Um, ahum, ahem, ha, ha-ha, I mean, isn’t it lovely?
No photography is allowed inside the castle, presenting a bit of a challenge to my usual posting style. Here we are walking up from the (free) carpark to the house entrance. We visited on a day filled with rain and grey skies, giving the exterior of the house a bit of an oppressive atmosphere and cutting short our walk of the extensive gardens.
Inside, visitors can walk the house on self-guided tours using either the free handouts or the for-sale guidebook (which is beautifully photographed). Docents are available throughout the house for questions, and some rooms have information placards noting which characters from Downton Abbey have used which room.
I visited with my three children on a weekday while husband was at work — it is summer vacation, finally! This might sound like a recipe for disaster, but we’ve got a routine down. I prep them with information about whatever we are going to see before we go, giving them some ideas about things to look for when we get there; I time the visit to when they are feeling fresh but not tired out; I make sure they eat and drink; build in some chances to blow off steam; and I bribe the heck out of them with promises of a visit to the inevitable gift shop. Tip for Highclere: how many wyverns can you find in the house?
Highclere was actually great for the kids — the interiors are beautiful and eye-catching in a way that appealed to them and — best of all — the Egyptian exhibit in the basement had some interactive elements and a very cool artifacts from the fifth Earl’s explorations in Egypt with Howard Carter. (Let’s call him an Egyptologist, not a tomb robber. Benefits of an earldom.) Reading the story of the Mummy’s Curse and the Earl’s death in the dark basement of the Castle, surrounded by statuary and gloom, was especially fun.
Walking around the grounds after our tour of the house, we watched sheep being herded by dogs and a car. Throughout our walk, we heard a constant din of ‘mwaaaaa-aa-aaaaa-aa–aaaaaaa bwaaa-maaaa-aaaaaa-aaaaa-aaaa”. It was kind of hilarious.
Highclere is only open to the public during limited seasons, and can get pretty crowded. There’s a lot to see — even aside from the Downton Abbey connection. The house is a beautifully preserved window into a changing era in English aristocracy. And there are charming family portraits all over the house, which humanizes some of the spaces which might otherwise feel like a museum.
We booked tickets online several weeks in advance. Tickets to the house are timed for either the morning or the afternoon, giving you a three hour window to explore the public areas of the house. The Egyptian exhibit and the Gardens are available all day, and the tea room serves a nice cuppa and cake, which you can eat seated outside or under cover. And that inevitable gift shop has some inexpensive items perfect for satisfying children who have behaved all day and want their just reward.
You know what, here’s a good article about visiting Highclere, just read this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/8812939/Highclere-Castle-the-real-Downton-Abbey.html
As for me: History, blah blah, sure, but: SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!