The estate spans over 6000 acres in size and is home to Lady Fiona Carnarvon,the eighth Countess of Highclere Castle and her husband George Herbert, the eighth Earl of Carnarvon. While the estate has been home to the Carnarvon family since 1679, the castle that we see today was designed in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry—the architect who is renowned for building the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.
Lady Fiona Carnarvon comments on the castle’s journey through the years, “It was a significant palace in circa 1360-1380 and continued as part of the churches’ property for the next few hundred years. During the Carnarvon family history it has welcomed royalty, prime ministers, statesmen and literary figures. The Fifth Earl discovered the Tomb of Tutankhamun, which was the first worldwide event and his predecessors were involved in politics as well as often being royal courtiers or in the army.”
The castle comprises of 200-300 rooms and hallways, all of which are centred around the Saloon–the heart of the castle, schemed for the fourth Earl in a gothic revival style in the 1860s.
“Highclere has had just two owners since 749AD so you can see how people have lived from the remains of the landscape, the architectural knowledge that preceded the castle and the anecdotes handed down. It’s buildings are, above all, about people
An all time favourite at the castle—the Library carries over 5,650 books with the earliest book dating back to the 16th century. Dutch paintings from the 17th Century adorn the walls of the Smoking room, some of the earliest works of art brought to the castle by the Carnarvon family while the Music Room, decorated with a 1730’s baroque ceiling and 16th Century Italian embroideries on the walls, proffer views towards the castle’s two follies; Jackdaw’s Castle and Heaven’s Gate. Another marvel is the State dining room, dominated by Van Dyck’s equestrian painting of Charles I, along with portraits of the family’s ancestors who fought in the civil war in the 1640s.
Fine silks from the 1800s, remarkable paintings, sculptures and skilfully made matching furniture grace the numerous rooms. Chandeliers and ormolu candelabra along with marble floors and tall golden columns reaching the designed wooden ceilings come together in completing the captivating Victorian interior. Streaks of bronze and mahogany highlight the extravagance of the residence, while ornate objects and griffons give the environs a grand charisma.
The bedrooms, most of which have been refurbished over time display prints and drawings of visitors and other events found in the archives. Some of these rooms are historically significant, such as the Stanhope bedroom, where the Prince of Wales visited in 1895 and the Arundel bedroom, which was used as an Operating Theatre and Recovery room during the First World War. Additionally, after two years of restoration the original entrance to the castle—Long Lodge, is fully rebuilt and it is now possible to stay at its rooms for one or two nights.
Providing a stunning vista of the rolling hill country—the North Hampshire and the Kennet Valley, the 1000 acre parklands at the estate were designed for the first Earl of Carnarvon by the 18th Century landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, later developed by his son the second Earl. To the south east of the castle lies the Monk’s Garden and today it is a spectacle of delight, complete with various hues of flora and fauna, decorating its way to the White Border Garden. The rich estate boasts of farming, wildlife, chalk-down lands and woodlands.
The cellars of the castle, holds within it yet another astounding display of historical grandeur. Celebrating the achievements of the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, the current Earl and Countess opened a new Egyptian Exhibition. Today throughout the cellars, you will come across mystic artefacts, figures, precious craftwork and jewellery, a 3,500 year old coffin and replicas of ancient Egyptian treasures, all put together to create a hypnotic setting. Group and educational tours to the exhibitions can be arranged on request.
Highclere Castle is also known for being the backdrop to the award-winning Edwardian-period drama series, Downton Abbey. Inspired by the castle and its colourful history, Lord Julian Fellowes based his writing on it, and the worldwide hit is currently being filmed for its fifth season. With regard to the influence of filming Downton Abbey at the castle, Lady Fiona observed that it had given them an international platform and taken them to an entirely different level in a short period of time.
A skilled writer, Lady Carnarvon looks into the incredible lives of her predecessors, Lady Almina and Lady Catherine in her publications and follows the inspiring events that occurred in her husband’s ancestral home, based on household accounts, diaries, books and letters.
Her first book, Lady Almina and The Real Downton Abbey features the tales of the fifth Countess of Carnarvon. The story of Lady Almina, says Lady Fiona, takes the readers on a journey from the opulence of Edwardian times, to the tears and tragedy of the First World War and the extraordinary discovery of Tutankhamun. She also reveals that there are many wonderful stories to be told, and given Downton Abbey’s focus on the Edwardian period, it seemed extremely befitting.
|Ticket Category||Adult Price||Concession (Students, Over 60s, Disabled)||Child Price (4-16 years)||Family (two adults and two-three children)|
|Castle, Exhibition and Gardens||GBP 20 (USD 30)||GBP 18 (USD 27)||GBP 12.50 (USD 19)||GBP 55 (USD 83)|
|Castle and Gardens||GBP 13 (USD 20)||GBP 11.50 (USD 17)||GBP 8 (USD 12)||GBP 13 (USD 20)|
|Exhibitions and Gardens||GBP 13 (USD 20)||GBP 11.50 (USD 17)||GBP 8 (USD 12)||GBP 13 (USD 20)|
|Gardens only||GBP 5 (USD 8)||GBP 5 (USD 8)||GBP 1 (USD 2)||N/A|
Resulting from the success and acclamation for her first book, Lady Catherine, The Real Downton Abbey—her second publication followed closely.This book covers the years from 1922 up to the end of the Second World War, when Lady Catherine, a young American heiress came to reign at the Highclere castle after marrying the Earl of Porchester.
While these stories served as the setting for the Downton Abbey drama series, Lady Carnarvon shares an alluring, true narrative with photographs and rich material from the castle’s archives. “I hope there is a lot of historical details, which I thoroughly enjoyed researching. There is a lot about the advances of medicine. Above all it is about the part that anyone can play in helping other people.” she said. The hardback copies of both books are priced at GBP 20 (USD 30).
The breathtaking Castle has been accessible for public viewing since 1987. Open for over 60 days every year, its rich historical background and breathtaking landscape attracts more than 1,200 enthusiastic visitors. Admission tickets for this year’s public openings during Easter and Spring Bank Holidays as well as their special ‘Afternoon Tea at the Coach House’ and both this year and next year’s group bookings are completely sold out. If you’re ever planning a visit to the premises, it is always wise to call ahead and make pre-bookings as unsurprisingly, the castle draws a lot of admirers.
Moreover, the premises are available for bookings as a venue for weddings, receptions, private dining and corporate events. Special charity functions and events are also held at the castle all round the year.
The Highclere Castle is a time machine that will transport you to a magical land in a bygone era. With many wonders to be discovered, you can almost see the tales of the past coming alive, if you are lucky enough to take the tour at the estate.