Perhaps the most recognizable room is the Library, where Downton Abbey viewers have witnessed many snappy exchanges among family and staff. It wears the patina of aged furnishings and family portraits—the red velvety couches are at once opulent and welcoming. It also ranks among Lady Carnarvon’s favorite rooms.
“I love the Library,” says the current Countess of Highclere. “The proportions and decoration are both impressive and restrained. [In addition], I like my study, as it is full of photos and mementos that matter to me. I rather like climbing the stairs to the tower. The rooms are quirky, [they have] wonderful ceilings, and the views are extraordinary.
With so many lovely rooms at their disposal, the Carnarvons don’t restrict teatime to any one particular space, and they consider the occasion as well as the season. “In the winter, we may have tea in the Smoking Room, as the paintings are exceptional, and it is a good time of day to enjoy them. The original tea chest sits in the drawing room, but today I see that room less for tea as it works so well for cocktails, and it is a treat to share different parts of the house with our guests.”
In addition, the Carnarvons take advantage of the well-manicured grounds for afternoon tea, weather permitting.
While Downton Abbey may be nearing its final run, there is still plenty on the horizon for Highclere, according to Lady Carnarvon.
“The cyclical castle year continued in the background around Downton, so we are not left with a dearth of activity. We have further exciting plans from events around Valentine’s Day celebrations to showcasing the gardens in May.”
In addition, Lady Carnarvon, author of Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey and Lady Catherine, The Earl and the Real Downton Abbey, is working on a new book about entertaining at Highclere.
The final season of Downton Abbey will bring a mixture of joy and tears, but fans of the captivating period drama will find comfort in knowing its real-life alter ego will continue to be open to visitors, with plans for even more afternoon teas during the coming year. Downton Abbey has endeared its fans, whether milk-in-first or milk-in-last, to a time and place rich with history, elegance, and a great deal of entertainment.
Barbara Gulley and her daughter, Rachel, operate Barb’s Tea Service (barbsteaservice.com), a Michigan-based tea-education business. On a recent trip to England, they visited Highclere Castle.