by Faith Tinkey
There are millions who have heard this now famous quote, by the Dowager Countess from televisions most beloved period drama. Over 120 million people from over 220 countries have seen Downton Abbey and its drama from upstairs as well as downstairs. According to Forbes Media & Entertainment, it “is the most-viewed drama in PBS’s 45 years”. This is due to the all star cast that creates the enthralling world of Downton. A few of the actors in the show are film royalty and many have become household names due to the show, a few of them being Jim Carter, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery and the queen of British film herself Maggie Smith. The drama has inspired thousands to make the journey to the fictional village of Downton and of course the castle itself and that is exactly what I did.
As a self-proclaimed Downton addict, I was extremely thrilled to be going on this tour of the show I hold so dear. Our first stop was in the fictional village of Downton that was surprisingly nowhere near the castle it seemed to reside next to. The quaint village of Bampton provides many of the well-known landmarks of the show. To name a few the town contains the church, Mrs. Crawley’s home, the square, and the pub that Sybill and Branson stayed in when they wanted to run away together. The church that has seen weddings, funerals, and christenings is from the eleven hundreds making it over 900 years old. It has been beautifully preserved and when I walked in through the ancient wooden door I could see that it had held a service earlier on that cloudy Sunday morning. The square was much smaller than expected but contained the same amount of character and charm that the show portrayed it to have. Locals smiled as they passed, most likely happy to see only a few visitors on a Sunday, as they took their morning stroll wearing their wellies with their dogs trotting not far behind.
Up next on my tour was what I have been dreaming about visiting since I first heard the piano that plays the main theme of the show. My arms covered in goose bumps as the driver played the very same tune as we made our way up the green hill on the unforgettable gravel driveway. I was transported into the world of the 1900s instantly and the spires rising over the hill made it all the more real. Highclere Castle, as it is actually named, sits on the land that the Carnarvon family since approximately 1679 but other buildings there date back to the Iron Age. Charles Barry, the same man that rebuilt the Houses of Parliament, revamped Highclere for the 3rd Earl bringing the Elizabethan styled home into the Victorian Age.
So you gave us all of this history, but what is the castle or home really like? I’m glad you asked because once you walk in you immediately expect Carson to walk up and ask you to wait in the library. The foyer is grand but cozy and the rooms are old but beautiful. The feeling of seeing the living room with the high, crest embedded ceiling sent chills up my spine and walking down the grand staircase that so many had walked before felt surreal. The house felt lived in and comfortable not stuffy and rigid. The experience of the home brought about a sense of grandeur and softness all at the same time which made my suspicions come true. I could feel the drama that I have seen the house contain as well as the private history of the real family that has resided there for generations. The feeling of standing where some of your all time favorite characters in television have stood is a bizarre and eccentric experience but you revel in it all the same. For those wishing to travel to the fictional world of Downton Abbey and to see where Lord and Lady Grantham and their three daughters and household lived, it is well worth the time and effort. This is all due to the satisfying feeling of walking into that world and wishing the quote “what’s a ‘weekend’” would one day come true.