The history of Highclere Castle – the real Downton Abbey – is every bit as exciting as the much-loved television series and the movie. Not only that, but the real life characters who lived here at Highclere Castle were every bit as interesting.
This post was originally published in 2013 and has been recently updated (February 2023).
I was lucky enough to visit Highclere Castle back in 2018, and also to attend an evening reception there in 2019. Highclere Castle is located in the Berkshire countryside near Newbury, about half an hour from where I live. My husband and I are returning this February for the Valentine’s Day Champagne and Canapés Reception.
Highclere is understandably a very popular place to visit, so it’s essential to book in advance. You can find more information about visiting on the Highclere website.
The Real Downton Abbey
From the moment you arrive it’s apparent this is a very special place. There has been an estate here at Highclere since 749 AD. From medieval hall to Elizabethan mansion to Georgian house and finally Victorian castle, Highclere has evolved with the times. It has even served as a hospital for wounded soldiers in World War 1 and an American airbase and home for evacuees in World War 2.
Today Highclere is still a family home – the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon and their family live here part of the time, as well as in a house next door to the castle. Highclere can also be hired for private and corporate parties, team building events and weddings.
As for the people who lived here, of course the first one who springs to mind is the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who with Howard Carter was responsible for the discovery of Tutankamun’s tomb. He was also instrumental in establishing the British North America Act, which was signed here at the castle. However the ladies of Highclere were amazing characters as well.
The Countess of Carnarvon has crafted beautifully written biographies of two of her predecessors – the bestselling ‘Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey – The Lost Legacy of Highclere‘ and ‘Lady Catherine, The Earl and the Real Downton Abbey‘, both published by Hodder and Stoughton. If you want the real inside story on Highclere’s history, these books are for you!
Both Lady Almina and Lady Catherine were strong, interesting women who had fascinating lives. Using letters, diaries, visitor’s books and household accounts from the archives at Highclere, The Countess of Carnarvon transports the reader back to the thrilling and alluring world of the real Downton Abbey and its inhabitants.
Lady Carnarvon has also written a behind the scenes behind the scenes cooking and lifestyle book, At Home At Highclere . I highlighted the beautifully written and photographed book in my Top 5 Cookbooks of 2017.
Updated – In 2019, Lady Carnarvon published Christmas at Highclere, sharing traditions and recipes from the real Downton Abbey’s long history, followed by The Seasons at Highclere in 2021. Both books are full of wonderful photographs, recipes and lots of information about life at Highclere, and would make lovely gifts. I am looking forward to reading The Earl and The Pharaoh – From The Real Downton Abbey to the Discovery of Tutankhamen, published in late 2022.
Exploring Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle is beautiful inside and out, and unlike some stately homes I have visited, it is light, bright and cheerful as well. The library looks like an incredibly inviting place to curl up with a book – and you would have quite a selection to choose from!
My favourite room had to be the Drawing Room, originally decorated by Lady Almina, its walls lined with silk in a beautiful shade of green.
I also loved the Morning Room, a sitting room for the ladies of the house. It is bright, beautiful and very peaceful.
The tour of Highclere Castle also includes many of the bedrooms, some of were used regularly in the filming of Downton Abbey. Discreet signs point out where this is the case. While many people visit because of Downton Abbey, during the tour it is Highclere Castle that is definitely the star of the show.
Do take the time to visit the Egyptian Exhibition in the basement if you can, as well as the wonderful grounds and gardens.
There are also tea rooms with both indoor and outdoor seating.
A lovingly and beautifully maintained piece of British history, Highclere Castle is well worth a visit. It’s a great day out and an excellent way to really immerse yourself in the history of this part of the world, as well as a bit of the magic that is Downton Abbey.
Photographs which are copyright Highclere Castle are used with permission. My thanks to Highclere Castle for their kind permission.
This is not a sponsored post.
Please note any images marked © Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2014 have duplication rights for use by April J Harris. Please note the license is granted for this use only and may not be used for any other medium or sold on in any format without prior consent from © Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2014 as we retain the Copyright in accordance with the provision of copyright, design & patents Act 1988. Any unauthorized use of the images will be deemed as breach of Copyright and may incur court action and or will be charged at our current rate.
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