I had said goodbye to Rainy Highclere and my dogs and set off to Vancouver, Canada following an invitation from the British Consul and PBS. However, rather than go straight there, I travelled via Los Angeles to see my girlfriend Karine and Viking River Cruises, who were sponsoring my travel.
I had assured my husband that we would both eat well and drink little so it would be a healthy trip. The misty Malibu mornings started with Karine and I taking her beloved dog Finse (born at Highclere) for a walk on the beach and I even saw some dolphins just off the shore. Somehow evenings meant cocktails and we started at “Nobu” overlooking the beach at Malibu for a sundowner. It was a sleek restaurant, dark wood and low pale sofas all casually trendy where I could hear snatches of voices from groups leaning on the bar in American mixed with LA English accents.
Of course we then had to try a few of Karine’s favourite restaurants (where they allowed dogs) sitting outside under heat lamps on evenings that were warm compared to Highclere!
It was a whirlwind stay, working, exploring Viking’s offices and spending one afternoon in a very cool recording studio in that there were black tinted cars and men in sunglasses keeping lookout. Karine was working on voice overs for the Viking videos and I was simply reading some “Finse” books. Too soon I waved goodbye to Finse and Karine to fly to Vancouver.
The iconic Fairmont Hotel was memorable not just for the most excellent service but guess what – a yellow Labrador. Amongst various press interviews, Mike Reid had interviewed me for the “Vancouver Times Colonist”. He had asked for photos of me with dogs outside the Castle for the article. The only person at his Highclere desk, late evening GMT, able to respond to this request was our computer consultant who did indeed send Mike photos – of dogs, puppies in baskets, a horse and dogs, more dogs but not much of the Castle – not me either which was probably the positive part! Not quite what I was after but very kind. Moving on to stay at Oak Bay in Vancouver Island, I was again greeted by dogs. This time three sheepdogs on rather covetable long leather leads.
Apart from dogs it was a few days away, as “Downton Abbey” drew to a close in North America. I am grateful that so many people have come to love Highclere as well as the human characters in “Downton”. I can sometimes grasp the extent of the recognition better from a distance.
The question was what is everyone going to do now? It was such an enjoyable programme, funny lines, carefully shot and produced and different. As usual when I am away, I spent some of the time trying to come up with ideas (good or otherwise) for the Castle. One such idea which we are now planning in earnest is a vintage garden party to take place in the Castle and grounds in September. It will be a traditional garden fete with bands and croquet; cream teas and parasols on the lawns; all guests in fancy dress (pre 1914) and vintage cars. Thus guests can walk through as if they are on set, ready to film. Perhaps I can write a few lines… Lunches at Highclere are now spent thinking up competitions: who will be the best “Carson” ? Who will have the best dowager’s hat? Best dressed housekeeper or perhaps a scone baking competition. More details to follow…