Part Nine: Highclere Castle
We enter Highclere Park down a narrow road. Sheep and pheasants roam the fields on either side. Our excitement rises the closer we get, and we strain for a first look of the castle itself. I am the first to see its tower looming over the rise. “There it is, Gin. It can’t believe we’re here.”
The drive ascends the rise and we get a full view of the Elizabethan style castle, the result of a major remodeling project undertaken in the mid-1800s by Sir Charles Barry, famous for designing the Houses of Parliament.
As we pull up to the front door, I feel like I already know the place. Exiting the car, I point out where Mrs. O’Brien knocks Mr. Bates’s bad leg, causing him to collapse face down in the gravel, right in front of the visiting Duke of Crowborough.
Suddenly, the front door opens and it is not Mr. Carson we see, but the 8th Earl of Carnarvon himself. He is a handsome middle aged man of average height, with unruly brown hair parted in the middle and combed straight back. His manner is as causal as his dress, but I am nonetheless nervous as I try to remember what Seren has told me about greeting an earl.
He extends his hand. “Welcome to Highclere Castle.”
“Your lordship,” I stammer, “I am pleased to meet you. Thank you so much for opening your home to us.” Thinking of the 730,000 sweepstakes participants, I add, “There are a great many Downton Abbey fans in America who would love to tour Highclere.” I immediately regret saying this, for I realize this is much more than a movie set; it is the Earl’s ancestral home, occupied by generations of family members whose lives are at least as interesting as the fictitious ones in the TV series.
The Earl seems to take no offense to my sophomoric movie fan comment. “I am very pleased to host you. Do come in, and I’ll show you around.” This surprises me. I assumed we would be escorted by a tour guide. I realize we are about to get a personal tour of the castle by the Earl himself.
We enter the gothic entrance hall, which has exquisite stone and marble columns supporting a series of beautifully carved vaults. The Earl points out the interlinked C’s in center of the floor, which stand for the Latin phrase “Comes Carnarvon.”
I ask the Earl if he lives in the castle, and he says, “Only part time, mainly when Downton filming is occurring. Someone has to be here early in the morning to let them in. They work long days.” Most of the time, he and the Countess live next door with their children and their dogs.
Coming up next: Inside Highclere Castle