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Welcome

Welcome to my blog, inviting you behind the scenes of my life and home and sharing anecdotes from my everyday life at Highclere Castle. The world of Highclere still exists with its own community of Chefs, Gardeners and Housekeepers, Luis our Butler and Maggie the Groom as well as all the other people who make the ‘Real Downton Abbey’ a welcoming place for visitors today.

Assistant Vicar needed at Highclere

Highclere Church hopes to persuade an assistant parson to help our Vicar. We need your help on Sundays and two days/week in return for which there is 4 bedroom house in Highclere village. Read more

Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun

In 1922 the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. It could be considered the first global world media event. It was, and is, a marvellous story about treasure, tragedy and of course, a curse. Despite the significance of the discovery, the first biography of Howard Carter was not written until 1972 and I have yet to write one about Lord Carnarvon!

So I sat down to watch last night’s  TV programme about the discovery of Tutankhamun with some anticipation. The problem for Highclere is that the 5th Earl was a real, not a fictional character. [...]
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Furry Friends

The iconic opening shot of “Downton Abbey” began with a yellow Labrador happily pottering across the Castle lawns, tail wagging. Pets can give such a sense of warmth and home. In reality at Highclere we have seven dogs pottering or running across the lawns, though sadly not always under our direction. Winston the spaniel in particular has a tendency to escape to do his own thing, usually where he is most emphatically not wanted like around the pheasant pens. When our old yellow Labrador, Percy, died we were all distraught and I know my husband still misses him. My son [...]
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A Change of Pace

As summer turns to autumn, the pace and diary at Highclere changes. Public opening finishes for a time and the Castle welcomes smaller guided tours and groups which work better around our traditional commitments of game shooting and other events such as charity runs, garden tours and small dinners. The office team try to snatch some holiday after a very busy summer and as John (our Castle Manager) and I sign off holiday forms, we wonder if we may be cooking or answering the phone or whether we should put in our holiday forms as well.

We are also now planning [...]
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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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First Class Stamps

One of my personal highlights of this year’s celebration of the tercentenary of the birth of the great landscape gardener “Capability” Brown has been the inclusion of Highclere Castle on a Royal Mail Stamp. It was long in the planning and had to be kept confidential which was difficult as I was so excited.  Professor Tim Mowl was the landscape expert helping to draw together the chosen few and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with him and the Royal Mail.

 

The postmen are part of our lives, their shorts sometimes worthy of comment in winter weather and one of them is [...]
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Philosophy in Wine

Riding along the chalk downlands two miles to the south of where the Castle stands, it is easy to distinguish the prehistoric field lynchets and terraces which must have been part of an intensively settled and farmed landscape. Three thousand years later we still farm this part of the estate, although these ancient fields are just grazed by sheep to conserve the visible remains of the past.

There are crop marks, boundaries and platforms where small homes- huts- may have been built. They lie around the monumental remains of the fort on Beacon Hill and hence can be dated from Iron [...]
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Battle Proms

The first Saturday of August each year, we hold an open air picnic concert here at Highclere. It is called the “Battle Proms” and is very well organised by Adam Slough and his team. Nearly 10,000 people arrived during the afternoon, setting up their tables and laying out rugs. The evening begins with cavalry displays, which are always entertaining. I really enjoy the evening and have a large picnic which is wholly informal and relaxed. It does not matter whether you are 5 years old or 90, it is fun for everyone.

About 7.30pm, however, we are all listening for the [...]
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Need To Know

There was a dreary interconnecting door between the Saloon and the Smoking Room in the Castle. Feeling at the time that I had undertaken rather a lot of dutiful and rather more mundane tasks, I decided to turn my thoughts to having some fun and improving it. With a girlfriend, Ellie, who is a talented painter and gilder, we sketched out a trompe d’oeil for the door. I chose a design which reflected some of the decoration of the Library shelves in order to give it a “realistic” frame and then Ellie then carefully planned what would be on the shelves, [...]
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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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The Somme

Several summers past, I sat down in the study in the Castle to write “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey”: a story about Highclere before, during and after the First World War. By the end of June, I was writing about the Battle of the Somme which was actually launched on July 1st 1916.

Historical statistics relate that one million men were killed or wounded, but how can we imagine the lost sons, husbands and brothers?  I was also writing about Almina’s hospital at Highclere, the nursing and the world of medicine, the attempts to heal. I read that 400 [...]
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