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, Colin the Butler and Jo the Groom as well as all the other people who make the ‘Real Downton Abbey’ a welcoming place for visitors today.

One name and one story.

Highclere has so many stories to find and, as ever, it is a question of looking in the right place.

During my research into the Second World War at Highclere, I discovered that quite a few planes had come down over the Estate. The pilots, navigators and airmen who died in the crashes were all somebody’s son: part of someone’s family with friends and a life not lived; most of them young Americans aged in their early twenties. My goal is to create a sculpture and memorial to them here in the gardens. But first I have to find who they [...]
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Keys to the Castle

Robert Taylor arrived as a footman at Highclere in 1937. One of the first entries in his diaries described following Smith the Butler, keys jangling, along the long length of the bottom corridor of the Castle to be shown the china cupboards: this set was for breakfast; the Bretby set for tea; the Chesterfield silver for dinner and so on. He was then given the keys. But that was just one cupboard and one set of (quite important) keys.

This propensity for keys continues today. Diana our housekeeper has keys and key cupboards which are mostly for the top two floors. [...]
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Spring Playtime

The park at Highclere is now full of hundreds of lambs. They look adorable as they leap around fallen trees, jump into ditches, play tag and collect together in their own crèche systems. It doesn’t take long for them to start experimenting with “who is the bravest lamb”, finding the cracks in fences and learning how to slip under gates. As a result, whenever I go for a ride at this time of year, I end up having to practice my shepherdess skills.  My old Arab mare has learnt to be fast on her feet as we try to aim [...]
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Gift Shop Girls

On Sunday 13th April the last of the Easter Castle visitors wended their home. Waiting in the wings for the last cars to depart were the Downton lorries, hoping to begin to park up. It had been a very busy week, where everyone had felt so encouraged by the bright sunshine that they had worn more summery clothes, only to find the wind was whistling round the Castle and thick jackets might have been more sensible.

To the west behind the Castle lies an old courtyard; the buildings around it have medieval and Tudor origins and on one corner was an [...]
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Easter Sunday

We have held an Easter Egg hunt at the Castle in aid of Naomi House & Jacksplace hospice for some 12 years now. Naomi House offers a palliative care service whether for respite, for emergencies or for end of life care for children and young adults. It is wholly funded by donations, has amazing staff and volunteers and is the most wonderful charity for families in unbearable situations.

The idea for the day came to me after I visited the Hospice. I wanted to stage an event that would bring happiness and new supporters, as well as money, for the hospice. Hundreds, [...]
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Welcome Home

Vero Beach, Florida was a marvelous place to visit – lovely weather, some incredibly generous, community spirited people and delicious meals including perhaps ironically, one of the most delicious English Sticky Toffee Puddings I have ever tasted.

I am now back at Highclere. As usual I got a particularly warm welcome from all the dogs who are always kind and enthusiastic, even in the early hours of the morning when perhaps one’s family is less so!

 

They are friendly to all our visitors and I am lucky, since there are so many of them, that they rarely bark except in  the excitement [...]
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Travels in the USA

I have been lucky enough to spend the past few days in the USA where I am giving a series of talks.

I flew first into Houston, Texas and sadly brought the English weather with me. My visit there was two days of marvelous contrasts.

The first evening I spent at the Rodeo – a huge enterprise and yet one run by 31,000 volunteers.  The success of the event means that, through its charitable arm, it is able to support a number of educational enterprises and thereby help an amazing number of children and students. It was most extraordinary and humbling to [...]
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I have a new job….

Reading the Pipe Rolls (a collection of financial records) from about 1270 for Highclere, it is clear that some things do not change. Walls were being mended, mangers for horses and stables repaired, stone and chalk pulled by bullock cart to shore up some building, trees were hewn and there were always missing tiles from the roof.

Highclere was quite an economic centre during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. A village lay just ½ mile to the north of the Castle, there were rabbit warrens, a deer park and horses grazed the park.

We still have horses grazing the Park, some pet [...]
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Diversity

Despite being no great distance from London, Highclere remains a calm green breathing space not just for visitors but for a diverse wildlife as well. I love the spectacular Castle but I love the landscape just as much: the trees, hills and valleys that are so particularly English. It is humbling to realise that we are simply a small part of a long line of people who have made this area home. There may well have been a greater variety of plants, birds and insects in the past but our predecessors would still recognise the sheep, horses, arable fields, woodland [...]
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Highclere’s kitchens

From poring over old maps and outlines, I would guess that the kitchens have stood in the same spot at Highclere for several hundred years. Originally, they would have been separated from the house to help contain the risk of fire. The older house seems to have been L-shaped with a medieval church to the west and the kitchens lying slightly to the south west. There are water wells on either side.

At the back of the kitchen was a great hearth, the fire for cooking which in later centuries became the first cooking range and today a modern set of [...]
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