As summer turns to autumn, the pace and diary at Highclere changes. Public opening finishes for a time and the Castle welcomes smaller guided tours and groups which work better around our traditional commitments of game shooting and other events such as charity runs, garden tours and small dinners. The office team try to snatch some holiday after a very busy summer and as John (our Castle Manager) and I sign off holiday forms, we wonder if we may be cooking or answering the phone or whether we should put in our holiday forms as well.
We are also now planning our Christmas season and, as ever, are trying to balance numbers of expected guests against realistic guesses about how we can park people if the weather turns against us. Sally is busily planning Christmas in the gift shop with new baubles and candles and a new colour scheme for the staircase garlands which lead down into the Saloon.
School term starts and my regular tennis game resumes each Monday with three other mothers. It is played with much pleasure and enthusiasm, if less ability to sprint to angled shots than we exhibited twenty years ago. Luckily we have an uncritical audience in terms of excited dogs running around outside the court and a few of the horses who simply stare at us over their fences. This week, during tennis, the blacksmith arrived to shoe and trim various hooves. In the midst of it all, Sheila the sheep exited onto the lawns and we hastily downed rackets to persuade her to return to her field before she began to forage amongst the flower beds. Robert from security appeared at just the right time, waving his arms around happily as it was his birthday, so he has been renamed the dancing Scotsman and his timing was perfect to help hold the horses and run after the sheep. We then resumed tennis.
Louise, a new member of our office team, thought she would take a more peaceful moment to familiarise herself with the Castle since she had not been able to do so over the summer. Luis, the banqueting manager, offered to show her round and was busy making up stories about secret passages and painters called van Pickle and finally pointed out a huge silver salver (which relates to the 6th Earl) claiming instead that I had won it at Wimbledon tennis. At that point, Louise, who had seen my tennis, realised that that she had been led up the garden path.Our summer gift shop stockroom has been cleared out and returned to an older identity.It is now again the Beater’s Room for the shoots, although it was also the pub in Downton Abbey. Eddie, the head keeper, arrives early in the morning surrounded by his dogs, to cook breakfast as the loaders and beaters arrive. We now have a few clearer days in which we can complete other jobs, for example our tree surgeons had advised us we needed to thin out a magnificent cedar on the lawns before it was caught by autumnal winds and winter snow. They arrived and set to work and, although I had lots of other office work to do, it was utterly fascinating watching them and we filmed a short video which we have also posted here.