I have just returned from a wonderful holiday in Cornwall, and on the way my family and I visited Highclere Castle – aka Downton Abbey. I did, of course, take along my debut novel, Doubting Abbey, and felt surprisingly emotional as I held it in my hands, standing in front of the wonderful gardens and beautiful building that inspired my story.
What a marvellous day. It lived up to all my dreams. The interior of the house was magnificent with lush furniture and carvings, exquisite paintings and each room told a story – not only of the TV series, but of the Carnarvon family members who have lived there, across generations. I particularly loved the library, with its terracotta, gold warm glow – such an inviting room and so many antique books in it. What also made it special was that even though the furnishings were grandiose, they were also worn in places, with gave a great feel of authenticity – the place hasn’t been given a glossy makeover for the sake of tourists. It was easy to picture the actors there and various scenes I have seen during the series. One surprise was how small the front drive actually is, where the staff line up outside to welcome guests.
What’s more, I now understand why they limit guest numbers – whilst busy, it was pleasant to walk around, in and out, without huge queues and you could really soak up the atmosphere.
The Ancient Egyptian exhibition at the base of the house also makes sense now. I never realised that the 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun alongside Howard Carter, and the history of his life and exhibition of artefacts was fascinating.
So if you get the chance, grab some tickets and visit this inspiring estate. I can’t wait to go back some day – and perhaps next time I will sneakily leave a copy of Doubting Abbey in the library…!