Four years after ending its television run, Downton Abbey brings its polished manners to theatres this September with a film reuniting the Crawley family and its staff. As much as we delight in the dowager countess’ wit, Highclere Castle, the stand-in for fictional Downton, is the true star of the series.
Highclere Castle, located an hour from London, is home to the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, whose ancestors have resided here since 1679. A trove of treasures are housed within its more than 250 rooms, some of which you can tour during the summer months. The central tower is a favourite spot of the current Lady Carnarvon, thanks to its countryside views.
Just as Cora brought her family’s wealth to Downton, so did a previous heiress. In 1895, the 5th Earl wed Almina, the illegitimate daughter of banker Alfred de Rothschild. Her dowry ensured necessary repairs were made to the castle. You can admire her influence in the silk-lined Drawing Room, where both Downton and Highclere ladies withdraw after dinner.
A meeting point for drinks and conversation among the Downton characters, the opulent North Library is also used as a gathering spot by the current family. Many celebrities and politicians have enjoyed a library tête-à-tête. Sir John A. Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, drafted the British North America Act with the 4th Earl of Carnarvon here.
While you can’t bed down in the castle itself, you can overnight on the property. Two charming lodges are available for guests. London Lodge was built in 1793 and sits on either side of a stone archway denoting entry to Highclere Park. Newly opened Grotto Lodge is a circular building affording views of North Hampshire and West Berkshire.
The Egyptian Connection
Egyptian artifacts kept by the 5th Earl were rediscovered by the family in a secret cabinet situated between the Drawing and Smoking rooms.
The 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon opened the Egyptian Exhibition in the cellar, where replicas from the Tutankhamun discovery and other artifacts are on display.
[This story appears in the August 2019 edition of WestJet Magazine.]
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