December 12, 2016

A Very Downton Day

Once I became a fan of the popular television series Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle quickly found its way onto my travel bucket list. On my recent trip to England I not only visited the estate where the series was filmed but I also toured the scenic Oxfordshire locations that doubled as fictional Downton Village and Yew Tree Farm.

Highclere Castle, the Real Downton Abbey

Tickets for Highclere Castle can be purchased through their web site but the estate is a bit of a journey from London so we decided to take an International Friends Downton Abbey Filming Locations tour. Our excellent guide knew all about the show and entertained us with anecdotes about the characters and storylines on the journey to Cogges Manor Farm.

Cogges Manor Farm (Yew Tree Farm)

Cogges Manor Farm (Yew Tree Farm)
Yew Tree Farm first appeared in Series 4 of Downton Abbey as the home of tenant farmer, Mr. Drewe. Chickens roamed freely about the Cogges Manor farmyard and jugs of fresh flowers brightened the rustic kitchen where the series’ scenes were shot. A popular piece of Downton memorabilia on display was the birth certificate of Lady Edith’s love child, Marigold.

Farmyard Chickens

Oxford Sandy and Black Pigs

Manor House Kitchen

Marigold's Birth Certificate

Bampton Village (Downton Village)
The next stop on our tour was the tiny Cotswald village of Bampton. Our guide pointed out the buildings used for exterior shots of Downton Cottage Hospital; Mrs. Patmore’s new B&B; the shed where Thomas stored black market goods; and many more familiar locations from the show.

Bampton Library, Downton Cottage Hospital

Churchgate House, Mrs. Crawley's Home

Mrs. Patmore's B&B

Thomas's Shed

Church View, The Dog & Duck Pub

The Village Green

The Wall

I also had the chance to sit in a pew at St. Mary's Church like I was among the invited guests at a Downton Abbey wedding (or jilting as the case may be).

St. Mary's Church, St. Michael & All Angels

Church Graveyard

Church Entrance

A Downton Abbey Wedding (almost)

Interior of St. Mary's Church

Photos of Lady Mary's Wedding

Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey)
Our final stop for the day was Highclere Castle, home to the eighth Earl and Countess of Carnarvon who open their doors to the public for weddings, tours and special events. We arrived in time for lunch at one of the estate’s three tea rooms.

Highclere Castle

Tea Room Outdoor Seating

After lunch I followed the visitor route through the castle to such memorable settings as the Dining Room where the Crawley family gathered for extravagant meals; the Library where the Dowager Countess delivered so many of her zingers; and then upstairs to the first floor Gallery where the lifeless body of the Turkish diplomat was hustled out of Lady Mary’s bedroom in the dead of night. At the end of the route I tried to summon a little of Lady Mary’s grace as I descended the grand oak staircase to the Saloon. Unfortunately photography isn’t allowed but a few photos are posted on the Highclere Castle web site. Details on the Spring Opening 2017 are also now available.

Highclere Castle Entrance

Wyvern (Mythical Winged Dragon) Boot Scraper

Before leaving the castle, I toured the Egyptian Exhibition in the cellar. George Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, partnered with archeologist Howard Carter to discover the tomb of King Tutankhamun. The exhibit at Highclere Castle features some of the relics they unearthed as well as replicas of the boy pharaoh’s coffin and death mask (now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo).

Egyptian Exhibit at the British Museum, London

The thousand acre parkland of the Highclere estate was designed by famous landscape gardener, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Decorative architectural structures called follies are scattered about the grounds, including Heaven’s Gate on a hilltop and Jackdaws Castle overlooking the East Lawns. The only thing missing from the pastoral scene was Lord Grantham walking his faithful dog, Isis, beneath the 200-year old cedars.

Highclere Castle Parkland

Wild Flower Meadow

Jackdaws Castle Folly

Heaven's Gate Folly

Before returning to our motor coach for the journey back to London we had time to wander through the Monk’s Garden where a row of lavender bloomed along the garden’s West Wall.

West Wall of the Monk's Garden

Yew Arches

The Walled Garden

It was a wonderful day with an itinerary to please any Downton Abbey fan. For more information on this Downton Abbey Filming Locations tour, visit the International Friends web site.

There are also rumours circulating of a possible Downton Abbey movie. Now wouldn’t that be grand?

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