Downton, Downton, Downton, DOWNTON!
It may surprise you fans from the Americas and Antipodes but us Brits are as infatuated with the Edwardian magnificence that is Downton Abbey as you lot are. The narrative twists and turns that drive the lives and romances of characters such as Lady Mary and cousin Matthew, Lady Sybil and Branson the Chauffeur, Anna the Housemaid and Bates the Valet, punctuated by the acerbic bon mots of the Dowager Duchess are utterly, utterly compelling.
And did I mention the costumes? Ooooh.
And as for the setting, well, you can’t do much worse than Highclere Castle. Which is a real place. A proper 19th-century grand house built upon the site of various other castles that have stood in this corner of Hampshire for about 1,000 years. The Carnarvon family has owned Highclere Castle since the 17th century.
In 1922 the 5th Earl of Carnarvon with Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun. As a result there’s a rather superlative collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts on display at Highclere that makes one go quite giddy at the knees.
So the combination of Ancient Egypt AND lots of Downton excitement brings me to the crux of the matter. A spot of controversy for the London Perfect blog…
… for I am about to suggest * sotto voce * a day trip out of London.
C’mon, though. It’s for Downton. Just get yourself to London’s Paddington Station, pop onto a train to Newbury (although best check the timetable before you go) and in 52 minutes you’ll arrive at the station. Hail a cab and in moments you’ll be at Highclere Castle. Just take a peek at what you’ll see!
Now, before you get all spontaneous with this idea I urge some planning. Firstly Highclere is only open to the public on Bank Holidays and Sunday to Thursday during the summer months (lots of lucky people have their weddings at Highclere on Fridays and Saturday). Therefore so don’t even think about an autumnal or winter trip. Secondly the guided visits around the house, gardens and Egyptian collection are ticketed.
There are some “walk up on the day” tickets available after 2pm, which would be well worth the risk of a train jolly out of London. And, worst case scenario, you do get there and find all the tickets gone there are some wonderful walks in the area that give you some magnificent views of Highclere.
A spot of Engilsh bucolic bliss is a marvelously refreshing tonic to the excitement of London’s urban vim and vigour. Whatever happens on your grand day out to Highclere to taste the Downton life (who knows? You might bump into the butler of your dreams!) it’ll be well worth the adventure. If you’re thinking of a trip to London for next year and want to see Highclere Castle, do keep an eye on their website and remember to pre book your tickets well in advance.
Zoë F. Willis is a writer and enthusiastic London resident. You can read more about her adventures and creative exploits at thingswotihavemade.blogspot.co.uk