|Tylney Hall reportedly has the longest uninterrupted view in Hampshire.|
The mania around Downton Abbey is sweeping through America. Thanks to the popularity of the show, “heritage travel” in England is on fire—especially anything related to the estates, gardens and history that inspired this breakout British period drama.
The fictional Downton Abbey is located in Yorkshire (northern England) but the show is actually filmed at Highclere Castle, some 70 miles west of central London in Hampshire, and is owned and inhabited by the real life Earl and Countess Carnarvon. The castle is closed most of the year, but from April to mid-September the gates are opened to a limited number of visitors. CNN recently reported that 50,000 people went to see the house last year, compared to 30,000 who visited before the series began airing in the UK in 2010. Expecting even more demand this year, the castle is taking advanced reservations for 2012. Group and coach visits to Highclere are fully booked for 2012, and it is now taking reservations for 2013.
Downton Abbey fans can wander three floors of “upstairs” and “downstairs” rooms, including a few bedrooms, the drawing room, main hall and library where much of the drama of the fictional Crawley family ensues. Expert guides in each room help explain both the fictional and actual historical significance of the building, furnishings and artwork. At times, fiction and history coincide; in 1914 Lady Almina of Highclere Castle tended to victims of World War I and turned it into a convalescence home for returning soldiers, just like in the series.
There is also an exhibit on Ancient Egypt, as the 5th Earl of Carnarvon was a sponsor of the expedition that discovered the Tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Outside, visitors can stroll through 1,000 acres of parkland and gardens that provide the backdrop of the show. Adult admission for the castle, exhibitions and gardens is $25 with discounts for children, seniors and groups.
|Four Seasons Hampshire can arrange a period-style picnic for guests.|
For a guided experience and the chance to sleep in a nearby historic mansion, the Audleys Wood Hotel, a four-star, 72-room property built in 1882, has a one-night package on April 3 with Phil Howe, a Hampshire expert from Hidden Britain Tours. Howe will give a lecture and tour of the area en route to Highclere Castle and take participants through the grounds and property, followed by high tea back at the hotel. The package is priced at $275 per person.
Also just 20 miles away is the Four Seasons Hampshire, located on the 500-acre estate Dogmersfield Park which dates back to the 11th century. Rich in history (it’s where King Henry VIII met his first wife, Catherine of Aragon) the hotel is a landmarked 18th-century Georgian Manor—with period-style additional wings—that has been updated with a spa, pool and a range of country activities that the Crawleys would have loved. (Think canal boating, clay pigeon and skeet shooting, croquet, falconry, fishing, and horseback riding.)
Fans should be sure to visit the 16th-century dovecote. The hotel can arrange tours of Highclere Castle and the surrounding Hampshire countryside with appropriate picnic and bubbly to keep fans well nourished. Reach out to General Manager Charlie Parker for more information and special requests.
For a truly noble experience, book the Duke or Duchess Suite: The Duke has a four-poster bed, oak-paneled lounge and a spa bath; and the Duchess also has a four-poster bed, a separate lounge, a spa bath and views out to the avenue and golf course. For individual bookings, agents can reach out to Reservations Manager Sarah McMeeken or, for group bookings (10 rooms or more), Events Manager Debbie Hine.
For a day-trip from London, lastminute.com offers a tour of the village where the church, village fair and some hospital scenes were filmed. Looking for more? The UK’s National Trust operates over 300 historic manor houses and gardens in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Overseas visitors can buy a seven-day pass with unlimited free admission starting at $36 per person.