I have been so enjoying looking at some of the first entries for our “Come and Dine” competition. Fascinatingly, they relate entire stories from arrival to greetings, enjoyment, cooking and, in fact, the whole flow of each of the evenings they depict. It all looks extremely professional and soigné!

Sadly and luckily only occasionally, the arrival story for our guests here to the Castle has sometimes been less than completely smooth flowing.

Paul, on our car parking team, helpfully closes the electric gates each night as he heads home in the evening. Thus, when my guests arrive for supper, their first challenge can be just to get in. Sally and Alex arrived at the front (closed) gates at 8pm one evening to find Christopher trying to climb them whilst his wife Marianna was sitting in the car, given she was wearing a lovely dress and he had been the gentleman. Sally who works here and thus has a gate key was able to open the gates, crying with laughter given that the mountaineer could have just walked around through the footpath entrance, rather than demonstrating his scaling skills.

On Geordie’s birthday, I once again stymied a large number of arriving guests and cars with closed gates. They were once again rescued by Sally, sprinting from the back of the line of cars across the drawbridge in her long, floaty dress, waving her key, shouting “Never fear, I am here!”

Just after Christmas one year I had retired ill to bed, feeling really rotten and hugely uninterested in lunch or supper. That evening, my husband, son, stepson and a few other family members enjoyed some champagne in the Saloon and went through to the dining room for supper, at which point the phone rang. Once again, it was some (unexpected but not uninvited) guests outside the front gates, unable to get in. My husband sprinted up to find me to quiz me over who and what had I done this time – his shorthand for bad diary/information mismanagement. I had a fever, groaned and pulled a pillow over my ears. By the time the guests were rescued, everybody in the house had reassembled in the Saloon to begin the evening again, with yet more champagne, whilst Luis re-set the table and Paul the chef re-cooked a first course. My stepson kept the champagne going and my son very much looked forward to more scallops.

Recently, Robert (security) put a new electric gate in by a cottage which was a great achievement in itself but, whilst the gate was notionally operational, it had a few issues. The instructions were that, when leaving the estate we were to stop before the gate so that it could open. Sadly though, were you to want to return by the way you left, as when you come back to the gate from the outside of the estate it would NOT open under any circumstance, thus becoming perhaps an unusual hybrid of a gate and a fence. Not precisely what I had hoped for.

At one point Sid was famous or infamous for hanging gates that would not shut. They were usually too low for the latch or the latch had been fixed in a rush which literally stopped the gate closing, or the gate jammed against the gate post. Therefore Sid’s gates had to be propped shut with bricks or tied loosely with baling twine. I know gates tend to drop over time but they were not given any time to achieve it.


Some time ago, my husband asked David, our joiner, to make a gate for a cottage. He is very skilled and a perfectionist. Some weeks later, there are some beautifully carved gate posts but the gate remains invisible – unusual even by Highclere’s standards, I am sure it will appear. Mark, who helps with gardens and fences, offered to put a gate in at another cottage and he asked me what kind of gate I wanted. Not knowing the back story of gate challenges, he was somewhat nonplussed when I briskly replied that I would be completely happy simply with one that opened and closed.