Tour Highclere Castle, Home of Downton Abbey

It’s back! The fifth season of the wildly popular British period drama, Downton Abbey is once again showing on PBS. Of course the fifth season is now old hat to our British friends who get to view it a full season before we do here in the States.

Downton Abbey

 

A little confession: When Downton Abbey first started airing, I was a pretty faithful watcher, catching it as often as possible on PBS. Then all of a sudden in one measly season (I think it was season 3) characters started dropping like flies. It was the season where one of the main characters, Matthew Crawley, dies in car crash right after his wife, Lady Mary, gives birth. In that same season another main character died right after childbirth. Depressing!

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That did me in, I couldn’t watch as much anymore. I know it’s “just a TV show” but it made me sad because I know this kind of stuff does sometimes happen in real life, so I had to stop watching. Yes, I’m a wimp! In any case, I still love reading and hearing about Downton Abbey and if I ever make it across the pond, I’d absolutely love to tour Highclere Castle in person. Have you been?

Downton Abbey Highclere Castle

 

A little history about Highclere Castle before we go inside: Early records indicate Highclere was at one time a brick and freestone house. Later it was converted to a classical Georgian mansion then in 1838, the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon decided to transform Highclere into the castle we see today.  Amazingly, the structural work on the interior wasn’t completely finished until 1878! Next time you feel bad about how long a renovation in your home is taking, think about Highclere and feel better that it’s not taking 40 years!

I knew Highclere was big but WOW, you don’t realize how big it is until you start reading some of the stats! Highclere has 11 bedrooms on the first floor alone and 40-50 additional bedrooms on the upper floors! This house was obviously built with the idea of entertaining and having many guests staying overnight. Oh, to have a been a fly on the wall back in the day!

Downton Abbey Highclere Castle

 

The current Countess of Carnarvon, Lady Fiona, has been gradually restoring the bedrooms over the past five years. One of the wonderful things about Downton Abbey being filmed in Highclere Castle is it has brought in additional income so restorations are able to take place a little faster now.

In a video I found online at HGTV, Lady Fiona said the furniture in the castle is used by all the characters in the show and they are allowed to sit on the sofas and chairs, etc… She said it works out great for both the show and for them because they have been able to make some badly needed updates to the home and some of the furnishings from the money coming in from the series. As a result, with each passing season you may find the interiors of the Downton Abbey looking better and better!

Coutess of Carnarvon, Lady Fiona

Picture from Daily Mail dot com

 

Here’s a floor plan of Highclere Castle. It’s kind of difficult to read but hopefully it will give you a general idea of the layout of the main floor of the castle.

Floorplan of Highclere from Highclere website

Floorplan of Highclere from Highclere website

 

Here’s an even more detailed floor plan showing the location of the rooms as featured in the show, Downton Abbey.

Floorplan for Downton Abbey

Source: Daily Mail dot com

 

The only “rooms” not filmed inside the home are the staff’s quarters. Those are filmed on a set.

Downton Abbey Servant's Floor

 

One of the most dramatic and stunning rooms off the main hall of Highclere Castle is the Saloon. (It’s pronounced “salon” but spelled saloon.) Before we head into the saloon, I have to show you how they decorated the main staircase that’s just visible in the photo below.

Downton Abbey Highclere Castle, View of Saloon Through Arches

 

Beautiful! I was amazed to read how hands-on Lady Fiona is with the decorating. On her blog, there’s a photo of her standing atop her car cutting mistletoe from a tree to use in her decorating of Highclere. I love that she’s so real and is willing to share a photo like that on her blog.

Christmas Decorations at Highclere Castle

 

Back to the salon and it’s amazing gallery…isn’t this stunning?!

Saloon and Gallery in Downton Abbey Highclere Castle.jpeg

 

The gallery walls are decorated in ancient Belgian tapestries and the crest you see all around the gallery is that of the Carnarvon family.

Gallery Above the Saloon, Belgian Taperstries and Carnarvon Family Crests

 

Notice the upholstery on the chairs as we look down into the saloon. Okay, keeping that in mind…

Downton Abbey Saloon Highclere Castle

 

…take a look at this picture. You can see the chairs have been recovered. I’m not sure which is the current look. Anyone remember from the show that just aired?

Saloon in Highclere Castle, Downton Abbey

 

Here’s a close up of one of the chairs in the salon. Ummm, are they red now or green? Inquiring minds want to know!

Downton Abbey Highclere Castle 03

 

The music room in Highclere is amazing! Just look at those walls and all the elaborate, carved molding!

Downton Abbey Highclere Castle Music Room

 

The ceiling in the music room is so beautiful. I think I’d just lay down on the floor and stay there staring up for an hour or two. I wonder if the Earl and Countess ever pinch themselves and marvel they live in such beautiful and rare surroundings.

Downton Abbey Music Room Ceiling, Highclere Castle

 

The Smoking Room in Highclere is where the gentlemen would have retired after dinner in the Victorian days.

Smoking Room in Downton Abbey Highclere Castle

 

I pulled this view of it from a video online. I love how it looks in the evening by lamplight. Look how the bright orange walls turn so warm and rich in the evening.

Downton Abbey Highclere Castle 42

 

This is the Drawing Room at Highclere Castle and the green damask wallpaper is really pretty. Though beautiful in this photo, you don’t really appreciate it until you see this next photo.

Fiona,8th Countess of Carnarvon at Highclere Castle, 'My Haven'

 

Photos obviously do not do this home justice. This is a scene from the show, Downton Abbey where the Drawing Room has been turned into an infirmary during the first World War. It really shows the beauty of the green damask wallpaper. It looks as if it could actually be damask fabric on the walls.

Drawing Room in Highclere Castle Downton Abbey

 

I love this room, it feel so English Country with its rose-patterned, chintz slip-covers and ruffled skirts.

Morning Room Downton Abbey Highclere Castle

 

A lot of scenes are filmed in this room…the state dining room. If I counted correctly, it appears the table will seat 24 for dinner. Umm, wonder how they got electricity to the lamps in the center of the table. Can’t be candles with a fabric shade…unless they are inside some kind of votive.

Downton Abbey Highclere Castle State Dining Room in Stuart Revival Style

 

The library is one of my favorite rooms in Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey).

Library Highclere Castle as viewed from the North Library, designed by Thomas Allom

 

I pulled some of these pictures from a video at HGTV. The camera was almost always moving, so excuse some of the blurriness.

Library in Downton Abbey

 

Here’s a better photo of the library showing the current Earl of Carnarvon. Notice the beautiful rug. It’s new and replaces the previous rug (seen two photos up) that was very badly worn. I love the additional red it brings to this room and do like it better than the other rug. It’s another purchase/improvement they were able to make for Highclere due to the popularity of Downton Abbey. The upkeep on Highclere has to be staggering. I can’t even imagine! Hopefully Downton will be popular for many more seasons. I don’t see it stopping anytime soon, with over 10 million visitors tuning in for the first show of this 5th season.

The Library Highclere Castle Downton Abbey

 

This desk in the library is where you’ll often find the Earl of Grantham in the Downton Abbey show.

Downton Abbey Library Desk Highclere Castle

 

A few more views of the library from the video…

Downton Abbey Highclere Castle Library

 

Downton Abbey Library in Highclere Castle

 

Downton Abbey Highclere Castle 09

 

The ceiling is really beautiful in the library…so ornate!  Let’s tour some of the bedrooms!

Library in Downton Abbey Highclere Castle

 

I’m not sure whose bedroom this is in the show, but it’s beautiful! Anyone recognize it?

Downton Abbey Bedroom Highclere Castle.jpeg

 

In real life, this is the Mercia bedroom in Highclere Castle. It’s on the south side of the castle.

Mercia Bedroom in Highclere Castle Downton Abbey

 

This is the Queen Caroline bedroom named after the Queen Consort to George IV,  per the Highclere website.

Queen Caroline Bedroom in Highclere Castle

 

Highclere is truly an amazing place. Have you been there! If so, what was your favorite room or experience while touring it?

Downton Abbey Highclere Castle

 

I’ll leave you with this lovely picture of Highclere in the snow. You’ll find additional photos of Highclere Castle at their website where these pictures (except for those marked HGTV) were found: Highclere Castle ,

Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle in the Snow

 

Have you taken the quiz to see which Downton character you are most like? You’ll find it in this previous post: Downton Abbey Personality Quiz: Which Character Are You?

Pssst: I post almost daily to Instagram. Follow Between Naps on the Porch on Instagram here: Between Naps On The Porch.

Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle




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Comments

  1. Susan–did you happen to catch this D A spoof?!?
    Hysterically funny, you’ve got to watch!!!

    Catherine

  2. That is strange. One view shows the chairs green, and another view in the salon looks red. We made it across the pond but couldn’t get tickets to the castle as they were all sold out. We tried to get tickets 3 months before we left. It was very disappointing but we still enjoyed the trip. The UK is still on the pound and the conversion rate is terrible for the dollar. Bring plenty of money.

  3. I got Violet Dowager Countess of Grantham. I suspect it’s because my answers reflect that I’m retired. The Dowager would have said, “What’s retirement?” 🙂

  4. Mary from Virginia says:

    Fun post. You should start watching again and don’t feel too sad about the characters. They were killed off because they wanted to leave the show for bigger and better acting jobs. The castle is lovely and so interesting. I will check out Lady Fiona’s blog.

  5. I caught a special a couple of years ago about the current owners of Highclere.
    They seemed such genuine folks, and passionate about the care and feeding of such a place. I hope they live there a long time.

  6. love love love that show!!! I know what you mean about season 3 though, losing my two faves in one awful season was too much to bear!

    Thank you for the tour, I watched an ITV show where Lady Carnavon gave the tour of Highclere but this way I can see more up close!

    Cheers!

    xox

    • Thanks, Anne…glad someone else felt the same way about season 3. I wondered why they didn’t just replace the Matthew Crawley character since that actor didn’t renew.

  7. Forgot to mention another fun fact about Highclere – the 5th Earl of Carnorvon is the man who discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922. There’s an exhibit in the basement of the castle. And here’s another vote for you to start watching again!

    • How neat is that! I was wondering why they had the exhibit there…I saw something about that. Interesting! I may…I would have a lot of catching up to do.

  8. Funny, I stopped watching after the same season you did. I agree it was just too sad of a story line. I loved seeing the interior of the castle as much as watching the show. I hope someday to get to England to see it in person.

  9. Susan, I’ve not been to Highclere, but I did hear Lady Carnorvon speak last year at the Nashville Antique and Garden. I find the history, the story, and the culture of the time very fascinating. I’m a fan! ‘-)
    Thanks for sharing all this info on Highclere.

  10. Beverly Cook says:

    I stopped watching exactly the same time you did and for the very same reason. My husband calls me the queen of the wimps! LOL It just got so sad that I was no longer enjoying it.

    • lol Well, tell him you know someone else who qualifies for that title. 🙂 Yep, I agree. We get enough of sad stuff in real life without watching it during what should be our relaxing fun time.

  11. Risa Stacy says:

    The drawing room walls are covered with damask silk. It was purchased by a past lady of the castle who brought with her a generous infusion of money and taste!

    • Oh, so it is fabric. Wow, can you imagine what that cost. I wonder how they keep it from fading…you know how fabrics tend to naturally fade.

  12. Cyndi Raines says:

    Hi Susan, I agree season 3 was the pits and I too almost stopped watching, but haven’t yet. I enjoy the actors downstairs as much as the upstairs ones. The Salon / Gallery is SO beautiful – love the arches. How do they dust everything!? ha.

    • Oh, I do too…lots of crazy stuff happening on the lower level. 🙂 They must have some really tallllll ladders to get up there. I bet they only do it once or twice a year.

  13. Paula Anger says:

    Susan, had you heard that Highclere Castle will be opened to the public do overnight stays starting on Valentine’s Day? Prices are rather reasonable I am to understand. I have been dropping hints to my husband 😉

    • Really? With all those rooms, that makes great sense. Another way to bring in some income to keep it going…and to restore even more rooms.

  14. I am a big fan of the show and every morning when I open the drapes in my living room with its red sofas I like to pretend I am at Downton at least as one of the help!

  15. I too love this show, it can’t be rosy all the time……

    My favorite room is the library, not only because of all the books but because I love those red couches!!! And the new rug is perfect!! Thanks for the tour……

  16. Actually, I feel a lot better after reading this post…maybe I don’t need a therapist after all. I stopped watching Downton Abby after Mathew died. I just couldn’t take that one.

  17. I think I am in love with Mr Bates!!!

  18. Belladonna says:

    I watched only the first two seasons , then part of season three then I did a mosaics course same night ……. was hoping and hinting to Santa but he got me an antique mirror instead (so I forgive him) . I always watch and imaging how my grandmother and great grandmother’s day was as they were both “in service” in a big house . then my grandmother “did” for another lady for the next 10 years until she married.

  19. pam heine says:

    I’ve watched all the seasons. My favorites were season one and season 4. I wondered if the show would flounder after Matthew’s death, but they handled it very well last year, I thought. My husband has decided to watch it this year. Very hard to bring someone up to date on all the characters after not watching seasons 1-4. Ugh.

  20. I too was upset when they killed off Matthew Crawley especially on top of her having just given birth. I thought – oh gees this is way too much drama plus I was a newby to the show. I decided to give it a try the next season and was able to get over it. I’m not addicted to the show like some and could quit anytime but at least the opener for this season attracted my attention so I’ll see how it goes. The castle is amazing- it just blows my mind how large places like that are and the thought of outfitting all those rooms is daunting. I wonder if each bedroom has furnishings. I enjoyed the tour!

    • That would have been awful to see when you very first started watching the show, Liz. I was thinking the same thing…I bet a lot of those bedrooms are empty right now, although they may be getting furnished as we speak. Another reader said they are going to open it up after Valentine’s Day and allow folks to spend the night there. What a grand Bed and Breakfast Highclere would be!

  21. Susan, you may indeed wish to put *SPOILER ALERT* ahead of your first paragraph – I would be highly upset to have learned that if I were a new fan of DA!

    You need to continue watching, you are missing out on great viewing! You can catch up on Netflix and Amazon Instant Videos. You will be glad you did.

    I think what makes DA so popular surely isn’t all the DRAMA – it is the taste of a more refined taste and era. I think many of us yearn for a more polite society. I am certainly one of them and have always felt out of place in these rather crass modern days.

    I posted about DA a little the other night – I bought a nice coffee table book from that tea house. I think I will sit and sip tea and read it today, I haven’t really spent much time with it since I purchased it in early October, and today with all our pretty snow and no obligations would be a good day to do just that. Thanks for the inspiration – I love how well you notice details. Half of them I wouldn’t have ever noticed. : = )

    • Michele, don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. All that happened two years ago in season three. They are on season five now. That sounds like a great way to spend a cold winter day!

  22. I must be the only person in Britain who doesn’t watch DA. I agree with you Susan when a show gets too depressing it makes you stop following it. I am/was a great Dallas fan, I followed it all through the 1980’s, but the new revamped series was just far too violent and too much bed hopping. Not the Dallas I loved way way back. I wonder if that is why they have stopped making it? Too violent etc. We visited South Fork many years ago. I suppose I managed to watch the two series they made lately, but it certainly wasn’t the same show from the 1980’s. Oh well I still have the theme for my mobile ring tone.

    • I did the same thing with Desperate Housewives. When it first came out, the writing was funny and really clever. After a few seasons, it just kept getting darker and darker…and violent. I had to quit watching it…it wasn’t funny anymore. I guess they were running out of story lines or maybe the ratings were slipping, so instead of stepping up their writing, they went for twisted and violent instead. I miss the old shows, too Ann.

  23. Watching this on “Netflix” certainly had its advantages (a much longer foot rub…for one…) franki

    • 🙂

    • I CANT FIND IT ON NETFLIX -I DID A SEARCH AND ONLY GOT TITLES RELAYED TO D.A.– HOW DID U DO IT ?

      • Mary, I just looked. You can’t stream it, you have to have their DVD plan. I currently subscribe to the DVD plan but sometimes I unsubscribe that part and go back to streaming. You may want to temporarily sign up for the DVD plan and discontinue it once you’ve seen all the DA shows. It looks like they have all 6 seasons available…see screen capture below:
        Downton Abbey on Netflix

      • Mary….exactly correct….we had DVD from Netflix for the earlier seasons. At least PBS doesn’t have 15 minute advertisements every 15 minutes!! 🙂 fmp

  24. pam ~ crumpety cottage says:

    Susan, I’ve never seen this show which is surprising, considering I watch British t.v. almost exclusively. For some reason it never appealed to me. However, I did see a special with the current Earl and Lady and they were charming.

    There is a series called, Great Estates of Scotland that showcases houses like this (though not as large or grand) and it is great. I hope you can catch it some time. The first episode was about Inverary Castle and the 13th Duke of Argyll. He and his wife were adorable and so down to earth. He works so HARD! You’d imagine he lays about all day smoking cigars and barking orders, but instead he runs from one end of the castle grounds to the other doing everything from hosting tours to cutting fallen trees. He was a character. ( And he looked great in his kilt. 😉 )You can tell he feels like he’s got a great responsibility to pass the castle on to the next generation and that he is it’s caretaker. No snooty airs about him. I hope you can catch it on PBS some time. I think you’d really enjoy it. (nobody dies) 😀

  25. Loved the pictures. I just wanted to mention that Netflix has a documentary that is really interesting about Highclere Castle. It’s the Secrets of Highclere Castle.

  26. Susan, I agree it was sad when Matthew died (and incidentally, I was selected as him in your quiz!). However, that is indeed how life goes. The next season was really good, and the last show of last season was so sweet! You always have ups and downs in life, that’s just real, not just TV. To see how Mary has coped and grown, and so many other characters (Thomas for one) have evolved, it really interesting and entertaining! You are missing out on a GREAT show!

    • Maybe I should just pick up at season 4. What season had the war part? I’d just soon miss that. Yeah, I know life has its ups and downs, that’s why I don’t want to see it on TV. I rarely watch TV…maybe an hour or two a week, so when I do, I want it to be light-hearted and fun…no drama, no violence, no sadness. There’s enough of that in real life, unfortunately.

      • Season two revolves around World War II. It is not an exclusive story line, and it is interesting to see how the Downton Abbey characters revolve around the War.

  27. Hi Susan, when in England two years ago, I tried to visit Highclere, but it was a little far away from where we were. I did however, if you remember visit Chatsworth House which is equally famous. (I gave you photos of that!)
    Did you know that the Lady of Highclere, was once a chartered accountant when she met the Earl. Both consider Highclere as a place where they are caretakers to pass on to future generations.
    I watched the show about them and they are such genuine people.
    Christmas I gifted my daughter (who incidentally is crazy about Downton) with a Christmas ornament and mug which all the characters on it. I had the Downton Abbey Christmas stocking and it is beautifully made with the picture of Highclere on the cuff.

    • I remember! I didn’t know that about her. They both seem so nice on the brief video I saw at HGTV. Oh, what a great gift! I bet she loved it!

  28. bobbi duncan says:

    Thank you for the tour, Susan. I saw the TV special showcasing Highclere and was glad that the DA show was bringing in refurbishment money because you could sense the genuine love the owners have to keep the history of this home alive and well. However, I did not like the sad scenes of season 3 and ended up not watching the show anymore. I am trying to catch up now and hope this season will play out on a more happy note. Winterthur, which is just 10 minutes south of us, had the DA wardrobe on display all of last year. I am probably one of only a few, but I do not care for the look of most of England’s big estates nor the lack of shrubs and flowers near to the house facades—just feels so cold to me. The interiors, though, can be amazing if not too sparsely furnished. I like the floral chintz room at Highclere, perhaps because it looks sunny and cheerful to me. I love your home—just the right sized rooms whereby one is not cramped– yet very cozy– and it is SO beautifully decorated with all the right touches that make for an interesting room. I can’t wait for our home to be finished with it’s make-over and completely livable again whereby we can put out all the things that make it our own. The first floor will be the last to get done, and since that’s where we spend most of our time the slow progress to get to this level keeps me hoping for completion. Ahhh, home ownership! LOL.

  29. That floral chintz room was a favorite of mine too for the same reason…looks so cheerful. I loved the library for its coziness. You know, I was wondering about that…why don’t they plant shrubs near the foundation. You often see them looking so barren. There must be some reason that we don’t know about, I guess. I would love to know.
    Oh, thank you for those kind words, Bobbi! Appreciate that so much. When will your renovations be done? I know it’s awful while you’re going through it but you will be soooo happy you did it once you’re done. I’m facing the same thing when I start renovating bathrooms, but they definitely need it.
    Yeah, I agree about that season 3. If you do catch up in watching it, let me know if season 4 was better and less sad.

  30. Marianne in Mo. says:

    Love Downton Abbey. I watched the HGTV show when it aired and learned so much about the place! Did not know the “Lady” had a blog, so will check that out.
    Funny, but for some unknown reason, yesterday I got a brochure for Viking River Cruises, and on one, you can add on a trip to Highclere! You get “privileged access” , champagne welcome and tours of other places nearby. A three night add-on to the Paris and Normandy trip. Guess I was “captured” from looking online at Downton stuff!
    Off to see the blog!

  31. Christy Keyton says:

    This was really fun! I am a recent “convert” because my sister gave me the first four seasons on DVD. If you have an Amazon prime account, you can watch the show there. I think they have refurbished a lodge on the property for overnight guests – you can tour the castle, but I don’t think you can stay there. All the details are over on the castle website. It is such a great show – I absolutely love the Dowager! Hope to get back to England some time and get a tour!

  32. Highclere castle is about half an hours drive from us and we have visited three times. Love the Castle and the grounds, see my post from a recent visit we took when my sister was over from Australia.
    http://jackieinsurrey.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/highclere-castle-downton-abbey.html
    We are very lucky to live near Chawton, the home of Jane Austen and family, also Winchester Cathedral where she is buried.
    The last series and the Christmas special of Downton was excellent.

    Lady Caernarvon is a lovely lady, quite down to earth. Her blog is interesting, http://www.ladycarnarvon.com/

  33. Cindy Hayhurst says:

    My sweet husband took us on a trip to London and Paris last September, with a side trip to Highclere! It was a wonderful day with a tour of the castle and grounds, then we took another ride to the small town that is used for the church and other outdoor scenes. Only one block of the street is used for all those shots. It was fascinating. There are gardens at the castle, that have never been shown in the series, that are lovely. I had a fabulous day, bought tons in their gift shop, located in a building in the back of the castle, and now enjoy watching the series even more. That is one of the enjoyments we get from traveling. We watch TV or read about someplace that we have actually been!

  34. You are Matthew Crawley. Congratulations, you’re the heir to Downton Abbey! Industrious and hardworking, you’re justifiably proud of your modern sensibilities. You may have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder about your extended family’s aristocratic ways, but you’re learning to deal with it. Your good looks (and much-improved prospects) indicate you could be quite the ladies’ man, but your romantic nature probably means you’re hung up on one special someone.

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