Since the start of the pandemic, I have often likened Highclere Castle to a large, stately ship which had been making good speed from Southampton across the Atlantic to New York only to be brought to a stuttering halt mid-way in late March 2020. It has never been easy to sit motionless in a heavy swell let alone try to find a reverse gear which, since it had never been needed before, is in fact yet to be constructed.
Thereafter manned only by a small select crew trying to do everything, we did indeed find some new gears. Now, with a larger crew once more, we are going forwards again, always with caution although sometimes still backwards or even what feels like sideways as well. Many businesses and individuals were, and still are, in the same hugely uncomfortable and exhausting position so I do not feel we are in an exclusive position but for all of us it has not been easy. Eighteen months later and feeling quite tired, it is often only a strong sense of humour that gives us the energy to keep going. Cue John Gundill the Castle Manager, before exiting stage left….
Here at Highclere, we are in the middle of our summer opening and general admission tickets. Spaces are limited and we are maintaining our stance on fewer numbers, carefully spaced. Predictably, certainty and accuracy are relative. Despite the office’s best efforts, more coaches turn up than expected at fairly random times and our timed entrance fails as traffic and road closures put paid to any such organisation.
Pingdemic has caused tickets changes overnight and visitors who thought they could come then find they cannot. Now the UK has decided to welcome tourists from abroad but then the EU and USA declare us one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Now that too has changed and we are starting to get visitors from overseas.
New colour tones are being invented to describe the danger from and for other countries which are then constantly amended as politicians talk of amber plus zones and traffic light systems as they endlessly change their minds about how they are going to run things.
Some of our visitors have changed tickets five times and I cannot thank them enough for their persistence and their patience. Many of our visitors have also watched Downton Abbey the same number of times although one guest trumped all by watching it twenty-two times.
All I can say is that I sincerely hope her achievement does not match the ticket changes needed. Meeting triumph and disaster and treating those two imposters just the same, I think our office team is becoming ever calmer as we all try to deal with such vagaries and create a strategy.
We end our summer season in early September as the weather changes and we step into a different gear with smaller events. My instinct says we all need a bit of fun and light-heartedness so we are beginning with our “Magic of the Movies” weekend: dancing and music, Pimm’s and scones, croquet and costumes, all that is English taking place in a quintessential English garden.
There is a familiar old song and I can hear the tune in my head:
“How many kinds of sweet flowers grow
In an English country garden?
….Meadowsweet and lady smocks,
Gentian, lupine and tall hollyhocks,
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget me nots,
In an English country garden..”
Despite our variable weather, English Country gardens provide a setting for much of the English social calendar from opera to garden parties, rowing and croquet. All of them take place with determination if nothing else.
For the last few years for this event we have organised costumes, cocktails, jazz and dancing. This year we have included a further addition. We will ask a few of our guests to follow a script and take part in a mini film. Our very own Downton Abbey if you like and a real melding of fiction and tours, fun and hilarity.
Another lovely look into life at the castle. The water droplet photo is particularly spectacular, so poignant and illustrative of the times we are living through. It represents both an upside down world, as you mention, and an image through a crystal ball of beauty and joy we feel is both far away and distorted from us for now. It also brings to our remembrance though the happy thought that beauty and joy still exists; it’s real. We can still reach out for it. It would surely win an award in competition. More selfishly, I would love to have that on my morning mug or a tee shirt.
Paul Mac here took the water droplet photo – he has an eye for unusual moments ..
I want one of the t-shirts, too!!
Lady Carnarvon people have lots of fun at garden parties and lovely downton abbey and lovely to visit highcelere castle Thank you for the email and did you have a nice weekend and lord Carnarvon
It has been hard for all. And I feel for every business. But this too shall pass.
I visited the Cotswolds for a month, end of June through July. I had to jump through hoops to get there. But I would not have missed the trip to see my new Granddaughter, and her 4 year old sister. In September of 2019 My daughter planned a surprise picnic and tour of Highclere. It brought tears to my eyes. I am so pleased that things are looking up for you. Stay strong!❤
Thank you for your frank reflections wrapped with memorable images of beauty and joy. I love your description of a pingdemic, another side effect of these trying times. We can’t wait to visit and see some snowdrops in the future
Wonderful blog! You are so good at writing and describing things in a way we can all understand. Love reading your posts. Hope you and all the staff at Highclere will enjoy the end of the summer season. I am looking forward to visit when it gets a bit easier to travel.
Monday and another great subject and so much fun. Thank you for your web page. I look forward too your e-mail every monday, Thank you
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
As always a brilliant blog, so glad you all have a sense of humour – boy do you need it!
Speakng of the British Summer, today we’ve had sunshine & very heavy thundery showers & it’s so cold I’ve got my heating on! Not ready for Autumn yet, can we please have our Summer back?!
Have a great August & September & I’m hoping to visit again soon, warm wishes to you all,
It was quite cool last night and I feel I still want summer!!!
Lady Carnarvon – due to flight issues we had to cancel this summers trip to the UK and we were really looking forward to our time at Highclere!
Your staff has been very helpful in rescheduling our trip for 2022 with allowing vouchers.
We are considering September of 2022 but want to make sure the castle is open at that time. If you could help with that we would greatly appreciate it as we try to work with the airlines to change tickets!! We are so looking forward to our visit!! Thank you. Bob form Michigan
I am going to plan September 2022 as this September, same format – general admissions finish early so in each case we can set up for Magic of the Movies and then carry on with guided tours…again as this year
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
While your text and your photography never fails to delight, there are two photos today that truly stand out.
The first is of the drop of water hanging from the branch or stem of vegetation with the upside down image of Highclere.
The second is of Highclere framed by the sunrise or sunset. It’s beautiful, but reminiscent of postcards of the past and it is absolutely beautiful
Thank you !
Beautifully described, all these mazes you’ve traveled through this pandemic, and the adjustments required and steered by sheer determination and creativity.
I rather got lost in the gorgeous, calming English country gardens and poetry, calling all to rest and heal and remember former times.
Thank you for the beautiful words once again, Lady Carnarvon, and all the fun and distractions you offer your visitors.
We appreciate all of the hard work everyone puts in to keep the castle going. I wish I could attend the movie event. I have an outfit that I have put together especially tailored to the Downton Abbey theme. I plan to wear it when I visit, hopefully next spring. I pray every day that it happens. I sometimes think I’m driving my husband crazy with all my planning!
Keep up the excellent work and I hope to see everyone in May.
Kathryn Crowell from North Carolina, USA
See you in May!
Your beautiful estate is on my wish list of England’s many locations. One more stop on my castles and tea garden tour. Hope to visit soon.
Lady Carnarvon lots of people have had fun at garden parties and lovely shades of amber and fan of Downton abbey did you have a nice weekend you and lord Carnarvon thank you for the email you send me
Thank you – I think I would rather say what is a weekend given they are always busy days for Highclere
My Monday mornings always are brightened by reading your posts. I get to “travel” to Highclere vicariously. In these times of chaos your emails are so enjoyable. I’m looking forward to a visit in person one day.
Look forward to seeing you here!
Hopefully someday! Love your blog. Thanks so much!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Your eternal optimism is an inspiration to us all. Laughter is the best medicine, and your plans for garden parties, movies snd delicious spirits will provide many happy opportunities for lots of smiles snd laughter. Well done!
I hold hope and lovely anticipation for a return to Highclere in 2022. I know there will be lots of smiles and laughter then, amidst the beauty of the Castle and gardens I will continue to look forward to your photos and wonderful writings each Monday. Your energy is incredible!!
Please stay well,
Charlotte Merriam Cole
Thank you -I think my energy is a bit down!!! But i am going to have fun sharing Magic on Instagram …
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
with you and Geordie at the helm, I am confident the good ship Highclere will continue to sail the high seas with its crew and passengers having a good time all the way. The weather may be variable and COVID may bring variable challenges, but at the end of the day, it’s what you make it, and very successful you have made it and fun too!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
It sounds heavenly and I cannot wait to visit! I am more than excited that Netflix is going to have Downton beginning on Aug. 15 (in Ireland!) I am counting the days to see it again.
Speaking of fun, I have just finished reading your first book, the fascinating story of Lady Almina. I thoroughly enjoyed it and definitely felt there were some correlations between the Downton story and the actual lives of the real people during the Great War.
In “The Crown”, there is a Lord Porchester (aka “Porchy”) who is a close friend of the Queen. I’m not sure if he managed her racing stable or trained her thoroughbreds, but he appears on a few occasions. Is this just coincidence? Or is there an actual tie-in? Obviously, Lady Almina’s story ends before HM Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne. But I am so curious.
As always, love your blog and am looking forward to reading the next book!
The times, they are a’changin’! So glad you and your team are constantly and calmly thinking up new ideas for your lovely home and visitors’ dream visit. The invitation for visitors to take part in a short filming is marvelous fun! Weaving Downton Abbey into Highclere Castle is a true compliment to your millions of fans!
The US government may say that the UK is “dangerous” but the people of the US know better. Keep up the good work!
I would love to have that dress on the far right and that hat on the far left in the last picture above. Gorgeous. I’d like to wear them when I move to my castle in Scotland in the future. Of course I could enjoy wearing them here in Alabama until then. That hat is better than sunscreen. heehee
Dear Lady Carnarvon, after rebooking twice my husband and I visited Highclere Castle at last on 27th July. We had a glorious day arrived for our tour as the the doors opened at 10am and stayed in the grounds until closing at 6pm.
Highlights of our day were sitting on the lawn for morning coffee listening to music after our tour of the magnificent rooms in house; chatting to the lovely guides in all the rooms; wandering in the gardens and the wildflower meadow; afternoon tea at the Courtyard cafe and we even caught a glimpse of His Lordship disappearing into the Estate office where his fabulous vintage cars were on view! We bought plants grown by the estate gardeners for our garden and mugs and even a t -shirt in the gift shop.
We stayed very local at The Carpenters Arms at Burghclere so on other days we were also able to walk in the grounds to the Temple of Diana view the lakes and also climbed the Beacon for splendid views of the castle and paused at the grave of the 6th Earl.
We had a wonderful time and we will hold the memories of our visit in our hearts for many years to come. Thank you and may God bless and prosper you and your family.
Julie Liverpool UK
Glad you enjoyed your time at Highclere Castle, such a lovely time of year with the gardens in full bloom!
The roses look very pretty. Thanks for a good blog just 2 days before my 65th birthday.
Hello: Lady Carnarvon: you are an inspiration.
I can imagine what it must be like living in the same neighbourhood as Highclere.
I’d be there daily.
Reading your emails pulls me into a different time and place. It’s like reading a good book.
I can’t wait for the next one.
You are kind –
I love the sweet picture of the young girl at the gate. She reminds me of Princess Charlotte! Thank you for the time you take creating your blog each week. It gives us a another glimpse of a place so familiar to Downton Abbey fans.
Very poignant! My friend is watching Downton Series for the first and I envy her being surprised by all the goings on. I have to make sure I don’t slip and spoil anything when we discuss the last episode. My husband found a great book about the background stories to the series. My Highclere library is growing. Good luck with the summer and God Speed!!!
Lady Carnarvon lovely the pictures of fun and shades of amber and lovely Downton abbey film one and lovely see Downton abbey film2 and lovely to comevisitHighcelere castle thank you for the blog
Love the blog, I have have so enjoyed reading each one of your articles and learning all about Highclere. We are arriving from the US in September and have a tour and tea planned for September 24th. This is our third reschedule and bless her heart, my Aunt Miv Hughes has worked so hard rescheduling each time. Thank you to your staff for being so accommodating. My husband and I have been rewatching Downton from the beginning in preparation for our visit, and we cannot wait to see your home!
That is great to hear – it seems to me it is mostly about perserverance
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I was wondering if you had the dates for booking for Afternoon Tea at Christmas? I love Highclere and have been trying to book this since before Covid! Any heads up would be very grateful accepted!
Many thanks and kind regards,
We are beginning to frame our events – Gerald Dickens is going to perform a Christmas Carol on December 20th and 21st (includes a tour and we are trying to figure out food etc) those are the end dates for us
Before that we are going to venture back into our Christmas fair and maybe a Christmas evening with carols etc.everyhting has tours and Christmas cake I think!
I so look forward to your weekly blog, Lady Carnarvon. I had the pleasure/honour of visiting Highclere in 2017…the afternoon wasn’t long enough and I vowed to return. When your blog in early April announced the “Magic of the Movies” event to celebrate Downton Abbey Movie#2, I spontaneously booked for the Sunday and began building a trip to England around it! Alas, travel is so precarious now that I’ve had to cancel. But it sounds like you and your staff are beautifully handling a lot of these changes and will “make it right” for us disappointed guests. Meanwhile there’s your lovely words and images each week to help us through these challenging times. I know you’ll keep the goodness going. Best wishes from northern California.
You will make it here just when it will be it will be. I am going to share what I can of Magic on instagram..
The picture of Magic…Movies looks like the cover of a book/booklet or the cover of the script you mention. By any chance is this available to purchase? If not a book, would you consider making a poster?
I love this image!! Thank you for your inspirational and informative blog.
I think that the Dowager Duchess would say: (as only Maggie Smith can)
“Highclere is in very good hands. I no longer have any fear for the future.”
I don’t think you have had “fear for the future” but couldn’t resist imagining her voice saying this!
I think that is a good idea!
I am so sorry that you have had so much difficulty with ad hoc disuptions.
The politics of this epidemic have destroyed so much. The disinformation is disturbing ,but businesses have to abide by inaccurate information, very sad. I hope you can soon get back to ,not The New Normal, but the old normal.
Good afternoon Lady Carnarvon.
I always enjoy your posts but this time I must, must say there was one picture I truly thought great, and that was the “ladies” in all their finery. Truly it must have been a beautiful sight to see these fine women dressed so. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed the picture.
All the best to you and your family.
Lady Carnarvon, Lots of fun at Highclere Castle but a lot of hard work put into to making Highclere so welcoming. Congratulations on your new book. It must feel good to have finished it. All the very best, Cheryl
Thank you – it is lovely and rather amazing to see it.It is a good book for now, how we can tread lightly
The ocean liner analogy is certainly apt. We can only hope that Covid variants are not the proverbial iceberg
Here’s to smoother sailing ahead
Yes well Downton all started with a ship … plan ahead and avoid icebergs!
I just listened to the song you mentioned. Made me smile! I have never heard it so thanks for sharing it! Many blessings to you.
Dear Lady Carnarvon:
Thank you for your Monday blog.
Glad to read that you remain optimistic for the foreseeable future. It seems that certain areas in the United States are becoming hot spots again, and that things remain unsettled.
Great photographs, especially the flowers in the garden.
Until next week, stay busy and healthy.
That’s really something. Reflections in a single raindrop with and upside down point of view can help you reconsider your prospective. Very powerful and subtle. I’ll remember that, thank you for sharing.
Your Blog is such a nice personal way to keep up the nuances and seasonal rhythms at Highclere Castle. You do it with grace and humor. A lovely “catch you up” until we can get there..soon.
Charles & Liz DeAinza
Late in Reading this weeks blog. Pictures were sublime. How indeed would We like to spend a few days at your home and escape the constant newscasts of the Covid 19.
Our small pond and the humming birds keep me content.
It’s been a busy week for me and I just read your wonderful blog. We hope to visit the UK again next year. I sure hope all this changes and brings us there.
Thanks for the lovely tour.
To have seen from New York that Ship come over the horizon would have been an inestimable joy. But even in the thick of it, in the largest and darkest waves, just remember WWII. You will survive. And the days after will be brighter than the days before. -Your cousin, Jim
Thank you Lady Carnarvon, and I am afraid these thanks are rather belated but your blog is so uplifting, such a joy! Your mention of the song, ‘An English Country Garden’ did my heart good! Here in the mountains of Marysville I have a Bluebell Wood established after the horrendous bushfires in 2009, and it is so beautiful, regeneration is amazing, it fills me with wonder. God bless you and all your exciting ‘sailing’.
Heather Mills, Marysville, Victoria