Category: Entertaining

Dancing at Downton in Rain and Shine

What a weekend!  We have just held our September “Garden Party” for the second year in a row.  The first thing to say is that, given the vagaries of our weather, this party was not focused around the gardens but around the house, costumes, music and entertainment. Still a garden party does not seem right without marquees on the lawn and we had three: two for dining and one for dancing.

Of course, the most famous Garden Parties are held by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in London and at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. They recognise extraordinary effort and contribution given [...]
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Costumes and Dress Codes

I grew up and went to school in London. During weekends my sisters and I explored (sometimes under duress) the various museums that London has to offer. The one that I never needed to be persuaded to go to was the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. I would head straight towards any exhibition of fashion and costumes – they have an extraordinary collection depicting what we wore that spans at least four centuries. You could stare for ages at the tiny waists, beautiful, delicate lace, the velvets, dresses with enormous hoops, the shoes and the wonderful hats. Admittedly [...]
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A Constitutional Walk for Canada Day

A Constitutional Walk for Canada Day

Reading the 4th Countess’s of Carnarvon’s diaries in her lovely clear script, I have begun to understand a little more about life here 130 years ago. Some things never change. The family liked going for walks or riding on their horses, perhaps up Beacon Hill as I did yesterday evening. They were keen to ensure they spent time outside and considered it was good for their health, for their “constitution”, so much so that if the weather was miserable, they walked in the dining room for 30 minutes!  The thought of Lord and Lady Carnarvon, arms [...]
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Where words end, music begins

My mother-in- law began the Newbury Spring Festival 39 years ago. It is an international music festival with some 59 different events spread over two weeks around this area, using churches and houses, as well as theatres, to listen to outstanding orchestras, choirs, violinists or quartets.  One of our contributions is to host a concert here at the Castle. Mark Eynon, the festival director, had persuaded the Sacconi Quartet to come and play for us and, in turn, I had persuaded my great friend Karine Hagen, of Viking Cruises, to co-sponsor it with us. We were honoured that the Festival’s [...]
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Easter at Highclere

My husband’s parents first opened Highclere Castle to the public in the summer of 1989 and thereafter each July and August.  When it came to our turn to take over, Geordie and I decided to open during Easter and the surrounding school holidays as well, hoping for reasonably good weather so that visitors would be able to park on the fields around the Castle. Of course, as some of you may remember, that hope went horribly wrong with the rainfall last Easter but that is another story.

Having decided to open earlier in the year, we then had to focus on [...]
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December 25th at Highclere

Christmas at Highclere

We have just passed the winter solstice, December 21st, the shortest day of the year. Crowds gathered at Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument 25 miles west of Highclere, to welcome the re-birth of the sun as days slowly lengthen again. 5,000 years ago, when Stonehenge was begun, they would perhaps also have gathered to celebrate at the foot of Beacon Hill in the middle of our estate. We certainly have prehistoric barrows built around it. December 25th was later “acquired” by the Romans from earlier communities to worship their God then the Christian Church adopted the date as a [...]
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Christmas Tree

Dressing the Castle for Christmas is no ordinary project: every year we plan and prepare and every year it is always something of a test. The main ingredient required therefore is always a good sense of humour and a lot of laughter.

Lauren, in the office here, is in charge of organising the assorted Christmas trees: the huge one for the Saloon, 20 smaller ones for the drive and about 10 quite large ones by various doors and courtyards. John, our unique and detailed Castle Manager becomes most exercised about “size”. Lauren spends a lot of time asking, and confirming, the [...]
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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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New Year at Highclere

New Years’ Eve found about 30 or 40 of us gathered together at Highclere to dance and dine our way through to 2016. My parents were not particularly bothered and did not always stay up to see the New Year in which, as children, we always found rather disappointing. As a result I try to gather a good selection of friends together amidst laughter and Scottish reeling to mark the advent of another year.

I love reeling and organised many such evenings with various friends whilst at St Andrews University. If you combine that with being the eldest of six sisters [...]
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Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas!!

I thought I would simply share a few photographs of some of the projects we have taken forward over the past year.

We have repaired the floorboards, electrics and re-carpeted a wonderful corridor on the second floor of the south side of the Castle. It was a rainy day job for Pat Withers and her team in between other projects. One staircase from here leads to a Robing Room (photographed) whilst another leads up the Great Tower (yet to be carpeted but two landings and four rooms are finished on the first floor).

The Estate office is both a joy [...]
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