Period Drama Love
I miss it. I miss nights in watching the warm hug that Downton Abbey was. Yes, I still have Jamestown. Poldark. They fill part of the gap. We will always have had Downton however. It is one of the few screenings I love that hasn’t started in a novel. A rarity.
Despite loving it from the off, I will admit it was not my first love in period drama. In fact, I was known to get a bit high horsey on the topic, eye rolling the band wagon jumpers who suddenly all loved period drama. I who was given funny looks for a Brideshead Revisited obsession in the mid nineties and who can honestly admit to having adored my DVD series collection of BBC drama. I can truly say I have watched them all. some quite a few times.
My sister and I once spent a highly indulgent summer day wandering the estate that is Castle Howard living Evelyn Waugh. We brought a teddy and took photos in character. Lord and Lady Flyte. Sebastian. Getting to Highclere Castle (film location for the loved Downton) was proving to be more difficult though. As it is currently fashionable, tickets tend to be booked out. It is in England and I am in Ireland. I have two small children and essentially wanting to see this castle is a personal project that just might not float their pink boats. Myself and my sister had no responsibilities going to Castle Howard! Children make you look you at venue in a while new light. So the adventure to Peppa Pig World being set up, I googled away for other options for the holiday trip and started putting out teeny feelers. Little gentle hopeful probes- could we take in Highclere? Tickets were gone. None to be had online. We stayed near the castle on Friday and Saturday nights- it doesn’t open either day. I swear! So we were going to be near where I so badly wanted to be, I had no ticket and may not even get inside the gate.
Booking and Tickets
Ticketless and hopeful, we popped by anyway. Highclere is still experiencing the TV show buzz and prebooked tickets sell out fast. In an unusual twist, the castle does not open on Friday and Saturday. This was limiting our options. Could I see the place without tickets? Well here is the lowdown. If the castle is closed, you are not supposed to pass the entrance gate. There are private property signs out. When it is open, you can park in the grounds and see the front. Driving in is quite exciting and there is a nice long entrance to help. The house appears behind a bend beautiful and exactly as you expect. No disappointments here. Here are ticket options. Garden entrance tickets are available. You can see the grounds, exteriors and use the coffee and gift shop. If you were lucky like us, you can get there early and avail of the tickets thet put to one side daily for ‘walk ups’. We were those lucky folks.
We got in!
Inside the iconic house
It is a self guided tour. Staff are very nice inside the house and will answer questions. The opulence of Downton and the scenery you are so used to is all there to be seen. It feels a smaller scale as the camera surely adds ten punds. Also the grandeur of Downton is magnified by cinematography. No photo taking allowed inside- so I gave the camera a break which is nice to do too.
There are nods to the show all over the house. You will do get the real history of the people who live there, the Carnarvons, and their lifestyle. Quite a few images of the Queen (the current Earl’s father was the Queen’s racing manager from 1969 until his death in 2001) and Princess Diana are dotted about showing us the type of folk who really visit this place as a guest. Highclere saw two World Wars playing the roles expected of estates at the time, housing soldiers and giving to the cause.
Upstairs is also interesting and you are shown each bedroom with a sign as to which show character slept there. We had fun imagining how Lady Mary and Anna for to silently drag Mr. Part in along those halls. The house obliged by pointing out the room he slept in during his frisky yet fatal night at Downton.
Exhibition seem to be popular and regular at the house. This summer saw an Egyptian exhibit which we did not see. You paid for a separate ticket o see it and we chose not to but I do like when a house like this gives you more to do and see.
I was disappointed by the coffee shops. I expected a lovely tearoom and there were two open. Choices were not amazing and seating was an issue. With two little girls, we ruled out the first restaurant immediately. It is claustrophobic and busy. We were outside on the extensive garden furniture which is a lovely option, but it was a breezy day with threatening rain so this was not so pleasant. A lot of chasing napkins. Also, the staff began to gather the furniture around us which was very off putting. We have spent over twenty pounds on very average food and we felt like we were being run off the place- not very Lady Mary.
Is Highclere child friendly?
Staff at the gate in the house were very friendly to children. The girls enjoyed the tour until it got a bit crowded upstairs. They loved the balcony and looking down on the grand entrance hall to the house and it is quite safe there too. Lady Sybil’s bedroom is a draw as it has a rocking horse- I had to stop Betsy from jumping on. The grounds are lovely are we would have had much more time hete except for the weatger. We chose to hit Highclere Castle swiftly and not overdo time here for the children’s sake and I think we did well.
My Overall Advice
- Book if you can but if you cannot definitely try to get in if you are nearby.
- Watch the closing days! They are sneakily unusual.
- Be ready for it not to fully feel like Downton indoors but try enjoy it as Highclere. It is lovely.
- There are slow moving crowds but people are trying to enjoy it as it not an extremely large tour.
- Do not get over excited by available eating options. Picnic would be best.
- Dress for the weather and enjoy the outdoor experience.
- The best part is seeing the front of the house for the first time. It is exactly as you imagine on exterior. Impressive.
Look to the Future
Life without Downton has become a reality. We suffer on. If you hold out enough hope though you will always find a way past a problem.
And we have hope.
They are making a movie. Filming stsrts in September. I am in love with it already. The Dowager was right.