A Visit to the Real Downton Abbey

The state dining room at Highclere Castle
Fans of the PBS television series will recognize the state dining room at Highclere Castle as the breakfast room of the fictional Downton Abbey.

This upcoming year will be bittersweet for fans of this period drama, as 2016 will be the final season. Hopeful that Lady Mary will once again find true love and that Carson and Mrs. Hughes will have an endless honeymoon, Downton Abbey devotees are sure to miss the saucy quips from Dowager Countess and the pluck of Branson as he straddles the polar worlds of the upstairs family and the downstairs staff.

Lady Carnarvon also has mixed feelings about the series coming to an end. “Downton has been part of our life for six years, and they [cast and crew] were here on and off from February to July each year. I am not sure it will completely register until next spring, given we are busy as ever with other business at this time of year,” she says. “It was always good seeing the crew turn up, hearing the lorries crunch on the gravel early in the morning, and wondering how their plans for the day would transpire. The crew worked long hours—I know the cast did, too—but the crew earned less accolades perhaps. It was, however, a great mixture of people.”

HighclereCastleSaloon
The beautifully embellished gallery at Highclere Castle looks down on the saloon.

Aside from the familiar characters and smart writing, what fans may miss most of all is the silent star of the series, the country manor itself. Its alter ego, Highclere Castle, has arguably become, to many, as recognizable and iconic to England as Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace. Visiting this impressive estate is now an industry unto its own and a boon to the Carnarvon family.

Tour groups now come in droves to this Hampshire country manor to connect with the popular Edwardian series. As buses, filled with Downton Abbey fans, ascend the estate—and the view of the grand home is still the size of a postage stamp—guests immediately recognize the familiar landscape that spans acres. The grounds of Highclere are picturesque and dappled with gardens and follies, popular in the time of the home’s construction.

But it’s the manor home that, once in full view, strikes a deep emotional chord with fans. Built in the late 17th century, it has been home to generations of the Carnarvon family. The residence has endured over the centuries, having received a major facelift in the early 19th century that gave the edifice a limestone front fans will recognize as the Downton Abbey of today.

Once the multitude of buses park, visitors eagerly line up at the front entrance of Highclere as doors open to welcome them inside. Tourists enter and walk through the rooms on the ground floor with the easy comfort of visiting an old friend.

Guests then make their way upstairs to get a peek at a few of the bedrooms on the first floor. Climbing the stairs, it’s easy to envision the towering Christmas tree below or to spot a number of hiding places along the hallway for convenient eavesdropping by family and staff alike.

 

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