May Days

When I was a student at St Andrews University there were various optional ancient traditions one of which was swimming in the freezing North Sea on May 1st. Curiously enough, whilst it was not then a preferred pastime, I do now rather enjoy swimming in colder waters. It is very invigorating especially within sight of a warm bath afterwards.

May Day remains a bank holiday in many countries for any number of differing historical reasons. In England it has a long and varied justification from dancing around maypoles (banished by Thomas Cromwell and then reinstated by Charles II in about 1660), to celebrating the union of England and Scotland in 1707 and finally becoming Labour day in the 20th century. In northern Europe it was Walpurgis Day and in Southern Europe it is all about flowers and love.
Whatever else, May Day heralded a busy month at Highclere, withthe joy of the gardens and explosion of all flowers (weeds included) to events within and around the Castle.  We moved from our Newbury Spring Festival concert to Jane Austen and a fun week of talks and tours around the books and legacy of this remarkable author. Paula Byrne gave some great lectures, which I much enjoyed, whilst my friends Kate Felsus and Laura Mayer entertained everyone again. We welcomed Annalie Talent, Hazel Jones and Phil Howe who walked us around Jane Austen’s world though roads, landscapes and houses.  The pianist Lisa Tims and friends joined us in the Saloon to play Jane Austen’s music on a Broadwood piano. Dressed appropriately from 1800, the trio sang and read. It was very memorable and extraordinarily peaceful, listening to the singing.

That week ended with my husband running 10km for a homeless charity in Reading which is a town about 20 miles from Highclere.  We have supported Launchpad for a number of years. It helps, houses, mentors and supports people who have slid off the grid for whatever reason and who need a hand to help them restart their lives.

The end  of May was focused on the Highclere country fair, which has taken place here for about 15 years on the Whitsun (or Spring as it is now called)  bank holiday.  An enormous number of people attend which involves traffic strategies, set up plans, camp sites and a never ending stream of signage. The Castle radios are alive as John, Robert, Pat,  and Lee and his team make sure everything goes smoothly.Meanwhile in the  gardens, Paul and his team fought hard to stay on top of the work and not call out “Mayday” for help as they try to get round the borders, lawns and woodlands. The haha needed strimming, whilst the park verges needed John on his tractor to cut them back.

Some of  the sheep and all of the horses were moved out of the way to somewhere safe where they wouldn’t  be distressed by all the hubbub. This year Sheila, my pet sheep, was almost left behind. Seeing the ponies led off, she set up a racket and then, having been let out so that she could follow along, took off at high speed until she caught up.  A 15 years old sheep at full gallop is quite a sight and a testimony to her sprightliness. To add to her irritation we then decided to take the opportunity to shear her as well which she finds most undignified, and perhaps her own “mayday”!

46 Responses to “MayDay”
  1. Ellena says:

    Thank you for opening your home for visitors. It was such a pleasure to meet you today and wonderful to listen to you speak about the artworks and furniture within and their history.

  2. Paul says:

    I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Sheila the sheep at the back of the Estate office she is one smart sheep. There is never a dull moment working here at Hightclere Castle so much going on through the year. Well done to Lord Carnarvon running in his 10K race for the Homeless Charity

  3. Barbara McLean says:

    So happy you highlighted Jane Austen! What an amazing lady.
    How far are you from Chawton or Stevenson? Hampshire is so lovely.
    I belong to JASNA and wish I could have attended. You are on my list and hope to vitst in the next couple of years!!

  4. Gaetano says:

    Thank you for any curiosities and celebration’s month.
    May can as well represent the transition’s month, when everything come left back and getting ready for the summer.
    The days taking new light and perfume, flowers but also many weeds standing unchecked with beatles’ buzzing.
    The life is so abundant and sounding.
    Everywhere as well as at Highclere there are wonderful scenario.
    ( The sheep will thank )

  5. Catherine Splane says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon, thank you for the delightful video on Highclere Horse Feeds. I had questioned you about Azzia (?) and how you ride her. She is breathtakingly beautiful, as is other horse you ride in the video. If i remember, is a snaffle bit split in two pieces? I have not ridden in years, but like to keep up to date.

    Thank you again. Enjoyed May Day celebration photos and story. Catherine.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I use very gentle bits – some are just rubber! Azzie I do ride in snaffle and if she is fresh, drop the reins to a lower ring to help me!

  6. Catherine Splane says:

    Hello again.

    Sheila is lovely and sprightly. She looks very intent and observant, very loved. Lucky sheep. What is a sheep’s life span? Thank you.

  7. Debbie Yates says:

    I so look forward to all you tell us about life at Highclere! My town here in America is all Kentucky Derby in May!

  8. Alan Brown says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon, just read your latest blog on events at Highclere during May and the events throughout the month sounded fascinating and am sorry we couldn’t attend this year but will try next year!
    My partner and I are really looking forward to a visit we have booked on 25th July, Morning visit to gardens and castle followed by afternoon tea at the stables.
    My partner is from Panama and on my recent stay after retirement in January I introduced her to ‘Downton Abbey’
    and during my 4 month stay sat through the whole series and is hooked!
    She was also delighted when I found the documentary showing life at Highclere!
    Love reading your blogs!
    Thank you.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I hope I will be there to meet you on the 25th. I often bike in the morning and can pass the time of day with early visitors.

  9. Amanda says:

    I love your sheep! I imagine they’re similar to goats in personality? I’ll have to look into that…

  10. Lady Carnarvon says:

    Sheila certainly stamps her foot !

  11. David DuBois says:

    I’m a huge Downton Abbey fan and I can’t wait to visit on my next trip to London!

  12. Lorraine Duszczynski says:

    Thank you for the history of May Day ,(Labor Day). Always nice to add to the history you have shared before. After Downton Abbey which brought Highclerc to life it is nice to know the history behind the story. Have a nice spring. Looking forward to hearing from you again.

  13. KImberly Adkins says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    The highlight of my trip was my visit to Highclere. The May Day events , all the others, sound magnificent. I have read your books with relish. Will there be another?

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      The “At Home” book comes out in the USA and Canada on June 20th – so that is my next project !

  14. Natalie G. says:

    I loved this blog post – all the fun information about the non-stop events in May at Highclere (with a continuation into June, I’m sure!), along with the fun pics, especially Sheila the Sheep. I think she would get along well with Shaun the Sheep from the sounds of things! 😀

    I am totally in awe of your husband’s efforts to run each year to support Launchpad – I would have given out half-way through. Not really a runner, but if I could maybe ride the course on a bike, I could do it!

    I was wondering at the stagecoach and outrider that was shown and where they came from (beautiful 4-in-hand matched set pulling the coach!). Were they an exhibition of ‘the Old West’? My favorite part of the States is Montana/Wyoming and seeing the pic reminded me of the artifacts at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming.

    I hope June is as successful as May, and that the weather holds for the events you have planned.

    Cheers from South Carolina, USA!!

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I thought you might enjoy the Stage coach – the main ring in the country fair had a series of shows and one of them was great fun with tricks on horses and the wild west coach….

      June is busy too – but in different ways

  15. Lisa Connell says:

    Lady Carnarvon, I was at the Jane Austin celebration, Wednesday, May 17th (we’re in your picture, above!) and it was everything and more than I had ever hoped for! It was quite a rainy day, but your generous offering to open the Egyptian collection was an added bonus. I have wonderful memories to reflect back on, and of course souvenir books and treasures ;). When I look at my pillow with “Downton Abby” on it, I can say that I have been there! My heart is overjoyed with folks like you in this world. You help open our imagination to a time and place in history, and make the words on a page become reality. Thank you for your family’s endless efforts to make our world a better place, and for sharing those moments.

  16. Robin Weiss says:

    I am very excited to be visiting Highclere on July 19 th for the day with my family and hopefully meeting you, Sheila the sheep, the ponies and other farm animals while we are there. I also once had two sheep, Bonnie and Clyde, and I was hopelessly in love with them! Now we have a horse that my daughter shows in the hunters, a retired pony, two corgis and a cat. We love animals! Thank you for taking the time to write your posts as I truly enjoy reading them and seeing the photos. Hope to meet you in person in July!

    Robin Weiss from Connecticut, USA

  17. Chrissy says:

    what can I say – another great blog about the goings on at Highclere -love the sheep story – she is really old!!!

    • Catherine Splane says:

      Sheila is 15, loved, cherished, not old. She is alert, observant, all because of love. Fine wine is aged, not old.

  18. Leona Busse says:

    Just love your blog. We visited Highclere in 2014 and enjoyed our time in England very much. USA

  19. Dianne Wasgatt says:

    Thank you again for another humerous, interesting and splendid blog about Highclere. Never a dull moment. I was married on May 1 st so another reason to celebrate May Day.

  20. Lady Carnarvon says:

    It is not dull here and I am collecting other “moments” when I am crying with laughter as i think they would be a fun book!!!

  21. Paula says:

    What a wonderful memory your post conjured up in me! As a child, here in Oklahoma, we would dance around the May pole and my grandmother and I would make May Day baskets filled with flowers from her yard, we would then anonymously place them on neighbor’s doors. Thank you for another interesting look into your life.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I have not tried dancing round a Maypole here – but you are right – I remember it from early holidays along with Morris Dancers. The latter are booked to come along to our September Garden party – I hope they will utterly amuse our overseas guests!!!

  22. Catherine in Greece says:

    Bravo to Lord Carnarvon for running the 10 klm! What a great way to support Homeless Charity! And what a fine blog about your Jane Austen events, would that i could have been there…thanks for the tales you tell. And “hugs” to Sheila the Sheep…adorable, of course! Always a joy to read your blogs, ’tis almost like revisiting beautiful Highclere Castle!

  23. Catherine in Greece says:

    Oops, this is me: Catherine in Greece 🙂 Somehow it registered my full name? Anyway, ‘love your blogs about highclere!

  24. Lady Carnarvon says:

    Love to hear form you Catherine in Greece – I met your Ambassador here in London and i was sharing with her your efforts and mine to raise some money for those homeless and sheltering in in Greece because of war.

  25. Paula Wicker Hamby says:

    What a beautiful and joyous occasion May Day! Celebrating so many wonderful things…love Jane Austen and the costumes of the attendees. Beautiful music on a piano is just superb! And most of all, bless Lord Carnarvon for his participation in the “run” for the homeless program in Reading and for your lovely coordination in all the events, Lady Carnarvon! What an oasis of hope in a sometimes desert of the troubles of our world! Much appreciation always!


  26. Ann C. Flood says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    I recently viewed a television show about English villages that was aired on PBS in the United States. In the show country fairs such as the one annually held at Highclere were discussed. Being a historian yourself, you probably know that because of riots taking place at these fairs (long ago) a Royal Warrant was needed to hold one. I had to smile when I heard of the “organized chaos” you described at your fete. I am curious to know if Highclere ever held a Royal Warrant and if one is necessary to hold a country fair today. Seeing your lovely village was such a treat. I’m so gratified that your village community carries on the tradition of the country fair. I’m sure it was great fun!!!

    Kind Regards and Happy Summer,

    Ann Catherine Flood

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I think our fete is too small – an the only riots would be riotous dogs!!!

      I have tried to share some of these traditions in my new book “At Home at Highclere” beautiful photos please do see it! Rizzoli have now published it in North America!

  27. Wendy Dujardin says:

    My husband and I visited Highclere on June 13th. We are such fans of Downton and it was so surreal to actually see where it was filmed. We loved the gardens and the hospitality was amazing! Thank you so much for opening your home and for popping in to meet all of us! That was a surprise! It was truly one of the best times we’ve had. Thank you!

    Wendy Dujardin
    Wake Forest, North Carolina

  28. Aaron (AJ) says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    I have just binge-watched all the available episodes of “The Crown” and saw that the Queen’s good and life-long friend, Lord Carnarvon (she called him “Porchey”) was featured on one of the episodes. I then wondered if Highclere Castle would be making an appearance in that series? Your thoughts? Also, I was delighted to hear of the news of Downton Abbey returning to Highclere for a movie. And I’m so happy for you as well!

    Aaron (AJ)

  29. Lady Carnarvon says:

    Thank you for your comments! There is one quite amusing photo in my new book it’s on page 96. Let me know!

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