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Welcome to the Author Elise Darcy’s newsletter
~ Up on the Roof ~
The spring issue of Up on the Roof is brought to you from Highclere Castle in Newbury, Berkshire, England.
For those readers new to the Elise Darcy Newsletter they are called Up on the Roof because I love rooftop gardens. Where possible I endeavour to write each newsletter on a different rooftop, be it a rooftop garden, café or restaurant. For this edition I visited a folly in the grounds of Highclere Castle.
Why do we love period dramas so much? It is a question I was asked one day whilst having coffee with some friends who knew I absolutely get hooked on a good period drama. For me the enjoyment comes from discovering new things; the way people lived, the romantic norms of the times and how this plays out between people from different backgrounds. Of course, we know we are watching an idealized view of the past. But this is what makes them so appealing; after all it is like getting lost in a romantic novel with a happy ending. Maybe that is what’s so comforting. With our hectic lifestyles sometimes it is just refreshing to indulge in a bit of nostalgia for yesteryear. And period dramas do this so well, with the elaborate costumes, passionate love stories and of course the settings.
Watching the last episode of Downton Abbey, I can remember feeling a tinge of sadness but at the same time relishing the fairy-tale ending that we all hoped for. I promised myself that one day I would visit some of the locations used during the filming of Downton Abbey. Recently I took a trip to Highclere Castle. My first stop was the lovely Cotswolds village of Bampton which was used extensively in the series and has a lot of wonderful 17th and 18th Century houses. I was able to visit Bampton Library, which featured as Downton Cottage Hospital and doctor’s surgery, and St Mary’s Church which became Downton Church and Church Square. Then there was Churchgate House which featured as the Crawley’s family home.
The village of Bampton is truly delightful with gorgeous Cotswold stone buildings and it was lovely to take my time just soaking up the atmosphere. After walking around and enjoying the scenery I went in search of some refreshments before the next step of my journey. Luckily the bakery was open where I had a Cream Tea which set me up for the highlight of this trip – Highclere Castle.
Nothing quite prepares you for the first glimpse of Highclere as you approach by car down the long drive. It is truly impressive and has a grand aristocratic feel. I immediately thought of the opening credits of Downton Abbey imagining the Earl of Grantham walking his dog in the grounds. The nearest folly to the castle was built by Robert Herbert in1743, and although it resembles a temple it is called Jackdaw’s Castle. Climbing up the grassy slope I wandered into the folly which affords splendid views across the lawns to Highclere itself. The present castle was designed by Sir Charles Barry who was also the architect who re-built The Houses of Parliament in London after it was largely destroyed by fire in 1834.
The tour of the house was equally enjoyable. My favourite room was The Saloon with its wonderful vaulted ceiling and wall coverings made of leather which came from Cordoba in Spain. From the first-floor gallery there is a chance to see some of the bedrooms used in the Downton Abbey series which were delightful. The Carnarvon family who own Highclere have a rich and long history which is reflected in the beautiful furnishings, art, and antiques in every room. This makes Highclere not just a stage set but a wonderfully unique home.
I also wanted to visit Highclere Castle because of its connection with the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. I was fortunate enough to visit the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the burial chamber of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings a few years ago. The Egyptian exhibition at Highclere tells the story of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who funded the excavations in The Valley of The Kings which led to the discovery of the tomb by Howard Carter in 1922. The exhibition is well documented, and you really get a good feel for the challenges during the excavations and subsequent discovery. There are some wonderful original artefacts on display together with replicas of these treasures.
After a very long and eventful day I popped into the local Marks and Spencer Food Hall to stock up on items for my dinner. As I pushed my trolley down the aisle I couldn’t imagine the fictional Earl of Grantham ever shopping for his own dinner!
Do you have a favourite period drama? If so drop me a line and tell me about it.
I look forward to catching up with you soon.