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, Luis 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.

Philosophy in Wine

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Riding along the chalk downlands two miles to the south of where the Castle stands, it is easy to distinguish the prehistoric field lynchets and terraces which must have been part of an intensively settled and farmed landscape. Three thousand years later we still farm this part of the estate, although these ancient fields are just grazed by sheep to conserve the visible remains of the past.

There are crop marks, boundaries and platforms where small homes- huts- may have been built. They lie around the monumental remains of the fort on Beacon Hill and hence can be dated from Iron [...]
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Battle Proms

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The first Saturday of August each year, we hold an open air picnic concert here at Highclere. It is called the “Battle Proms” and is very well organised by Adam Slough and his team. Nearly 10,000 people arrived during the afternoon, setting up their tables and laying out rugs. The evening begins with cavalry displays, which are always entertaining. I really enjoy the evening and have a large picnic which is wholly informal and relaxed. It does not matter whether you are 5 years old or 90, it is fun for everyone.

About 7.30pm, however, we are all listening for the [...]
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Need To Know

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There was a dreary interconnecting door between the Saloon and the Smoking Room in the Castle. Feeling at the time that I had undertaken rather a lot of dutiful and rather more mundane tasks, I decided to turn my thoughts to having some fun and improving it. With a girlfriend, Ellie, who is a talented painter and gilder, we sketched out a trompe d’oeil for the door. I chose a design which reflected some of the decoration of the Library shelves in order to give it a “realistic” frame and then Ellie then carefully planned what would be on the shelves, [...]
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Fragility and Fundraising

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Last week we held a wonderful evening reception at the Castle to aid a spinal injury charity.It provides practical support to those who have suffered such an immediate and life-changing challenge.

It all happened because I had gone to the Wells Literary Festival to give a talk. I was hopeless at threading my way through the town to the cathedral where I was to park so I stopped to ask a traffic warden for help. Wells has a stunning cathedral and cloisters and Bishop Peter and his wife Jane are good friends from their time as Bishop here at Basingstoke near [...]
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The Somme

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Several summers past, I sat down in the study in the Castle to write “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey”: a story about Highclere before, during and after the First World War. By the end of June, I was writing about the Battle of the Somme which was actually launched on July 1st 1916.

Historical statistics relate that one million men were killed or wounded, but how can we imagine the lost sons, husbands and brothers?  I was also writing about Almina’s hospital at Highclere, the nursing and the world of medicine, the attempts to heal. I read that 400 [...]
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Trade Winds

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I have been going into some detail researching the 4th Earl of Carnarvon as he appears in my next book. As usual, I get easily distracted. Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, to give him his full name, was deeply involved in Victorian politics and held the post of Colonial Secretary in two conservative governments, initially under Lord Derby and then under Benjamin Disraeli. As Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon decided to buy himself a yacht in order to carry out his duties.

 

 

It was called the “Marcia”, 165 tons, 94 ft 5” long, 20 ft 5” broad, 10 ft 6” deep; designed and [...]
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Dress Code

Weekend invitations to Highclere are followed by a flurry of emails confirming dress codes and what excitements the weekend will hold. Is it shooting, tennis, riding, a concert or some good country walks? Is it short or long for the ladies and how smart or not for the men? Warm wraps are always a good idea in case I have had a brainwave and decided we are having cocktails by a temple.

Occasionally, I lack precision; happily explaining to local friends it is not really smart: just laughter and fun. One girlfriend relayed those words to her husband. He therefore correctly [...]
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The House on the Hill

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I have just returned from a beautiful historic house built on a hill in Farmington, Connecticut to our own home, Highclere, built on an even larger hill. It was incredibly busy at Hill-stead with teas, talks, lunches, gala dinners and various interviews for press or PBS.

Additional requests for a few words over dinners always make me pause because I end up thinking about what is at the heart of the event. Hill-Stead is a gem, a house designed by an architect who was a woman, around an outstanding art collection. She was a contemporary of Almina, the 5th Countess of [...]
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Captain Percy

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Highclere has now launched into the week of special tours and lectures about the “Castle and its Setting”, highlighting the serenity and grandeur of “Capability” Brown’s landscape here.  As well as our charming academic lecturers, I am also speaking each day, often with Geordie as an excellent contributing editor. In particular, his role is to talk about the lakes here, in part because he recently witnessed part of Blenheim’s restoration project rebuilding the dam on their Capability Brown lake.  It was a major but essential project, lakes need dredging and the banks need securing.

Every “Brown” landscape involved a lake. At [...]
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Buses and Capability Brown

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As part of our celebration of the tercentenary of Capability Brown, and his contribution to the development of the English countryside in general and Highclere Park in particular, we are organising a Press Day here at the Castle. This will take place on May 12th and we are working in collaboration with Visit Britain as well with some of our own press contacts.

Lancelot “Capability” Brown was born 300 years ago and during his life transformed many of the more formal English gardens and parks into an Arcadian world of expansive lawns and lakes framed by artfully grouped trees. It was [...]
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