I can hardly believe that I am sitting at the rather untidy circular table in my office with Sally from the gift shop and the Christmas Elf team, perched on bouncy balls and more normal chairs. We are already planning Christmas for 2019. Sally is particularly excited because she has already ordered one herd of reindeer and now declares she would like a second one. To my husband’s relief, they are made out of willow rather than live animals but nevertheless they are still of a reasonable size and I need to work out where to store them.
The old Sawmills is an area we have been slowly bringing back into estate life, rewiring the electricity supply, mending windows, gutters and doors and generally clearing up. “Downton Abbey” used it in a scene with Lady Edith driving a pony and trap and I think something went wrong, but it was an early episode… I am merely hoping nothing goes wrong for us. Trevor has been doing a great job filling skips and putting down type 1 (a hard floor base)in the sheds. David the Joiner will hopefully make some doors whilst new lighting and low level heating will take the chill off. Thus I will have a new shed for Sally’s reindeer which, I imagine, may be joined by other decorative purchases in due course.
It is a curious time of year here because, in another sense, we have only just finished Christmas 2018 as I have just put to bed my next book “Christmas at Highclere, the Real Downton Abbey”. Some time ago, my book agent, Ed Victor, lounged back in an armchair in the Library and drawled “Fiona, you should write a book about Christmas”. He has since sadly died but I hope he will be there for spiritual support as it goes to print. I have done as he said and combined stories, traditions, family, friends, recipes and photos. The landscape photographer Chaz, walked for miles in the snow last month capturing the elemental landscape in a seemingly never ending series of astoundingly beautiful photographs and Paul Winch-Furness completed the cooking photography of the dishes and feasts as well as other interiors.
I am quite sure it is not quite yet quite finished, I am no longer writing, however, until one in the morning. I can take a deep breath, go for a walk and with a clearer head, look forward to our up-coming plans.
We open to share the Spring Gardens and Castle with a family day out: our Easter Egg Hunt which is always tremendous fun. We create a treasure trail around the gardens and each child wins an Easter Egg and many come carefully bearing Easter bonnets again to win even more chocolate. The Stormtroopers are amazing and come to support the event. In the top photo they are checking out the treasure maps.
Then, in May, we are hosting a week of talks and tours around the subject of “Art and Architecture”. Speakers are now booked to engage and share their thoughts about great houses, interior decorating or the architecture of Highclere Park. As a finale, and to finish the week off, I have been utterly unable to resist inviting Kit and McConnel back to Highclere for an irreverent evening of laughter and cabaret. I may well conjure a rhyme to introduce them.
The highlight of June is the Downton Abbey Concert. I rather hope it will be a chance for guests to actually see some of the cast from of “Downton” at Downton, as normally the public cannot come in when filming is taking place. Equally it will be surreal sitting in front of the Castle watching it highlights on enormous screens.
As we open for the summer months, we pray for sunshine as it makes it so much easier for parking, not to mention so much nicer for our guests. This is especially true for the “Battle Proms” concert in early August of music, fireworks and picnics which remains another favourite of mine.
In early September we have a last hurrah for Summer with a ‘Costumes and Cocktails’ weekend with a good jazz band and dancing as well as vintage cars and so on before the Downton Abbey film comes out.
The Autumn has a number of bright ideas turning over in my mind to help create behind the scene tours in September and October.
From Easter Trails to Downton trails. Before you know it, it will be time for the reindeer to carefully peer out of their shed and see where they are needed. With Christmas workshops, carols, Christmas teas, a few ghost stories perhaps just as in my book and so the seasons go round and another year passes.