What is a weekend?

Friday, July 24, 2015

I've never been a massive television person. Gossip Girl was the first show I ever watched from start to finish and I'll purchase the odd month of Netflix when a new OITNB season rolls out or to re-watch episodes of Skins or to cry about how Sherlock is never going to come back...but other than those, nothing's ever really captured my attention enough to be fussed with waiting by a television for 7pm.

And then Downton Abbey happened.

I had some friends on Facebook talk about "this new British show" a few years back and figured I'd give it a go. I like England, I like history - why not.

And I was hooked. HOOKED, I say! I immediately purchased the entire season on iTunes, bought the DVD sets from Target, and when a new season was airing in the UK I tricked my computer into thinking it was in London so I could watch the catch-up episodes on the ITV player since it hadn't been released in the states yet. (Sorry) I managed to lasso my family into the obsession and we spend Sunday evenings in the Autumn gasping to each other over the phone "Have you watched the new episode?!? I can't believe it!"

Although the show is set in Yorkshire, the filming locations are scattered across England and certain areas like the kitchens are a set built for the show, but most of the interiors and the unmistakable castle exterior is all filmed at Highclere in Berkshire County. Otherwise known as the Royal County, as Windor Castle is located in the eastern bit!

Naturally, when I moved to England getting a glimpse of the real Downton Abbey was firm on my radar. Easier said than done. Unless you live near Newbury and have a car, visiting Highclere Castle is no easy feat. Between its remote location, filming, and the family living there, opening dates and ticket availability are far and few between. They open up the online portal to announce opening dates and ticket sales randomly throughout the year and sell out months in advance. I had read that they were opening their doors around Christmas time and when I checked the website the day after the portal was opened, they were all booked up. The summer season tickets usually go on sale early in the year, I purchased mine in February and my visit was in July. So if you're a diehard DA fan or just interested in a visit, I would keep your eyes glued to the website. They do offer walk-up tickets, and my taxi driver advised me that they rarely turn anyone away, so if you're in the area it could be worth a gamble.

Enough of me rambling...let's get to the good stuff! After rolling up the mile-long driveway, I was greeted with a familiar view that gave me the smile of an excited 8 year-old.

The family who live there now is comprised of George Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon and godson of Queen Elizabeth II (casual) and his wife, Lady Carnarvon who also runs a blog along with their children and a number of adorable pets. The Earl inherited the castle along with their wealth from their ancestors who pillaged discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, and their home now hosts Egyptian artefacts, camera crews, weddings, and visitors. Real life Downton Abbey family, right there.

The gardens include a meticulously manicured "secret garden," a colourful greenhouse, rows of lavender, a wildflower field, roses galore, rows of walnut trees, and much more! Well worth spending time exploring all of these.

You can purchase tickets for the whole shebang - castle, gardens, exhibition; or for a individual area/combination. Photos aren't permitted inside the house, but I can promise you it is just as stunning as it is on the show! I was giggling at seeing a familiar room like Lady Mary's dotted with contemporary magazines and books like Tatler and John Grisham. While they definitely cash in on the Downton Abbey aspect of the home, the focus is definitely more on the family and castle history. Family photos in frames are scattered around just like any other home, these just happen to include people like the Queen.

While there is a cafe and spot for afternoon tea on the premises, the favoured way of eating here was clear. Picnic all the way!

Click HERE for opening times, admission prices, public open dates, and tickets! The website also helps out in planning your visit regardless of your transport options.

For example, from Bristol, my route was: Train to Reading followed by a train to Newbury and hopping in one of the taxis that are lined up outside the station. The ride to and from the castle is about 15 minutes and will run you about £16 one-way. Not bad if split between friends, but slightly painful when traveling solo like I did. If you're lucky like I was however, you'll snag Paul as your driver. Paul was cheerful, talkative, and knew all sorts of fun historical facts about Newbury and Highclere.

Not an easy place to get to, but an amazing day out!

(Spirit Animal)

Are you a Downton Abbey fan?

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