As you are reading this, Downton Abbey has ended. The series finale aired last night, and while Kristen and I cannot wait to discuss how the story of the Crowley family ended, today I want to share with you my own personal trip to “Downton Abbey”. Watching Season 6 Episode 6 of Downton Abbey, where the family opened the house to the villagers for tours, brought back lots of memories of my own adventure to Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed.
Highclere Castle, the home to the Carnarvon Family, is located about 15 minutes from Newbury, which is about an hour train ride from London’s Paddington Train Station. From the train station in Newbury I took a cab to Highclere. There is a website for Highclere Castle, http://www.highclerecastle.co.uk/, which provides all the information you need to know for reserving tickets and getting to the castle. The website suggests that you order tickets ahead of time, although a limited number of walk-up tickets may be available at the gate. I did not have a reserved ticket when I made my journey to Highclere in September 2014, but had no problem buying a ticket when I got there and did not even have to stand in line.
From the gate, you walk up the long driveway that has carried every visitor up to the house on Downtown Abbey.
You enter the house through the front door and this is where your picture taking ends. No pictures allowed of the inside of the house!
But luckily for you, I purchased the Highclere Castle Guidebook, which contains pictures of the interior room!
All of the main floor rooms look very similar to how they appear on television; however, the bedrooms on the second floor look quite different. Although for Downton fans, the room where poor Mr. Pamuk met his demise in Season1 Episode 3, has been memorialized on the tour with a sign.
Now the real disappointment for fans of DA comes in the downstairs. The kitchen from the Downton Abbey era no longer exists. None of the downstairs scenes are actually filmed at Highclere. However, a few pictures of the downstairs staff are included in the guidebook.
The downstairs area is now a museum dedicated to the exhibitions for Egyptian artifacts funded by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. The 5th Earl backed Howard Carter and was standing next to him for the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. The 5th Earl may even share in the tomb’s curse. He nicked a mosquito bite on his neck while shaving, which led to an infection and his ultimate death in Cairo a few months after the tomb’s discovery. From a historical perspective, this is a fun part of the house to see. A number of the Earl’s artifacts that he helped discover are on loan to the house from the British Museum; however, if you are just there for the Downtown Abbey experience, you may not be interested in a diversion in Egyptian history. Also, you must buy a second ticket separate from the house tour ticket to go through the downstairs museum.
After touring the house and the downstairs museum I took a break for tea, and then walked the grounds.
I did not see any pigs at Highclere Castle for either Mr. Drew or Mr. Mason to farm, but I did see lots of sheep!
One of my favorite things about visiting Highclere Castle was that most of the other tourists there were English! People in foreign countries that do not broadcast Downton Abbey have no reason to make the trip to Highclere. It was fun to watch the English tour the grounds and listen to their comments.
After exploring the grounds I made a stop at the gift shop, where you can buy anything Downton Abbey or Highclere Castle branded that your heart desires. I bought some tea for my mom, also a DA fan, and the always classy gifts of kitchen magnets, collector’s spoons, and postcards.
The most important thing to keep in mind when you visit Highclere Castle is that you are in the middle of the country, so when you are ready to leave, you must allow time for a cab to find its way to you and then drive you back into Newbury so you can catch a train to London, and you do NOT want to miss the last train from Newbury to London! Thankfully, my cab driver from my trip to Highclere gave me his card and I was able to use the telephone at the ticket counter to call him to pick me up.
Visiting Highclere Castle was one of the best adventures I embarked on during my last trip to London. If you are a Downton Abbey fan, it is definitely worth the effort to get there to experience Highclere for yourself and be the envy of all your friends!