Have you been following the saga of the Crawley family in the PBS series, "Downton Abbey"? If so, then you're probably enthralled by the majestic rooms, buildings and grounds of the Downton Abbey estate. After all, who wouldn't want to have that library as part of their home? Downtown Abbey, the series, is filmed at an actual British estate called Highclere Castle, the home of the Earl of Carnavon and his family, though they bear little resemblance to the fictional Crawleys.
History of Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey
Highclere castle (pronounced High-Clear), the country seat of the Earl of Carnavon, is located in Hampshire, England, about 100 miles west of the center of London. The 1,000-acre estate has been the home of the Earl of Carnavon/Herbert family since 1679. Before that, the site was home to the medieval Palace of the Bishops of Winchester, but the land was forfeited to the crown after King Henry VIII split from the Roman Catholic church in 1529. (In fact, most historical British estates were once church property.)
In addition to the main house, which has 50 bedrooms, the property is home to several "follies," whimsical structures made to accept the grounds and gardens.
Some of the story lines in "Downton Abbey" follow the true history of Highclere. For example, Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnavon, transformed a portion of Highclere into a hospital during World War I.
Fun facts about Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle is a fascinating place, even without its Downtown Abbey connection. Below are just a few fun facts about the estate:
- The current manor house was designed in the 19th century by Sir Charles Barry, the same architect who designed London's Houses of Parliament Building. There is a notable resemblance.
- The 5th Earl of Carnavon was an amateur Egyptologist and accompanied the archeologist Howard Carter on the trip in 1922 where he discovered the tomb of the Egyptian King Tutankhamun. Many artifacts uncovered during this excavation were displayed at the castle for years until they were sold to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art to raise money for death taxes. A few remaining items are still on public display at the castle.
- The estate's 1,000 acres make it larger than New York City's Central Park.
- "Downton Abbey" isn't the only television or movie to be filmed at Highclere Castle. Scenes from Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut," the 2002 film "The Four Feathers," the TV series "Jeeves and Wooster" and a 1987 version of "The Secret Garden" were all filmed there.
Cruising to Downton Abbey
This summer, you can take a barge cruise to historic Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey. The Barge Connection is offering a six-night cruise aboard the eight-passenger deluxe barge, the "Magna Carta." You are transferred to and from London and sail leisurely down the Thames River. In addition to a stop at Highclere Castle, the cruise calls at Runnymede, where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215; Windsor, home to Windsor Castle, built by William the Conqueror and still used by the royal family; Cliveden, the palatial former house of the Astor family; and Oxford, home to Oxford University, before returning to London.
Highclere Castle isn't the only famous film site that you'll visit on the cruise. The itinerary includes a private tour of Dorney Court, a beautiful Tudor home on the banks of the Thames where "Elizabeth, the Other Boleyn Girl" and the Agatha Christie's series "Poirot" were filmed. There's also a visit to Hampton Court Palace, where King Henry VIII lived and a filming location for the Academy-Award-winning movie "A Man for All Seasons." For just a day, you can pretend that you're the lord or lady of one of these spectacular estates.
The cruise aboard the "Magna Carta" includes all meals and beverages. And, these aren't just any meals. The boat's master chef makes good use of local produce to create delicious meals that not only taste good, but help you learn more about this region of England. The cruise price also includes all entrance fees and there are bicycles on board, so you can explore a little on your own.
This blog was brought to you by The Barge Connection. Specializing in barge vacations since 1998. We offer a large selection of barge cruises throughout Europe.