Earlier in the year Edward and I travelled to London to spend some time away celebrating my birthday. London, after all is my favourite city so it was the perfect fit! I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he had actually booked a visit to Highclere Castle in Hampshire.
Highclere Castle is a 5000 acre estate home to the actual 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. You may know it as the backdrop for the historical period drama featuring the Crawley family – Downton Abbey; a series I am ever grateful for discovering as it really peaked my interest in the history of not only Highclere but country estates as a whole.
Only a short 1.5 hour trip from Central London, Eddy and I decided to rent a car to make the scenic drive rather than try to figure out the train schedule. After navigating through very narrow, winding roads we were very glad to finally arrive at our destination. A long tree-lined driveway welcomed us and led us to the picturesque castle.
We had the opportunity to wander around the grounds and gardens before it was time to head in for our tour of the Castle itself. As we visited in February, it was quite chilly so I think a revisit during the summer would be ideal to fully explore the beautiful lakes, meadows and forests that make up the Highclere grounds. The estate is actually larger than New York’s Central Park so be prepared for some walking!
We entered through the magnificent wooden front doors and were met by the real Earl and Countess of Carnarvon which was a surprising treat that we weren’t expecting. They brought us through to the Saloon, the heart of the castle. Decorated in a gothic style with soaring 100ft ceilings, this room has to be seen to be believed .
We happily wandered around the state rooms that were very familiar to me from Downton Abbey and were treated to the history of each room. My favourite state room would have to be the Drawing room where beautiful green French silk adorn the walls. Designed by Almina the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, I adore the rococo revival style she chose. Everything from the furniture, chandelier and curtains to the ceiling mouldings are all just so lovely and chic. With a total of 300 rooms, 61 of those being bedrooms, there is quite a lot to see!
We had the great honour of using the Dining room to enjoy our High Tea which is usually only used by family and friends of the Earl and Countess. The walls of the Dining room are adorned with portraits of family members and the highlight is that of Charles I on horseback painted in 1635 by Van Dyck. We were also gifted a lovely collection of love poems chosen by the Countess herself as Valentines Day was fast approaching – a very nice touch indeed.
After a very filling high tea, we retired to the Library where there are over 5650 books, the earliest dating to the 16th century! Eddy and I had the surreal experience of being able to pose in front of the fireplace for a photo just like the Earl and Countess did in this impressive room. Secret doors disguised as bookshelves not only add to the intrigue of the Castle but also in the past hid secret Egyptian artefacts…
The Carnarvon name may sound familiar to those interested in Egyptian history. Yes this is the family whose 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb alongside Howard Carter in 1922.
There is actually an interesting Egyptian exhibition in the cellar of the castle which was originally the staff dining room featuring some of Tutankhamen’s artefacts. It was in Highclere that many of these antiquities were hidden for years and not rediscovered until 1987.
We successfully navigated back to Central London with no damage to the car, phew! We even had to tackle the Park Lane roundabout, if you’ve ever driven through this you will understand the stress we felt trying to get through. We did about 5 loops through it before we managed to get onto the right street – it all added to the adventure though.
So thank you Eddy for my wonderful Birthday surprise, I loved it. The whole day was so enjoyable and the drive to and from the castle just added to the whole amazing experience. It was a nice way to escape the hustle and bustle of Central London. Now that we have ticked Highclere off our list, I think a visit to Althorp Estate the home of Earl Spencer is in order!
Highclere is not open year round (we were extremely fortunate to visit during winter) so make sure you check the website to pre-book your tickets if you would like to make a visit yourself.