Where have I been? I just read last night that Shirley MacLaine is joining Downton Abbey! MacLaine will join the cast as Martha Levinson, the American Mother of Lady Cora Grantham played by Elizabeth McGovern. I think that we are going to see many more fireworks and classic lines from Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess when she comes up against Martha Levinson. What do you think? I am excited and I think that she will be a wonderful addition to the already stellar cast!
As an Anglophile I have visited many castles in England but I have not had the pleasure of visiting Highclere Castle the "home" of the Granthams. I have been as intrigued by the castle as much as the show so I thought I would learn a bit more about it and frankly the history is as fascinating as the actual show.
The Carnarvon's, yes that Carnarvon, as in the Earl of Carnarvon who side by side with Howard Carter discovered King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922, have lived at Highclere since 1679.
Highclere Castle, as we see it today was largely rebuilt from a square, classical mansion in 1839-1842 for the third Earl. It was designed and built by Sir Charles Barry, after he had finished building the Houses of Parliament in London. The castle is in the Jacobethan style and also has a park built on a design of the famous Lancelot "Capability" Brown, considered by many to be "England's Greatest Gardener."
In 1989 the doors were opened to the public for the first time, by the current Earl's father, the 7th Earl of Carnarvon who decided that Highclere needed to pay its own way. In addition the the parkland, and the Castle itself, over 300 antiquities brought from Egypt by his grandfather, which had lain undisturbed in a hidden store cupboard for 60 years, are on display.
The castle and gardens, as well as, the Egyptian exhibits are open to the public from roughly April thru September, for tickets and more information visit this link. As the castle has become so popular because of Downton Abbey it is recommended to have reservations or to purchase your tickets in advance, especially during holidays and Summer vacation.
If you are looking for more of an upscale adventure you may want to book the private tour. The cost is 7900 Euro, yes you read that correctly, about $12,000.00, for a private day tour of Highclere Castle. The cost does include tea with the eighth Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, a tour of the state rooms, lunch in the dining room and a tour of the grounds. If you do book this tour, do come back and write a blog post or at least leave a comment so that we can hear all about the behind the scenes private tour, and of course catch up on some gossip about the current Earl and Countess (said with tongue in cheek).
In the meantime, enjoy the series and have a great week!