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Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey

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"Papa, you're always saying how we're not the owners of Downton, but the caretakers. Very well, now let's take care of it.” Lady Mary

You’ve seen the show, been amazed by its historical accuracy and have been brought into the everyday lives and interactions of its main characters, but what’s next? If you are a real Downton Abbey fan, why not visit the real life location of where the series was filmed?

The popular ITV period drama Downton Abbey is filmed at Hampshire’s Highclere Castle to the north of the county. Set within 1000 acres of parkland, the castle and its grounds double as the Downton Abbey estate, home to the fictional Crawley family.

Visiting Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle opens to visitors at various times of the year, although tickets do sell out quickly. Visitors who want to explore the house can walk through the lower floor state rooms which include the hallway, dining room, drawing room and library (all of which are used in the TV series).

See where Lady Mary sleeps when exploring the bedrooms, outdoor grounds and Egyptian exhibition. 

"Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an H.G. Wells novel." Dowager Countess

History Of The ‘Real’ Downton Abbey
In reality the property’s history dates back 1300 years when a former house on the site was owned by the Bishops of Winchester, hence the term ‘abbey.’ In the 18th century, the gardens were sculpted by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, a landscape architect who designed more than 170 gardens.

The estate has strong links with Egyptian history, when in 1922 the 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun with Howard Carter. The castle boasts an Egyptian exhibition with a vast array of artefacts discovered during this period.

Highclere has been the home to the Carnarvon family since 1679 and Lord and Lady Carnarvon run the estate today. Lady Carnarvon recently said: ‘It’s possibly the most important Victorian House still lived in in England today.’ (Forbes).

Over the years the property has been used for different purposes, including a hospital and a home for evacuee children during the war, similar to episodes from series 2 of Downton Abbey.

The estate must be a major employer and support the house or there's no point. To any of it.” Lord Grantham

Downton Abbey - Fun Facts

  • Isis the dog (who passed away in series 5) is actually Lord and Lady Carnarvon’s real family pet. 
  • Laura Carmichael, who plays Lady Edith, was born and brought up in Southampton.
  • The castle is a popular stopover for the Queen when she visits the nearby Newbury races.
  • Only the ‘upstairs’ scenes are filmed at Highclere. The servants’ quarters are all filmed at a studio in Ealing.
  • Lord Julian Fellowes actually had Highclere Castle in mind when he wrote the first series.
  • Former X-Files star Gillian Anderson reportedly turned down the part of Lady Grantham.
  • Hollywood actor Harrison Ford once asked Julian Fellowes for a guest slot on the show. In the past George Clooney, Shirley MacLaine and Richard E. Grant have all made cameos. 
  • It’s not just Downton Abbey that’s been filmed at Highclere Castle. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Eyes Wide Shut and The Secret Garden have all been shot there too! 

"I'm a woman, Mary. I can be as contrary as I choose." Dowager Countess

Explore Nearby
There’s plenty to see and do around the Highclere estate. North Hampshire is a stunning part of the county, boasting miles of open countryside and clean, fresh air. Whether combining a day trip to Highclere with another attraction, or planning a longer stay, there are plenty of options for sightseeing in the area.

The pretty town of Whitchurch lies just over 9 miles to the east of Highclere Castle. Visitors can explore its historic 19th century silk mill which sits along the River Test. There is the chance to enjoy lunch in one of the town’s many delicious pubs and cafés. On the outskirts of Whitchurch in Laverstoke, sits the new state-of-the-art Bombay Sapphire gin distillery. Here visitors can find out all about the gin making process, before sampling a specially prepared gin cocktail.

To the south of Highclere lies the Test Valley. Known for its unspoilt countryside and pretty market towns, this is a great place to spend an afternoon exploring. Garden enthusiasts often enjoy spending time at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and National Trust property Mottisfont. Located less than 30 miles away from Highclere, these are perfect additions to any itinerary.

More information on Downton Abbey and its links with the county can be found on the Film Hampshire website.