS and other sources. The fifth season is in production and will be seen in the U.K. in the autumn and on PBS Masterpiece in early 2015.
Downton Abbey cast
 ©Nick Briggs/Carnival Film and Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE

Click here for a 13-minute video on the making of Downton Abbey, featuring many of the actors as well as the executive producer, writer, and historical advisor among others.

Although we’ve all seen the fourth season, you might enjoy the preview, a tease of just 90 seconds, put out before it played. Click here.

 So to stand in Highclere Castle yourself, come along with us on The Duke of Wellington Tour. September 4-14, 2014.  All the details are here.

See you in London!



Highclere Castle Victorian

One of the stops along the route of The Duke of Wellington Tour that we’re looking forward to visiting is Highclere Castle, home of the Earls of Carnarvon. In addition to the fabulous interiors, we’ll also be viewing the Egyptian collection, comprised of artifacts from King Tut’s tomb, the discovery of which was funded by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. I’m particularly interested in walking the grounds and seeing the park, designed by Capability Brown. Here are a few video highlights of what we’ll be seeing at Highclere –
The 8th Countess of Carnarvon discusses The Real Downton Abbey and offers a tour of the Castle here.
Follow the Countess through more rooms in the Castle here.
Footage of the exteriors, grounds and secret garden here.
If you were invited to spend the weekend at Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle a hundred years ago,
would you know what to wear, how to act, which fork to use? Michael Bertolini, Curator and President of the Warwick (NY) Historical Society gives an informative Talk on Downton Abbey-style living.  (1 hour)
For absolutely stunning scenery of the countryside surrounding Highclere Castle, you can watch this five minute video – The Wayfarers Walking Vacations “Downton Abbey” walk .
Victoria will be writing next weeks “Video Highlights” post, in which she’ll bring you clips of the flip side of Highclere Castle – Downton Abbey. Until then, here’s a very funny bit of silliness put together for Red Nose Day 2011 called “Uptown Downstairs Abbey.




The Wellington Tour: Masterpiece Theatre

The Wellington Tour is still nine months away and so I do not dwell on it. Much. It would be folly for me to think on the prospect of seeing England again this far ahead of our departure. So I’ve decided that the best thing to do is to put the Tour as far from my mind as possible. You would think it would be relatively easy to accomplish this state of enforced amnesia, but it is not. Reminders seem to be round every bend. Rory Muir’s new biography of the Duke of Wellington was just published in December and so I’ve been reading reviews of it whilst awaiting the arrival of my own copy (oh, Joy!). And then there are the gossip items one can’t help reading lately regarding the engagement of the present Duke of Wellington’s granddaughter, Sofia Wellesley, to ex-guardsman and current crooner James Blunt, pictured below. Lately, one can hardly turn around without encountering the Duke of Wellington. And there was the diorama of the Duke of Wellington’s funeral procession, with rolls of handcoloured pictures of all the dignitaries and their carriages, which I found recently on eBay. It looked something like a thicker Etch-A-Sketch, the pictures moved along rollers that were controlled by the two knobs beneath the glass window. Alas, I was forced to stop bidding when the price flew above four hundred dollars, more’s the pity. It would have been a grand addition to my future Wellington Museum.

And then there’s Masterpiece Theatre, which seems to be on a mission to remind me of the Wellington Tour on a regular basis. I watch a lot of PBS, and thus have been treated to the spate of commercials and programs running up to the premiere of the new season of Downtown Abbey. PBS has been running Season Three episodes of Downton Abbey almost non-stop. Hubby has even gotten into the spirit of things, though unwittingly.

“Hey, Hon!”
“You watching your PBS?” (Hubby watches his shows in the living room – I in the bedroom).
“No. Why?”
“That woman’s on again. You know, the one who’s in every British program ever made.”

I switched over to our PBS channel, where I saw the Dowager Countess of Grantham on the screen. “Maggie Smith,” I yelled.”It’s Downton Abbey. I’m going there.”
“Downton is really Highclere Castle and we’re going there on the Wellington Tour.”
“Better you than me. My good man,” answered Hubby.

In fact, I’m watching The Secrets of Highclere Castle – again – as I write this.  Once more I hear that Highclere Castle costs roughly a million pounds a year to maintain. And that within it’s walls is the priceless Van Dyck of Charles I, visible in the photo below.

I wonder if the family will be at breakfast when we arrive . . . . . . Once more, I’m told that in 1839 Highclere House was remodeled in the Gothic style. And that Capability Brown redesigned the landscape, which features a ruin-like folly and various temples, including the Temple of Diana, below.

In fact, the more I think on it, the more I realize that what I want to see most at Highclere are the grounds.

In the photo above, we see one of the fifty-six Cedars of Lebanon planted by the first Earl. I’m glad that Victoria and I have blocked out an entire day for our visit to Highclere, so that we’ll all have the time to take it in at our leisure. You can click this think for a map of the grounds.

This will also leave us plenty of time to visit the Tea Rooms

Highclere Castle Afternoon Tea Menu
Tea and Coffee
A glass of Sparkling Elderflower/Champagne
Selection of sandwiches that may include;
Roasted Chicken and Stuffing
Smoked Salmon and Horseradish
Honey Baked Ham
Egg and Cress
Freshly Baked Scones
Clotted Cream and Homemade Jam
A selection of cakes: Victoria Sponge, Carrot Cake or a Coffee and Cream Cake

and, naturally, the Gift Shop. But returning to the house . . . .

I do want to see Lady Mary’s bedroom . . . . . . .

where Mr. Pamuk died. 

It’s part of the tour, as is the gallery along which the ladies of the house carried the body.

I know, I know – with all that’s happened on Downton Abbey, why do I keep going back to that episode? Could it be because it was strangely comedic?

Of course, I’ll be tuning into Downton Abbey this Sunday since I can’t wait to find out what Thomas the Footman has up his sneaky sleeve this season. That should keep me from thinking about The Wellington Tour. Much.

Why not consider joining Victoria and me on our Tour?  We’d love to have you with us as we experience all the fun of Highclere Castle, as well as the exciting feast of additional sites we have planned.