Catching up with John the Castle manager in the courtyard last week, I idly asked him how many steps he thought had walked that day. He said it had been an average sort of day and therefore about 14,000 steps.
It was only an average day since, during one week of Downton Abbey filming here this spring, he had actually walked seventy-five miles, an average of 15 miles a day and no – he couldn’t even remember how many steps made up that figure. I immediately doubled up with laughter because that was actually seventy-five miles trailing round listening to what was not going to be possible and telling people things they did not want to hear. So, he had walked seventy-five miles and got absolutely nowhere except to go round in circles and ended each day where he began.
I had asked John to be my guest on my podcast (you can find the podcasts on Spotify, Apple and all usual platforms) and, slightly to his surprise, my opening question was to ask him what he actually did each day. Despite the bows and arrows flung at him from all directions most days, this did seem to take him aback. It was however a good question because life and work at Highclere is extraordinary and in all our employment contracts there is always the catch all phrase “and whatever else might be deemed necessary”. In fact, it is this bit which often turns out to be the biggest part of the job.
In order to carry out any task here you have to move – you have to walk, climb stairs, spot puddles, find leaks, go up ladders and run uphill in both a real and metaphorical manner.
Many of our events also involve walking. The year before Covid, I was a complete twit and organised a music event with three different choirs in three different parts of the garden. By lunch time Charlotte from the office had walked 26,000 steps and I had appropriated a bicycle. Our guests were fine, just happily moving round the garden but the rest of us needed to lie down that evening and open wine.
Equally, much of Highclere’s life involves water, usually coming out of broken pipes in the wrong place which we often only find out about by checking the water metre regularly and spotting when the usage shoots up. We end up taking off across fields looking for soggy patches. James from the estate office likes sitting in his car to look for said bogginess whilst John argues that is a waste of time. Half an hour later and the leak is still elusive.
Walking round the Castle or the gardens also involves quite a few steps and we cheerily reassure visitors that is will go a good way towards their 10,000 steps a day, let alone staggering up the staircase. Personally, I find the staircases particularly annoying as it seems irrelevant how often I climb them: they are always tiring. Perhaps that is the point however, to keep trying and to get tired.
John walks a lot and writes a lot using old papers which grow into teetering piles. Every so often I have a clear out and the easiest way is to put a skip on the lawns and a run a chute down from a window into it. It is such fun that I send everything I possibly can down it and sometimes get a bit too enthusiastic.
Once it is full, the skip is removed, a new one comes in and I keep going. What is bizarre is that whenever I look round everything seems as full as it always was. It is however an excellent way of reducing the number steps needed up and down stairs.
Walking and talking, going for miles, looking out at miles of views, sharing the journey: it does not get much better.
During this Downton filming period John did in fact walk 225 miles, so he could have walked home to Yorkshire .