Thursday, September 13, 2012
Downton Abbey is back. Season three premieres in the UK on Sunday night, and the agonizing teaser of a trailer was released last week. The anticipation in London is contagious, and I am not immune. Unable to wait all the way until the 16th for another glimpse of it on screen, I took to the road last weekend and visited Downton Abbey in person.
The stately home—which is called Highclere Castle in real life—is located near Newbury in Buckinghamshire, about an hour and a half’s drive from London. VisitEngland invited me to tour Downton Abbey, and given the popularity of the place, we booked my ticket five months in advance. It was worth the wait.
With the much anticipated third season just a week away, the mood at Highclere Castle was one of pure excitement. The place was packed with people, everyone eager to get a glimpse of the setting of the show. Even the weather cooperated, with sunny skies and incredibly warm weather.
Upon arrival at the castle, I took a walk around the grounds. Some of the sights were familiar from the TV series, including several paths in front of the house and the folly in the garden.
Others, however, were new. There were several secret gardens, pastures full of white wooly sheep, and a beautiful meadow full of flowers going to seed at the end of the summer season. Nearby were some woods, two lawns, and a picnic area.
Inside Highclere Castle I witnessed a similar mix of the familiar and the novel. Places like the main hall, the staircase, the dining room, the library, and the bedrooms of Lady Grantham, Lady Edith, and Lady Sybil were all set up just as they were in Downton Abbey.
But other rooms in the house, including some spectacular sitting rooms with beautiful tapestries and gilded ceilings, were ones I had never seen before. It was a shame that they weren’t used in the show, as they were every bit as beautiful as the rooms that were.
Also new to me was the Egyptian exhibition in the basement. Before visiting Highclere Castle, I had no idea that the actual family that lives there—the Carnavon family—was involved in Howard Carter’s excavation of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt in the 1920′s.
As such, the Egyptian exhibition at Highclere Castle had an impressive array of antiquities on display. It was no British Museum, but for a private collection, it was quite a plunder room.
Back outside, I concluded my trip to the stately home with one last walk through the grounds. I kept expecting to see the actors strolling around in their period costumes, but in reality I think I saw one of the actual owners walking her dogs across the lawn. I’ll take that for a Downton Abbey celebrity sighting.
But to be honest, not seeing the actors from the show while visiting Downton Abbey might have made my anticipation of the new season even greater. If you don’t hear from me on Sunday night, you’ll know why.