The official website of the Countess of Carnarvon

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Welcome

Welcome to my blog, inviting you behind the scenes of my life and home and sharing anecdotes from my everyday life at Highclere Castle. The world of Highclere still exists with its own community of Chefs, Gardeners and Housekeepers, our Butler and Maggie the Groom as well as all the other people who make the ‘Real Downton Abbey’ a welcoming place for visitors today.

Horses and Tumbles

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Given a spare hour over lunch it is a great treat to go out for a ride. We keep some riding horses who give us much pleasure, among them an Andalusian mare and an Andalusian/Arab cross gelding.  My main aim is to teach them to stop and rely on our aids rather than instantly resort to their flight instinct and for me to have some relaxation time outside of the Castle. It is a wonderful way to clear my head and see what is going on in the fields and woods around Highclere.

I can cover a lot of ground.

Too relaxed, [...]
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Musical Flowers

I spent the first hour this morning with Paul the Gardener walking round the Castle to see whether we have enough flowers in the various rooms and galleries. Many friends and visitors probably only register them in the background, yet if they are absent, I do think the house looks very bare.

We have a theoretical annual plan so that there is a series of hyacinths, narcissi, azaleas, orchids, cinerarias, geraniums, jasmines, streptocarpus, begonias, hydgrangeas, cyclamen and ferns filling bowls and planters throughout the seasons around the Castle rooms.

Whilst waiting for Paul, I realised we were minus a plant in the [...]
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Sheep and Tax Collecting

One thousand acres of Parkland lie around Highclere Castle, and of course the best mowing machines are sheep. We have about 1,600 ewes and theoretically, this year, about 3,000 lambs.  The ewes are North Country Mules  and are good at surviving the cold winter winds and weather on the downland beyond the Park. The lambs are mostly born in March inside the old lambing barns under Beacon Hill, two miles south from the Castle. Caz is, as ever, in charge of the lambing operation and she does a great job running the shifts through the night. It is an intense [...]
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Out for a Duck

Traditionally Easter is about rebirth, spring flowers, chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies. Unfortunately, this year the weather has well and truly interrupted the more secular parts of the celebration. Very sadly we had to cancel our much loved Easter egg hunt in aid of the local hospice, Naomi House and now, instead of fluffy Easter chicks, this year’s Easter at Highclere is all about ducks.

There are, of course, some charming children’s stories about ducks and one of my favourites is “The Ugly Duckling” which is not really about a duck at all-the ugly ducking turns into a beautiful swan.

Unfortunately the [...]
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Sally’s poached my men!

It is “all hands on deck” as we prepare the Castle for the Easter opening. Over the winter the weather has continually been against us in terms of the fields we use for car parking and they are still very wet. In addition, we have not been able to clear up and repair fences and tracks as much as we would have liked as it would have made it more of a muddy mess.  Even the sheep along the exit route in the park have managed to knock over and ruin the signage.

Wet weather has, however, helped the gardeners, who [...]
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Dogs Around The World

I had said goodbye to rainy Highclere and my dogs and set off to Vancouver, Canada following an invitation from the British Consul and PBS. However, rather than go straight there, I travelled via Los Angeles to see my girlfriend Karine and Viking River Cruises, who were sponsoring my travel.

I had assured my husband that we would both eat well and drink little so it would be a healthy trip. The misty Malibu mornings started with Karine and I taking her beloved dog Finse (born at Highclere) for a walk on the beach and I even saw some dolphins just [...]
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Balancing The Books

One of the hats I wear is that of treasurer to Highclere church.  My husband helps me by counting the incoming money which always takes much longer than you think it will. There are piles of coins all over his desk, nothing quite adds up but we seem to bank more on God’s behalf than should be there which, I suppose, is at least the right way round. Now the time of year approaches when I have to produce the year end accounts (December 31st) and the prospect hangs over me. I keep meaning to sit down but so far have [...]
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Love & All That

Valentines’ weekend was different this year. For the last six Februarys, Downton have been parked up with innumerable white lorries crowding the gravel around the Castle. This year the crew and actors have dispersed to follow other paths and Highclere is building a new calendar for itself.

As a result, this weekend, instead of the Downton lorries, we welcomed small groups of visitors for a valentines afternoon tea and then held an evening champagne reception. The oak staircase was decorated with a charming rose garland, champagne flowed and the choir were led by a wonderful soprano who sang “O mio bambino [...]
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Radio Highclere

Walking through the Castle in the morning, on my way to the office, I listen to a muted broadcast of familiar voices. I pass Robert and Les’s voices in the security office, turn along a short corridor and go into the kitchen. This is ostensibly to see how Paul and his team are doing.  However there just might be the off- chance of a croissant as I pass by.

If I am indeed lucky, then with a squawk of delight, I head towards Pat’s temporary office. He currently shares what was (and will be again once the Estate Offices are completed) [...]
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Ab ovo usque ad mala

We have now reached the end of the shooting season here at Highclere: in this case “game” shooting rather than “film” shooting, a difference which, in the recent past, caused many a “lost in translation” moments in our conversations with the Downton team.

This year the shooting season has been characterised above all by rain, and these last few days have seen biblical downpours. I think I have gained brownie points for increased skills with cross country driving and last weekend slid and bumped my way around the estate with passengers who were hugely grateful that they did not have to [...]
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