The Main reason we decided to blog about this trip was our planned excursion to Downton Abbey! Whenever we end up talking to Americans on our travels the conversation invariably ends up here they love to tell us how much they love Downton Abbey. Most Americans are enthralled with British history as most of our historic sites are many time older than America is as a country!
Unfortunately, the Abbey is not a real place. However, the exterior and most interior scenes are filmed at Highclere Castle in Berkshire. The Castle opens for tours most summers along with selected Spring, Fall, and Winter Dates, and we often head down for a look around one of our favorite TV locations.
After our final breakfast, we headed off. The weather was blisteringly hot and we headed to the surrounding countryside to enjoy a walk and see if we could get some more distant shots of the castle. We had Afternoon Teas booked for 13:30 so were in no rush. After a short stroll down a woodland path, we caught sight of the castle for the first time. From here we could see the visitor numbers building and the queues forming, it was going to be a busy day!
It is highly recommended you book tickets for the day you plan on arriving. We also recommend Following Highclere Castle on Facebook so you know when the Tickets are released as they can sell out frighteningly quickly. With the imminent release of the Downton Movie (We are just a bit Excited!!!!), We don’t see this trend getting any better!
The Castle release tickets in Tranches, or lots normally the upcoming season openings. So Spring/Easter opening, the Summer opening, Fall Dates and the Christmas Specials. Aside from the Summer opening the dates are very limited. The Castle is the Family’s actual home and as such it is only open to the public at certain times and this is entirely at the family’s discretion.
Simply put the earlier you can book the best chance you have of getting tickets, even leaving it 1 day after release could see you missing out. Hence why we suggest following them on Facebook so you can be pre-warned when they are releasing tickets!
If you didn’t get tickets for the date you wanted then you are not completely out of options. The Castle offers Walk-up tickets on the day and these are a first come first serve basis. We have never tried this option as we are always organized and get tickets in advance (and by that I mean Kate religiously Stalks them on Facebook and flys into action the second they are released!) However we are reliably informed there is a good number available each day. The best chance you have is getting there super early, and be at the gates for the 9 am Opening. Remember to check that you are planning on visiting on an open day. You cannot just walk up any old day you fancy. When the Castle is closed to the public it isn’t very easy to even get a view of the house let alone get up close.
A visit to the Castle is broken into 2 or 3 parts. Visiting the Grounds, and tour of the House and there is also the Egyptian Exhibit in the Basement. You can select which of these you wish to visit when booking.
The Grounds around the house are truly stunning and consist of manicured lawns with large Lebanon Cedars, Creating a stunning backdrop for the Castle. There is also the Folly, often featured in the Program that you can walk to for fantastic views of the house from a different angle. You can then head to the “Secret” walled Garden filled with stunning roses, and other English flowers.
A short walk leads you through the Meadow Garden and a small area that has been left to nature and consists of natural meadow flowers, butterflies and Grasshoppers, and some breathtaking views of the Castle.
You can also explore the Courtyard of the Highclere, where once stood the stables and garages now hosts the gift shop and tea rooms, where you can browse for souvenirs or grab a bite to eat in the shadow of the castle. The Lawns have a few benches dotted around and are the perfect place to have a picnic or just take a break and take in the surroundings.
Without even stepping foot inside the house, simply exploring and enjoying the breathtaking views of the Castle and the gardens is worth the trip in itself, but it would be a great shame not to head into the house itself home of so many iconic scenes from the show.
Unfortunately for the Blog, Photography is banned inside the house. We could have easily snuck in a few cheeky snaps but that would be hugely disrespectful to the family, So lens caps stayed on and phones stayed in our pockets.
The house is everything you would expect, while the rooms featured in the show look incredibly different off-screen than on it’s still instantly recognizable and fans of the show will be delighted at wandering around the set of the show. Highlights for us are the Library, the Dining room and of course the stunning main hall (Saloon). After looking around the beautiful bedrooms and peering over the balcony onto the main hall you finally get to walk down “those” Stairs. It’s hard not to hum the theme tune as you walk down those famous red-carpeted stairs!
The Tour of the house does not take long less than an hour, even if you read every information board and spend a long time chatting with the guides who are on hand in most rooms to fill you in on what you are looking at. They are equally at home discussing the show or the real life of the rooms in question!
Another unfortunate quirk of TV is the Downstairs of the show is filmed in a studio, not in the actual house, which now features a thoroughly modern kitchen rather than the old world cooking stations of the show.
We have now toured the house on many many occasions but still love it and will be coming back again in the near future.
The Egyptian Exhibit
We decided to pass on the Egyptian Exhibit this time. We have seen it a couple of times and it is well worth a visit but it doesn’t change much so we were happy to skip this time. The Carnarvon Family and the late Lord George Carnarvon has a rich history in archaeology and were one of the main backers of Howard Carter as he discovered and exhumed the remains of Tutenkamun.
The Exhibit is a monument to this incredible tale and features many real Egyptian artifacts along with detailed replica’s od the tomb and sarcophagus of the Egyptian king. The Real treasures of the tomb are still kept in Egypt in the Cairo museum, but the exhibit is still excellent and very informative. The Mummy of the King still lies in rest in the Valley of the kings where he was first buried.
We do Highly recommend the Exhibit as it sheds a lot of light on the real inhabitants of the castle and the incredibly rich and interesting live they led, lives that could easily rival the onscreen Charachters of Downton.
Afternoon Tea is a long time English Tradition. One that really fell out of favor but has not returned with a vengeance. This Staple of English life is now an occasional treat and we couldn’t miss the chance to enjoy one in the Castles courtyard overlooking the Castle itself.
The Tea Iself consisted of a selection of sandwiches and cakes, along with a Scone (a sweet Biscuit) Clotted cream and Strawberry Preserve, accompanied by a pot of English tea and of course a glass of French Champagne. The £62 (Approx $80) was an extravagant amount to pay even if it was for two people, but it one of those occasions where you are paying for the location.
The Tea was excellent and we happily munched our way through the cakes and sandwiches, while sipping the Champagne and tea. We were certainly not left hungry. It ends up quite a large amount of food, and many people were asking to take some of their Teas away with them.
They also offer the Tea as a Take-Away picnic for the same price, so you can head out onto the lawns to enjoy your tea. Knowing the British weather we wanted to ensure we had a roof over our heads, but on this occasion, the weather was utterly glorious and we were fairly jealous of those sitting out on the lawns.
You will need to book Cream teas in the Coachhouse beforehand and you can only book if you have Pre Booked tickets.
After our tea, we headed back to the Grounds to enjoy the afternoon sunshine on the lawns. We secured a place to sit right next to a large tree stump. It was this exact location in 2013 where I Proposed to Katie, a moment that began this incredible journey, and a place that is now very special to us!
After a few hours relaxing and taking photos, it can take a few hours to try and get a shot without people in it, we headed back to the car to begin the journey home. It had been a great weekend, very different from our usual American odysseys but very very enjoyable, and we kept up to date with the World Cup final as we made out way back to the High Peak.