Gothic beauty writ large
t’s nigh-on impossible not to be smitten with Downton Abbey. The big-hearted butler, the glorious gardens, the lace-embellished dresses, an earl that cares for his servants and all that delicious drama played out in such grandiose settings.
Now we all know that Lady Mary is the sultry siren of the show but there’s another star that deserves your attention: Downton Abbey itself, or Highclere Castle as it was known before Julian Fellowes worked his magic on the place in Hampshire. Designed by Charles Barry – the same architect who constructed the Houses of Parliament and stately homes such as Bowood House and Harewood House – it’s been home to the Carnarvon Family since 1679. The present Earl and Countess open their doors to fans of Downton and stately homes enthusiasts in spring and summer.
You can act out your favourite scenes in the vast grounds, dash between the pillars of the follies, or wander through the herb-scented secret garden decorated with cherry trees and lilies.
Inside, admire the gold-hued and gorgeously gothic state rooms, letting out gentle squeals of recognition as you circle the dining room where many of Downton’s most dramatic scenes have taken place. You’ll also see the sumptuous mint-coloured drawing room where the ladies gossip over cups of tea.
After eyeing up all the lavish tapestries, the priceless antiques and the pillared library with it 5,650 books, come back down to earth with a tour of the servant quarter. Nested under the house, you can experience what life was like for maids and footmen and the contrasting world they lived in.
Finish your Downton day in the tearoom, discussing your own social scandals over afternoon tea.
And to get the Edwardian look or indulge in all things vintage check out bvintagebazaar.co.uk. They regularly put on festivals and fares in Berkshire and the Home Counties.