Located on the edge of Hampshire is a 5,000 acre estate that many TV fans will recognize. Highclere Castle is the campaign seat of the Earls of Carnarvon and has been used as a filming location for several films and TV series.
But he is best known for impersonating the Crawley family home at Downton Abbey. Since the opening titles of the first episode in 2010, Highclere Castle has gained international recognition among fans of the period drama and is a popular tourist attraction.
The site, which is about five miles south of Newbury, Berkshire, and 10 miles north of Andover, is open to the public and is one of Hampshire’s most popular tourist destinations according to TripAdvisor. It is particularly popular with American tourists, although there was confusion when they discovered that the interior was not as grand as the show shows.
READ MORE: Elizabeth McGovern: Downton Abbey actress married to director of period drama sequel
A visitor from across the pond said he was very disappointed to learn that the cooking scenes were filmed off-site and clearly expected to be carried over to the fictional TV show. The guest, perhaps unaware that Highclere generally operates as a family home, wanted to see the dining table ‘set and beautiful’, was disappointed to find that ‘the chairs were a mess as if people had just left the table and hadn’t tucked their chairs under.”
Others complained that they “weren’t allowed to take pictures” inside and lamented the lack of audio guides. A visitor from France was also unable to tell fact from fiction, saying there was “little on offer from a Downton Abbey perspective apart from a production shot in a few of the rooms”. This guest, who also criticized the “rather sad and worn” interior, clearly expected to be taken to a film set rather than a 17th century building.
However, others praised the castle’s “high tea” and beautiful setting, with one commenting that they “half-expected Lady Mary to descend those famous stairs”. As Hampshire’s fourth highest-rated attraction, it’s no surprise that Highclere Castle’s 3,300 reviews have mostly been positive, largely due to its fascinating history and themed events linked to the Downton Abbey franchise.
History of the castle
The castle has a long history with the first written records of the estate dating back to when an Anglo-Saxon king granted the estate to the Bishops of Winchester in 749. In the late 14th century, Bishop William of Wykeham built a medieval palace in the park. before King Edward VI confiscated property from the Church of England during the English Reformation.
The palace was later rebuilt as Highclere Place House in 1679 when it was purchased by Sir Robert Sawyer, who is a direct ancestor of the current Earl of Carnarvon. In 1842 Sir Charles Barry, who designed the Houses of Parliament, transformed Highclere House into the Highclere Castle familiar to visitors today.
While touring the grounds, guests can hear about how the 5th Countess of Carnarvon converted Highclere Castle into a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War I, a storyline that was picked up by the screenwriters of Downton Abbey in the second series. Meanwhile, during World War II, Highclere Castle was opened as a home for children evacuated from London.
As well as wandering the halls of Downton Abbey, a visit to Highclere also offers the chance to explore the Egyptian exhibit. The famous work of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who helped discover Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.
The chateau can also be rented privately for weddings, where brides can embrace their inner Lady Mary and make an entrance down the sweeping oak staircase. However, bookings are currently on hold due to the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.
Despite this, Highclere has reopened to visitors and many events are planned for the coming months, including an Easter Egg Trail on April 16 and the Highclere Country Show from May 28-29. Tickets are also available for the castle, Egyptian exhibition and gardens this spring, with prices ranging from £12 to £27.50.
For those wanting a more intimate experience, there are summer tours where guests will receive complimentary refreshments and an autographed copy of Lady Carnarvon’s book, Seasons at Highclere.
The summer season will see an armed forces celebration at the Battlefield Proms Concert on July 30. Aerial entertainment from a WWII Spitfire and the Red Devils parachute team will be accompanied by musical fireworks and a 2-hour orchestral performance by the New England Concert Orchestra. Tickets cost £44 per adult and £21 per child.
Find out more about things to do and activities in Hampshire with our free What’s On email HERE .