My Day at Downton

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The sheep who greet you as you enter the grounds of Highclere Castle.

As part of my trip to England during the summer of 2012, my best friend Heather & I made it a point to visit Highclere Castle, where the famed BBC series broadcast on PBS Masterpiece as “Downton Abbey” was filmed. An anglophile and religious viewer of the show, I felt incredibly excited to see the famous property and rooms where Lord and Lady Grantham dined or talked about life events. We rented a car, & Heather was bold enough to do the driving from Oxford, so long as I navigated.

From entering the grounds, quite expansive and pastoral with grazing sheep, the visitor can immediately see how grand & impressive such an estate remained for all those who gazed (& continue to gaze) upon it. The idea that a carriage would have had to traverse such a winding road down to a massive clearing with the castle, growing ever so much closer in distance, little by little at a horse’s pace, would have accentuated the wealth & privilege attached to it all the more.

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Approaching Highclere Castle from the road.

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Pulling up to the grand estate of Highclere Castle.

The towering structure dominates the landscape from any and every angle. The rooms are stately & familiar from the episodes, especially the breakfast room where all family dinners are filmed. The library, grand staircase, smoking room, & breakfast room are particular gems.

Highclere Castle, viewed from tea taken outdoors.

The lower floors where the staff drama & excitement occurred remained off-limits, unfortunately, which was a disappointment, but my BFF Heather & I consoled ourselves with scones, clotted cream, jam, & cream tea. Outdoors, of course. Quite posh of us. The weather treated us with blue skies, temperate breezes, & the sweet scent of grasses & flowers. And we soaked it all in!

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Repast at Highclere, taken al fresco.

Another enticing feature of Highclere Castle are its extensive gardens, in all their variety & blooms that surround the estate. The gardener in me now appreciates (as I wasn’t the gardener THEN as I am now) with much more insight the mastery of techniques required to sustain such a lovely landscape.

Heather, the master gardener, took in everything, as we went through each type of garden & style. The walkways, shaded or in full sun, each displayed a particular sense of character & personality, all keeping the main estate building as the central reference point.

Here, the spires of Highclere peek out above the vegetation & blooms.

Cleverly, the pathways that wend their way through the acreage of verdant, lush plantlife find a careful balance between the functional & the beautiful. As you can see, the sun illuminates the grounds of Highclere as well as the castle itself. Now that sunshine can be quite intense on a warmer summer day, so the visitor finds respite in the shade proffered by tree or hedge. The garden walkways provide that harbor from the sun’s intensity, while also making use of that shade with sustainable perennials that flourish best in that setting.

The groomed walks through Highclere’s grounds.

The colors and shapes of the plants in their naturally arranged architecture keep your eye engaged & interested. The color palette remains restrained & understated, whites, greens, with an occasional punctuation of color strategically placed, of course.

A rustic beauty is found in balancing the wild with the manicured.

Lovely lavender edging an architectural feature of the landscaping.

Really, one cannot divorce the beauty of the castle from its grounds. The large expanses of pastures, fields, trees, gardens, & surrounding hills give the central estate its grandeur & loftiness. This castle meant to make a statement when constructed.

No wonder so many Americans & fans worldwide flock to see it, after tuning in for the BBC series set here. There remains a mystique, a fascination with the kind of wealth & opulence inherited privilege afforded the very few in the English aristocracy.

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Stunning wildflowers in the fields, looking towards Highclere.

The same field of wildflowers, looking in the opposite direction, away from Highclere.

The visit did not disappoint us. I’d definitely love to return. One can see why the Granthams & Crawleys fought so diligently to preserve the history & life bustling at Downton Abbey, just as those aristocrats who still live within its walls mean to do in cooperating with the trustees who make it possible for us simple folk nowadays to visit it.

There’s just this kind of inexplicable magic that castles conjure up, & I’ll forever be that little girl dreaming of towers, turrets, & spires. Sigh.

The sheep in their bucolic greenery bid you farewell, as you head to leave the estate.

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