Downton Abbey and Beyond

Monday, June 1, 2015 - By: Alison Michael

Downton Abbey, 55+ Living Guide

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Diana Loeffel, CTC

Americans have long enjoyed and admired the ability of British television productions to dramatize and serialize specific events and eras in history. They are particularly adept with the details of costumes and décor transporting the viewer into the period represented in the drama. Among the examples of this talent are series i.e., Poldark: The Forsyte Saga; Brideshead Revisited; The Jewel In The Crown, to name a few.

In the last 5 years many Americans have been captivated by Downton Abbey, which has become a blockbuster in popularity for Public Television channels in the US. This is the story of a titled family spanning the Edwardian age and continuing through WWI and into the 1920’s. Many may be disappointed to learn that multiple sources have confirmed that Downton‘s upcoming sixth season will indeed be its last.

A most rewarding getaway for Downton fans is a week in England, starting with an overnight or two in London. A good stopping over hotel to get right into the mood is Brown’s Hotel or a similar hostelry like Duke’s. I suggested Brown’s since that is the London hotel used by Agatha Christie’s spinster sleuth Miss Marple when she goes into the city. The hotel is of modest size, less than 150 rooms, is in a good central location, and is known for a delightful traditional English Tea in the afternoon!

Traveling from London to the filming location of Downton Abbey, actually a home called Highclere Castle is easily done by train approximately an hour’s trip. One could also choose to rent a car, which would add flexibility for exploring while in the Highclere Castle region. The Castle is located in the very picturesque rural county of Berkshire in Southeast England also known as the Cotswalds.

Highclere Castle is the actual residence of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvan. It is set on 1000 acres of parkland and dates from the Victorian era, but the family of the Earl has lived on the site since 1679. Julian Fellows is a longstanding family friend, and thus Highclere came to be used for the setting and filming of the series. The family has used the fees for usage to complete much needed repairs that a home the size of Highclere was bound to incur.

Not seen in the series , but open to view when one visits Highclere are the cellars which house an Egyptian exhibition highlighting the achievements of the current Earl’s great-grandfather who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922. He was a renowned Egyptologist and there are many items of interest on display.

Highclere is open for visitors between 60 and 70 days a year, mainly in the summer months and selected dates in May and early December. There are guides in the castle rooms and cellars to tell you stories from behind the scenes of the filming and to describe the many works of art and collections.

There are several nice places to stay right near Highclere; a particularly charming one is Highclere Farm Bed and Breakfast, a converted coach house

It has comfortable rooms and of course the delicious hearty English breakfasts that are most welcoming! This Inn is within walking distance of the Castle and also nearby is a friendly hospitable pub The Red Roof.

There is wonderfully convenient sightseeing available in the region and Highclere provides a base from which to explore the Cotswold region. There are many interesting places to visit nearby including the towns of Oxford, Bath and Lacock Village where filming took place for Pride & Prejudice and the Harry Potter Films. Lastly, one cannot forget Winchester and Salisbury with their spectacular cathedrals and not to be missed Stonehenge. Fans of Downton Abbey can easily immerse themselves in the unique and fascinating heritage surrounding the series and easily immerse themselves in the unique and fascinating heritage surrounding the series and return to the United States eagerly waiting the start of the Sixth season in 2016. Happy Traveling!

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