Thursday, February 21, 2013

Visiting the real Downton Abbey: Highclere Castle

When watching Downton Abbey on PBS, I was enthralled with the looming multi-story mansion sitting alone on spacious grounds... grounds that didn't seem to have much of a garden. So I wondered, is the mansion real or is it the creation of a movie set builder.

What I found out was that the building, Highclere Castle, is actually the home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon.

On their website, they tout that the building is featured as Downton Abbey, the hugely successful drama series with over 11 million viewers in the UK and now shown in over 100 countries around the world. From the pen of Oscar-winning ('Gosford Park') screenwriter, Julian Fellowes, now Lord Fellowes, it has an all star cast led by Dame Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Elizabeth McGovern, Penelope Wilton and many other leading actors and actresses. 

During the summer season you can actually visit the castle and gardens located near Newbury. Highclere Castle lies to the west of London, not far from the M4 and Newbury. Oxford and Birmingham are to the north, Winchester and Southampton to the south.

Highclere Castle has a fascinating history that rivals that of Downton Abbey. The area, it is said, has been inhabited for over 1300 years. The Carnarvon family has lived at Highclere since 1679, and the current Castle stands on the site of an earlier house, which in turn was built on the foundations of the medieval palace owned by the Bishops of Winchester for some 800 years. It is a grand estate which even served as a hospital during WWI. 

Tickets must be pre-booked. You can purchase tickets online. With the advent of the Downton Abbey series, visits to the castle have become extremely popular.

When the castle is closed to the public, there are walks that can be taken on adjacent property footpaths.