A long awaited visit to Downton …… ooops, Highclere Castle, finally came around last week. A full coach load (see picture) stood outside the Ursuline sixth form at 9.45 whilst Gillian with her clipboard checked us all in. Sun shone as prearranged with WI head office and as the coach drew up, there was a mad scram for seats. So reminded of day trips at school, the need to sit beside best friend, actually anyone would do to avoid the horror of sitting beside “Miss” in the front seat, with the First Aid Kit – inclusive of plastic bags and damp flannel therein – long before Wipes were invented of course. In those days packed lunch was eaten before we were into third gear, but now the only comestible I spied was the surreptitious slurp of bottled water. I sat beside BF Frieda and in the aisle beside me sat Sue who was knitting. Through this encounter, I now have promised help on my embryonic knitting, a far too ambitious project for my talents, a Mystery Blanket and a date at Waterloo (not mine I hope) to help me cast-on with circular needles!!!! The WI to the rescue again.
The journey was swift and smooth and apart from small excitement of fire engine overtaking us at top speed, and then further on, the sight of lorry on fire, we arrived in good time. An efficient and gillet clad lady in tweed skirt and sensible shoes, gave us a brief rundown of rules. As per school days, didn’t listen, so can’t tell you what they were, but no-one had to see Gillian after the trip, so we obviously all behaved. Highclere was so much smaller than I had imagined from TV and much more cosy than Blenheim (WI trip last year). We wandered around, drawing room, morning room etc and in each there were guides to give you a little history. Bedrooms upstairs looked lived in, hairdryers on dressing tables, mags on bedside tables, little notices told you this was Lady Cora’s bedroom or the bedroom where Lady Mary got up to hanky-panky with a Turkish diplomat in Series One. There are no kitchens where filming took place as these scenes are filmed in the studio. Currently Series Five is underway and the TV crews were expected next week. One guide hinted to me that Series Six maybe on the cards too. You heard it here first.
The castle stands on the site of an earlier house, which was built on the foundations of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Winchester, who owned this estate from the 8th century. The original site was recorded in the Doomsday Book. Since 1679, the castle has been home to the Carnarvon family. The house was rebuilt in 1839 by Sir Charles Barry but in subsequent years fell into disrepair. The present Lord and Lady Carnarvon have only recently been able to bring the house back to life, because of increased visitors due to the success of the Downton Abbey series. They had been living in a cottage in the grounds, but now they live in the Castle during the winter and only move back into the cottage when the house is open to the public.
During our visit, I managed to have coffee and shortbread, lunch (toasted pannini) and a cream tea and only saw the ice-cream man on way back to coach so missed out there. There were no escapees, and the coach set off on time for home. Shame.
Many thanks to everyone who organised this trip. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole day and already looking forward to the next outing.