I'm a huge fan of Downton Abbey (who isn't?) and the real life mansion where the show is filmed, Highclere Castle, is located just a short drive from Dan's hometown of Newbury. When we visited last May, it was closed for the season, so I put it on the must-do list for our end of summer trip.
The biggest thing that you need to know before you visit Highclere Castle is it will be crowded. Extremely crowded. Claustrophobic crowded. The TV show has made this a very popular tourist attraction. They do sell advance tickets, but those were gone months in advance, so we had to rely on their daily allotment of walk-up tickets that are available in the afternoon. We crossed our fingers that we would be able to get in.
When we arrived, the parking lot was jammed with cars and tour buses. Highclere Castle rivals Westminster Abbey for the most crowded UK tourist attraction.
Highclere Castle is owned by the Carnarvon family, which garnered fame through the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who had a keen interest in Egyptology and was instrumental in the expedition that discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922. Currently the castle has an Egyptology exhibition, which is included in the highest level ticket price for twenty pounds. We opted for the thirteen pound tickets, that gave us entry to the estate and the gardens.
The fan-girl in me started to get giddy as we walked down the pebbled driveway to Highclere Castle.
As I previously mentioned, Highclere Castle is a tourist trap. If you're a fan of Downton Abbey, you will love it. The entire self-guided tour is centered around the television series. Several of the rooms have placards explaining which scenes/characters utilize the particular space. For example the sitting room had a placard with a picture of actor Hugh Bonneville and a statement about how Lord Grantham can often be found reading in this room. It's like visiting a movie set. I kept expecting Lady Mary to walk around the corner. There is very little information on the History of the property or on the architecture. It's a departure from the other castles/estates that we visited during our trip. It was more expensive, more crowded and far less impressive.
On the second floor, we found a framed floor plan of the building that referred to Highclere as "Highclere House". I have no idea when they started calling it a castle, but it felt like a fraud. This said, I have no idea what makes an estate a castle, other than maybe fortification? Highclere was not fortified. It had some sheep.
The fan in me loved seeing the house, but on a whole, it was a big let down. We were not allowed to take pictures inside, but I took many of the gardens, which were lovely. We managed to quickly tour them, before the storm clouds started dropping buckets of rain.
By far, the best part of our visit to Highclere Castle was when Dan proposed in a field of flowers behind the estate. It was gorgeous and the one place on the property where we had complete privacy. It couldn't have been more romantic or more perfect.
Lastly, Dan took this beautiful panorama shot of Highclere Castle.