Category: Entertaining

What a weekend!

Any weekend arrangements in England begin with a discussion about the vagaries of the British weather and at Highclere it is no different. This past weekend it was a particularly important consideration as we had planned a classic English Garden Party with picnics, cocktails, period costumes and music.  We asked everyone to come dressed in Edwardian costume as if we were going back in time to the first season of “Downton Abbey”.

Sadly, perhaps predictably, on the first day of this two-day event, the weather was truly British. It rained all day, occasionally with almost monsoon-like intensity and at other [...]
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Fragility and Fundraising

 

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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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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Musical Flowers

I spent the first hour this morning with Paul the Gardener walking round the Castle to see whether we have enough flowers in the various rooms and galleries. Many friends and visitors probably only register them in the background, yet if they are absent, I do think the house looks very bare.

We have a theoretical annual plan so that there is a series of hyacinths, narcissi, azaleas, orchids, cinerarias, geraniums, jasmines, streptocarpus, begonias, hydgrangeas, cyclamen and ferns filling bowls and planters throughout the seasons around the Castle rooms.

Whilst waiting for Paul, I realised we were minus a plant in the [...]
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Cars to Apps

Since the times of Highclere’s first written records somewhere around mid 700 AD, Highclere has been involved in a myriad variety of businesses reflecting the interests of the times. From the more traditional pursuits of agriculture,  forestry and sawmills and tile making we have moved on to planes, cars, TV, media, books and now even an App. Millions of people enjoy Downton Abbey so much, yet the stories and short episodes are just the tip of the “Real Downton’s” iceberg. It is a bigger and, to my eyes, even more beautiful Castle and landscape with quirky corners and perhaps it is [...]
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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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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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Sunday Cricket

We have just played the last cricket match of this year on a lovely warm day and Highclere won which was exciting and fun. To be honest it was slightly unusual as we had lost most of the matches this season, sometimes when we thought we had nearly won too. I am trying to concisely explain cricket in a few paragraphs for my next book.

As children, my sisters and I always found the fielding names [...]
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Setting The Table

I was astonished at the response to the article on setting the table in The Sunday Times. I had actually written a small paragraph on how we do it here at Highclere in which all the staff here take tremendous pride and thoroughly enjoy teaching the younger generation coming in.

This is what I actually wrote:

 SETTING THE TABLE

Highclere’s dining room table seats between 4 – 30 people depending on how many leaves are carefully put into the Victorian extension mechanism. Setting the table is an art and allowing enough time is important. The detail and charm of the operation hasn’t [...]
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