Highclere Castle: my visit to the real “Downton Abbey”

I never thought I would write this post on this blog one day. I never thought there would be a Downton Abbey movie either. And since the movie will be showing in French cinema as of today, I couldn’t resist telling you about my visit to Highclere Castle, the real « Downton Abbey » back in 2012. 

The series was a huge hit worldwide and in 2012, they were still filming so you can imagine that Highclere estate was beginning to attract a lot of attention, becoming as famous as the Grantham family. 

At the time, I was driving back from holidays in Scotland. It was the end of August and I decided to visit the estate on my way to Paris. I arrived at Highclere in late afternoon and as you can see on the photos, the weather was a bit capricious. 

I started visiting the castle first and what a beautiful visit it was! Unfortunately, photos inside the castle were forbidden at the time so I can only rely on memories (and the Downton series)! 

I love England very much. I’ve lived three years in the UK and I used to spend any little bit of free time I had visiting national parks and beautiful estates. But visiting Highclere was a particular experience. Because when you walk the path to the castle, you feel like you are home, like you already know the place. You remember scenes being filmed here and there, and you almost expect Lord Grantham walking past you with his beloved labrador. The estate is home to the Earls of Carnarvon since the XVIIth century and Julian Fellowes was inspired by the family’s history. In her book, The World of Downton Abbey, Jessica Fellowes writes that production designer Donal Woods and Gareth Neame (managing director of Carnival Films) looked at around 30 houses before choosing Highclere (which was Julian Fellowes’ first choice). She writes that « the rooms were all wonderfully equipped to tell the story of a family with an ancient earldom because that is exactly what they were already doing in every portrait, every book and every piece of furniture. »

As in the TV series, you enter the house trough those impressive doors and almost immediately find yourself in the famous library, then you walk into other rooms you start to recognize, the dining room… And when you walk into the most striking and most anticipated room in the castle, you can only hold your breath. Standing in the middle of the « fireplace room » as I call it, where Matthew and Lady Mary danced. And let’s not talk about those famous wooden grand stairs! I can tell you it was not a bad day!  What is very enjoyable with Highclere Castle is that, as grand as it is, you still feel it is a cosy place to live in. 

I loved finding myself in this wonderful setting, bringing back memories from scenes that I enjoyed. I wish I stayed a little longer but since it was quite late already, I hat to leave the castle and head to the gorgeous park. Because the gardens at Highclere are as essential as the castle itself. The landscape is enhanced by so many sumptuous cedar trees, Highclere would not be the same without them. I would strongly advise visitors to take a long tour around the estate. I was lucky to find nice spots where I could see the beautiful architecture from an interesting perspective. There were a few rain showers that afternoon and thus, the landscape was even more impressive with the sun beaming through the clouds. 

A true magical moment.

I only had a few minutes left to buy souvenirs and leave this place relishing in the fact that I could watch the TV series over and over again and be transported to this place out of time again.

For my French readers, here are 19 reasons why you should watch the movie.

Downton Abbey display at WH Smith in Paris

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