England: A Call at Downton Abbey

By Saturday, October 22, 2016 , , , ,

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. 

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