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Ever wondered what it’s like to spend an evening at Highclere Castle? Get the inside scoop on my visit to a Champagne, Canapés, Carols and House Tours evening at The Real Downton Abbey last year!
I’ve visited Highclere Castle before, but I’ve never attended a function there. My husband and I were very excited to be able to buy tickets to a Champagne and Canapés Reception to benefit the RAF100 Appeal,
An Evening at Highclere Castle
Lady Carnarvon very accurately described the weather as ‘typically British’ the evening we visited. Guests could be dropped off at the door, but I was nervous about going in on my own, so chose to walk with my husband. It was a great photo opportunity, so it was worth getting a little damp.
After our coats were taken, we walked through the entryway into The Saloon, instantly recognisable from the Downton Abbey television series. We were offered a glass of champagne as we walked through the grand archway. The ladies of the Military Wives Choir were singing carols on the iconic Highclere Castle staircase and the hall buzzed with conversation and laughter.
The first thing the caught our eyes was the absolutely magnificent Christmas tree. It was so wide I can’t imagine how it fit through the door. The whole tree was covered in beautiful lights and decorations.
Champagne and Canapés at An Evening at Highclere
It was such a pleasure to walk around this historic property at our leisure as we sipped champagne. Our glasses were kept filled and we were served delicious canapés all evening long. There were smoked salmon pinwheels, vegetable spring rolls, tiny pieces of slow cooked pork belly, chicken skewers, paté topped blinis, and my favourite, ‘fish and chips’ – a piece of chunky chip (French fry) dipped in tartare sauce and topped with a tiny chunk of fried fish. It was all held together with a cocktail stick. I think this may be my favourite canapé ever!
Sadly, there was a sign saying “No photographs in the castle”. Although there was an official photographer, none of the photos he took were being offered for sale. Later I found out why, when Lady Carnarvon launched her beautiful book Christmas at Highclere. Like one of Lady Carnarvon’s previous books, Entertaining at Highclere, Christmas at Highclere is full of beautiful photographs, stories about life at Highclere throughout the years, and some very delicious recipes. Either book would make a very welcome gift for anyone who loves social history, food, gorgeous coffee table books, or is a fan of Downton Abbey. Some of the photographs in the book were taken on the night my husband and I were at Highclere.
In fact, the lovely Barb of French Ethereal alerted me to the fact that our photograph was on page 144 (bottom left with Lord Carnarvon). Of course, I immediately bought the book!
Breaking the Rules
However, back on an evening at Highclere, I had to content myself with this very sneaky photograph. I look a little tense as I hate breaking the rules, but I felt I needed at least one photograph of me inside Highclere to be able to write a blog post! In my defence, this particular alcove was quite hidden and we were not the only ones taking a very quick photograph.
History Everywhere You Turn
During an evening at Highclere, I discovered history at every turn. The British North America Act, which established Canada as a self-governing federation in 1867, was signed at Highclere Castle. As a Canadian, this gives Highclere a special place in my heart!
Highclere became a hospital during World War 1 with Lady Almina, the Countess of Carnarvon herself, acting as a nurse. Sadly Highclere’s location, and the hills on the property, mean that eight Allied Planes came down there during World War Two. You can read more about The Highclere Plane Search Team on Lady Carnarvon’s blog.
There was also the not to be missed Egyptian Exhibition, which brings to life the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter’s discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun.
And of course, the State Rooms and Bedrooms. My favourite rooms are the dining room, overlooked by one of Van Dyke’s portraits of King Charles I and the stunning library, full of antique books and furniture. It has been the location for so many scenes in Downton Abbey. Some of the bedrooms upstairs were also open to look at, along with information about the locations they provide for the fictional story of Downton Abbey.
An Evening at Highclere – What An Amazing Experience!
As the evening drew to a close, there were more carols in The Saloon. Our glasses were topped up with champagne one last time and we were offered tiny cookies and miniature mince pies. As we drove away we reflected on not just how much we had enjoyed the evening, but how much we had learned!
Our evening at Highclere Castle was an unforgettable experience and I hope to visit this iconic castle again soon.
Updated: Highclere Castle is currently closed in line with government Coronavirus guidelines. Keep an eye on the Highclere website and Lady Carnarvon’s wonderful blog for more details of future opening hours and events. In the meantime, you can take a virtual tour of Highclere, with narration from “Carson the Butler” (Jim Carter) by using the Highclere Castle App.
Highclere Castle – The Real Downton Abbey – a post from my first visit
My husband and I attended this function as paying guests. This is not a sponsored post.