I woke up Wednesday morning in England with, as Jane Austen might say, “some perturbation.” Because at long last, I had arrived at the day I’d imagined and schemed for ever since I’d watched the first episode of Downton Abbey. I was finally going to Highclere Castle, the real-life house that stars as the formidable Downton mansion in the show! And what a day it was. Even as I walked through the house and its grounds, it felt surreal. I was walking in the footsteps of the Crawley family and their servants! Lord Grantham, Lady Mary, Mr. Carson, the Dowager Countess, Anna Bates, Tom Branson… they had all been here! It may sound silly to someone who hasn’t watched the show or who hasn’t ever connected strongly to a fictional story, but it was truly a gift for me to feel so close to these characters and their story for a day. Downton Abbey will always have a special place in my heart, and this visit to its central filming location was a dream come true that I’ll never forget. This castle is where the story came to life for the people making the show, and seeing it made that story so much more tangible for this forever fan!

It's hard to describe what a statement it makes when it first comes into view. Everything about it conveys grandeur, pride, wealth, magnificence, and splendor.

 The surrounding view was impressive too. See that stone archway off in the distance? Anyone remember a scene where it came into the show?

 Disappearing inside! Photography is prohibited in there, but I was relieved in a way so that I could just focus on enjoying everything. Here are the rooms/areas we saw that Downton fans would recognize:

~The Great Hall, where every grand entrance occurs, including Matthew and Mrs. Crawley's first arrival at Downton. It's also where the family celebrates Christmas in multiple seasons and where Mary and Matthew dance together (probably against their better judgment) after Lavinia Swire has come down with Spanish flu.
~The library, where the family often has tea and many important conversations take place, including Mary's proposal from the ever patient and pursuing Henry Talbot.
~The drawing room, where the family retires after dinner for chat, cards, and drinks. It's there that Sybil announces her engagement to Tom Branson and uproar ensues. 
~The dining room! Oh, the drama that happens when the family sits down to an elegant dinner, arranged and prepared with such precision by Mr. Carson, the footmen, Mrs. Patmore, and Daisy.
~Lady Grantham's bedroom, where many important conversations between our Lord and Lady of the manor occur.
~The grand staircase. Yes, we got to walk down it! The family is constantly going up and down these stairs, but many important moments take place on them as well. Our very first look at Lord Grantham is of him walking down this majestic staircase surveying his kingdom. And of course, Lady Mary famously walks down these stairs looking exquisite in her bridal white for her wedding to Matthew. She pauses midway and smiles at her father and Carson, quipping, "Will I do, Carson?" 

 So peaceful and countrified

 See the archway again?

 Those three sets of French doors open out from the library

 I had my eyes peeled for this spot as soon as we arrived. Anyone remember any of the key Downton moments that took place here? It's now affectionately known among fans, creators, and actors alike as "Matthew's bench." Perhaps my favorite scene at this spot is when Matthew and Mary exchange a questioning look, Matthew sits next to her on the bench, and they have a short little conversation which ends with Matthew saying coyly, "If you really like an argument, we should see more of each other." 

 Just pretending I'm Lady Mary for a second... :)

 It's under these hanging branches that the family enjoys a few cocktails on the lawn in Season 6. The roaring '20s have definitely arrived!

 Anyone remember this structure? Think of Season 2 when Edith befriends an officer with a burned face and a surprising claim...

 Just couldn't stop taking pictures from every angle! 

 I immediately recognized this angle. When that field is in bloom with summer flowers, it sure makes a lovely shot for the screen. 

 A lesser known fact is that a 1980s version of The Secret Garden was also filmed at Highclere. A very young Colin Firth stars as the adult Colin Craven. 

 I recognized this view quickly too! This angle is often used in the show. 

Dream come true!

Thank you, Highclere Castle, for bringing my favorite world and characters to brilliant life. It was a joy to walk your hallowed halls for a day. 

We’re taking a break from the England posts for a DC update. I’ve been living here about two months now, and I think somewhat to my own surprise, I’ve been enjoying it immensely. This is largely due to the people I’m with every day (virtual hug to my fellow interns!), but even so, I’ve felt many positive effects of doing something completely new and different after living in the same state for the majority of my life. So, here are a few things that I figured most of you might be interested in reading about or would like to be updated on. 

Reminder on What I’m Doing
I’m currently interning with the Family Research Council and am specifically assigned to the media department. What this entails looks different from day to day. So far, I’ve helped check in news crews (yes, like TV reporters!) for a big event we put on, researched statistics, transcribed audio material, and more. The variety has definitely been a good thing for me! But as I briefly mentioned, the best part has been the people I’m with. We all work together and many of us live together, so how fortunate that we all seem to like each other fairly well :) We are all very different and come from many backgrounds and experiences, and it’s been so beneficial for me to have each of them in my life right now. I’ve learned lots from all of them thus far and am very thankful. My new church has also been a Godsend, which is a huge relief. I’ve been reminded how nerve-wracking it is for me to walk into a church where I may not know a soul, so it’s been refreshing to be in a gospel-centered place with kind and welcoming people.
The group! Still were getting used to each other at this point...
And now sometimes we just so happen to match

What I Love About DC 

The History 
It’s well-known that as the nation’s capital, DC is chock-full of history, and that’s been this history nerd’s dream. There’s something pretty refreshing to me about walking the monuments and reflecting on so many significant milestones in our history. Times are scary right now, but God’s faithfulness is evident when I think about all we’ve come through so far.

The People 
The variety of people in this city is fascinating. This is one area where DC contrasts quite starkly with my hometown of Birmingham. DC is a pretty transient city – people move in and out all the time, so the population is constantly shifting and the current residents have likely not been here more than a few years at most. Birmingham residents are often originally from there, grew up there, and will live there for the rest of their lives. Though I love Birmingham’s relaxed pace and family-friendly atmosphere, it’s been exciting to interact with such a diverse crowd in the two months I’ve been here. Among the other interns, there are two from the DC area, one from Florida, one from Chicago, one from Ohio, and one from Philadelphia. I’ve met people from California to Texas and everywhere in between. I’ve even had the chance to have a nice chat with a newspaper reporter from Norway. Talk about cool. 

Y’all. Fall is a REAL THING here. Not like four or so days of below-80-degree-weather and briefly red leaves before they turn ugly brown. Oh, no. DC SHOWS UP for fall. It’s a legit AUTUMN and I cannot get over it. It’s been in the sixties for the past two weeks, the trees are brilliant oranges and reds and yellows, and the leaves are falling in glorious, crunchy little piles. Can it stay?

My calves should be in killer shape by now, just saying. Walking and public transportation are the more popular modes of transport than cars, and I’ve honestly enjoyed it. I walk to and from work, walk to church, walk to the convenient store, walk to the cute local bookshop, and walk just about everywhere else. It’s definitely been different, but I’m glad for the exercise and have really savored the many opportunities to breathe the fresh air and listen to a good podcast or audiobook. 

What I Don’t Love About DC 

Translation: there is none. Anywhere. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. But it’s a real pain to try to park anywhere in the city, as a friend and I discovered recently. The signs with the rules can be highly confusing, plus, traffic is terrifying. Newcomers and tourists, beware. 

Grocery shopping 
That said, the times that I really wish I did have a car here are the times that I go to the grocery store. A ten-minute walk to the store isn’t that far, but it certainly feels a LOT farther when you’re walking back and feel like your arms are being pulled from their sockets by the heavy bags. I’m still getting the hang of figuring out when to get what so I don’t have to buy the heavy stuff all at once. It’s tricky, but I’m working on it. 

The Metro 
As vital as the metro is to this city, I admit that I’m not a huge fan of it. The utter crush of humanity on it at certain hours of the day can be a little frightening, and I’d generally just prefer to be above ground where there’s breeze, air conditioning, personal space, and sunlight. 

The Scarcity of Chick-fil-A 
Sigh. I write this having not eaten Chick-fil-A in two months and it’s breaking my heart. They are here, but they’re all too far away from my normal routes to make stopping in regularly possible. Chipotle may be on every other street, but that hardly makes up for the lack of the hallowed fast food called Chick-fil-A. I’m scheming on how to get it soon though, and I already know where my first stop will be when I go home for Christmas. 

That’s all for now! If you have any must-sees from DC that I should hit soon, please let me know! Much love to Birmingham from up here :)

Oh, Oxford, where on earth to begin? Home to gorgeous architecture, outstanding higher education, stunning libraries, the original Magna Carta, and books that shaped the 20th century, this city stole my heart through and through. I sincerely hope to go back for more than a day because there is so much to see. Beautiful buildings line every street in the heart of the town and history oozes from every corner. My primary reasons for wanting to see Oxford were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s history there, but I quickly appreciated so much more about it. What beauty, what elegance, what historical richness, and what a dream all around! The “city of dreaming spires” nickname befits it perfectly. 

During our day-long Oxford adventure, we toured several colleges within the University, found the best views of the city, toured the home of C.S. Lewis, and ate at the Eagle and Child pub to finish the day. Not surprisingly, this was the first day during the trip that my camera died. There was just SO MUCH!! But fortunately, I’d gotten a lot of great shots already and still had my phone. Hope you enjoy! 

Downtown Oxford

The "Bridge of Sighs" that runs between two parts of Hertford College.

University College

An 800-year-old wall in the garden of University College. Just saying... that's about 600 years older than the whole country of the United States.

Any Harry Potter fans recognize this? Think Goblet of Fire...

Remember a moment when Draco Malfoy sits up in a big tree? Well that's the tree out there.

"Why so tense, Potter? My father and I have a bet, you see. I don't think you'll last ten minutes in this tournament. He disagrees: he doesn't think you'll last five!"

The Kilns, home of C.S. Lewis for more than 30 years. You'd never know anything was special about it if you weren't told. It's in such a lovely, quaint, quiet, residential area. Such a charming escape from the bustle of downtown Oxford. Students at the university now live there regularly while completing their studies. Our tour guide was a lovely girl from New Zealand who had just finished her dissertation at Oxford!

 Lewis's study, where The Chronicles of Narnia were written


Sitting in his armchair behind the desk :)

 Loved this tribute

 Lewis's bedroom

An attic recreated to look like a play space that Lewis and his brother set up in their childhood home. Can you spy Narnia?

 Piano that belonged to Joy, Lewis's wife

 The original picture that hung outside the Eagle and Child pub

Lewis and Joy's marriage license

 The living area

Had to have Aslan around somewhere, right?

So quaint and picturesque

Back in central Oxford at a spot said to have inspired Lewis in his writing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Ornate door, a faun, and a lamp-post in the distance... looks like Narnia to me!

 St. Mary's Church

 Radcliffe Camera, a university library that's only open to students. Couldn't stop staring at this building!

 View from the top of St. Mary's Church! The views went on and on and I took LOTS of pictures of them, so there's your warning. This view of Radcliffe Camera was one of my favorites though.

 I love the view of those green hills beyond

 City of dreaming spires, indeed

The Eagle and Child pub, where Lewis and Tolkien and their other literary minded friends ("Inklings") would have a weekly drink and chat about literature, religion, and the books they were writing. Oh to have been an eavesdropper in those days!

 The famous Rabbit Room, where the Inklings would meet!

 Where they'd sit!
 What kind of talk must have been overheard at this table all those years ago?

You have my heart, Oxford. I'm coming back for you one day.