Have you ever dreamed of staying at “Downton Abbey”? If you have, this dream came true for eight lucky guests from Canada. I am not sure now whether I developed the idea whilst going for a walk, or in the bath, but I do remember that I had the vague recollection of reading in some newspaper survey that Highclere Castle had been voted the place that readers most wanted to stay the night.
The idea then developed into a project to raise money for worthwhile charities such as PBS. Entrants would dress up, invite their guests and prepare a dinner party, raising money for the charity of their choice. It was all about sharing and, in the end, we had entries not only from the USA and Canada but also from Europe and Australia. The visitors’ books here at the Castle reflect the rich diversity of friends and honoured guests who have enjoyed sharing in Highclere’s hospitality over the centuries. I gather nuggets of detail as I delve into the archives. It is, however, rather like some of my old accounting days: it is all about incomplete records and, like an accountant, there is a little bit of filling in the blanks.
I wish I knew which bedroom Sir John A. Macdonald stayed in, or Charles Adams. Howard Carter, the Egyptologist, stayed here so often that perhaps he had a favourite room or perhaps he enjoyed the view from many different bedrooms. Anyway, the point is that, when the Canadian winners arrived, they ‘were’ staying in John A’s room, or George Etienne Cartier’s or John Galt’s or John McGee’s. Apart from the odd ghost wagging a finger at me, I can’t be proved wrong. I know they stayed but not precisely in which room they slept.
In our busy lives sharing a dinner, deciding how to balance a placement and generally organising the evening, is a fundamental part of reminding us what it is to converse, to sit and eat. From the earliest history, banquets and feasts defined society. It has been mooted that our ability to be omnivores, to cook and eat a diversity of food from seafood to fish and meat, from eggs and dairy, grains, fruits and vegetables, helped our brains develop and thus to develop speech and the organisation of our environment and society. We are, quite literally, what we have eaten.
However, over the last couple of decades, for many of us food and cooking has changed in perhaps a not so positive way. We eat whilst walking, whilst sitting in the car, at a desk and much less often at a table or with other people. Food is plentiful and unlimited, we no longer have to catch it, make it or cook it and most of us take it utterly for granted. I think this is our loss and one of the things that has been so interesting about the Downton journey for me, is it’s demonstrable emphasis on both formal and communal dining.
It matters how to set the table and what foods to choose to cook. Downton of course began at breakfast time, the family gathered together. Many scenes were set around our Dining table with often a cutting comment or physical collapse leading to exits stage left in deathly silence.
The guests’ arrival may have included some wonderfully cutting comments from the Dowager Lady Grantham before they had even sat down to dinner. By contrast, I rather hope our guests loved every moment of their arrival at the Castle.
I found the entries we had to the “Come and Dine” contest very moving: dinner parties being created with such trouble and attention to detail and with such amazing photographs, songs and videos. All the food came from my book ‘At Home at Highclere’ and for our own dinner we started with Luis’s champagne cocktail and the beetroot cured salmon, also from the same book.
Naturally, when I was judging, the first thing I wanted to do was cry. Karine (Hagen of Viking Cruises) was with me and she was no better. We both sat in Highclere’s dining room with the other judge Andrew McKenzie feeling utterly unable to choose. Finally we decided on Tressa Lemky from Winnipeg, Canada who went above and beyond everything we could possibly expect.
Viking Cruises, like Highclere, is a family business and one which is about community and sharing through travel.With extraordinary kindness they flew over the eight lucky winners and organised all their logistics. Before coming to Highclere, the winners had dinner and an overnight stay at The Vineyard, who also supported the project and have a wonderful spa as well as an extraordinary wine cellar.
Laughter, tears, friendship, dinner and beds you sink into, with views that money cannot buy. What more could you ask for. Thank you above all to Karine and Torstein of Viking and thank you to all those who took apart.
MY DEAR LADY CARNARVON,
BEAUTIFUL HISTORY. CONGRATULATIONS FOR WINNER TRESSA LEMKY -VIKING CRUISES-VINEYARD.
Thank you. It was a wonderful event.
How lovely! Do you ever anticipate opening rooms for guests to stay in as a B and B? I know you have one of the carriage or gate houses available for that, but to be able to stay in the Castle would be amazing!
Highclere Castle is our private home so we usually only have family and friends to stay. As you rightly say we have two wonderful lodges London Lodge and Grotto Lodge which visitors can rent for a short break.
Beautiful! What an amazing experience. Congratulations!!
Thank you for sharing these stories and events. Always a pleasure to read and to enjoy the photos with morning coffee.
Thank you for sharing this video. It was a joy to see the winner and the hospitality given to her and the guests.
I realise it was a promotion to showcase PBS, which in itself is a good cause, but from start to finish, the whole event, as shown to your blog readers, was handled in a perfect manner. Brits are really tops for giving a good show!
Tressa also raised money for a local charity – she gave a tea party as well equally other entrants chose different charities. We hope we gave equal attention. Nevertheless I find the PBS platform interesting and one of choice. It is chance to engage without constant interruptions .
Oh I loved reading about the visit and watching the video! Tressa handled everything with such grace. I wouldn’t have been able to hold back tears throughout the entire visit. What a treat to not only hang out with you (our most beloved, of course!) but also Lord Carnarvon, who is so handsome and seems so mysterious (in absence of a blog, ha ha). Bella looking ridiculously happy makes me feel happy. Thank you for sharing, as always. By the way, I’m wondering if there is any news on the puppy front!
Karine (and Finse) has indeed had puppies – I will see when she might share!
Congratulations to Tressa and the Canadians, how wonderful to have stayed in the state rooms and dined at the castle! We were with you “in spirit”, imagining what a lovely dinner it must have been. And so true it is, that in today’s world of fast foods, home delivery, chat-on-the-smart-phone, how much we need formal dining and human conversation at the table. To enjoy a meal with good friends, good food, and good wine as Homer said…is the most delightful thing!
Thank you Catherine – you were a very worthy runner-up.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Thank you Lady Carnarvon and Viking for hosting this lovely contest. I entered and it was so much fun planning and creating the menu for a special meal for my group of friends. We had so much fun and our only regret is we did not win the contest!! Well, that is not even true as we were so impressed by Tressa’s entry that we all agreed she should be the winner. Truly extraordinary!!! I know it was a wonderful experience for all involved. I still smile when I think of my “Downton Dining Experience!!” Thank you for sharing your photos and thoughts about the contest, it was truly a memory I will always cherish.
Ann Catherine Flood
Thank you Ann – what a gracious comment. The fun, friendship and delicious food enjoyed by the competition entrants really shone through – everyone was a winner in terms of sharing.
Excellent! Can’t wait to see y’all (again) next month for Hero’s! So excited.
I was beaming the whole time I was reading and watching the video. It was so thoughtful of you to complete the “story” for all of us who participated or wished to. Dreams can come true and be enjoyed by all!
Great story. I did not enter but would have loved to have met your dogs and taken them for a walk – or probably they would have taken me – around your beautiful grounds.
The Labradors would certainly give you a good work out!
Beautiful story. I’m happy that Tressa was able to have that experience. She seems like a lovely person. My friend and I were fortunate enough to visit Highclere Castle for the Vintage Lawn Party in September of 2016. It was the day it rained but we didn’t care. It didn’t seem to bother you a bit either. You are a gracious hostess.
Thank you – a spot of rain never dampens our spirits here at Highclere!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
What a lovely entry and video. Highclere, you, PBS and Viking are my three favorite things in life outside of my family. It gives me great joy to read your blogs and watch the videos. Congratulations on giving Tressa and her friends a night which she will never forget. Well deserved! Please post pictures of the puppies!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
This was truly a beautiful event for a great cause. Whilst so much work goes into making it all happen, the result of sharing food and conversation is so worth it. More time is needed away from cell phones & screens so that we can gather face-to -face and share all that makes life wonderful.
Tressa and you have made a difference. Well done and thank you for the beautiful video!
I so agree Charlotte. Time spent sharing food in the company of good friends and family is a joy.
I’ve been hoping each Monday to see a bit more about the Come and Dine contest. Your video is wonderful and completely captures what I’d imagined the special times would be like for the winner and Tressa with her group certainly filled the bill. Congratulations to her and to you all there at the Castle. What a fine time. Thank you for sharing it with us.
It was a really special evening.
Congratulations to the winner. Just eating on the grounds last year while on a tour was exciting. Of course, having Lord Carnarvon stroll around and saying hello made it truly memorable.
I’m so glad you enjoyed your visit. We have been lucky enough to have a lot of picnic weather this year.
What a lovely video! Congratulations to the winner of such an extraordinary experience. I am curious about one thing. I have always understood that wearing a hat or fascinator is not appropriate at the dinner table, but I see your guest did do just that. Is it alright to wear a hat or fascinator to a dinner party? Just want to make sure I have my etiquette correct.
Thank you. In times gone by ladies might have worn a tiara rather than a fascinator but Tressa looked absolutely lovely in hers.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
What a dream come true for Tressa! Thank you for making that dream come true for her, so lovely! I will be visiting Highclere Castle for the Christmas Ball 2018 which is my dream come true!!!
My husband and I will be celebrating our wedding anniversary and I am over the moon excited! What can we expect at this beautiful event? Any spoilers you can share with?
Have a wonderful day!
I loved learning more about Tressa’s visit and hearing her thoughts about visiting Highclere and meeting you! Lovely video and such a wonderful opportunity for you and your friends!
❤️❤️ Well done
What a beautiful experience~ I’m so thrilled for Tressa.
I’ve been wondering lately if the visit for Tessa had come about and was hoping to see some of the highlights, so thank you very much for sharing. The reason the contest has been on my mind is because I have been harvesting white onions and making that wonderful soup recipe you shared. I had made the white onion soup with truffle oil as part of our menu for our entry in the Come and Dine contest and had had some difficulty finding white onions. As a result, in the spring I planted several rows and now have white onions in abundance, so pots of soup are being made to freeze. Enjoying the soup will be a wonderful reminder of all the fun I had planning the meal and the wonderful evening shared with friends. Congratulations to Tessa and thank you for the opportunity to participate in such a worthy endeavor.
Wonderful – I was just talking about the truffle oil in the soup today!
What a delight it was to watch the video and share in Tressa’s joy! Our “circle of friends” had such fun that night at our Highclere-style party. From the vintage car arrivals to the opera singer’s performance, you helped us turn raising money for PBS into a night that we all cherish. By the way, tonight I am making your excellent braised red cabbage. It has become a family favorite.
Thank you – I love the red cabbage – and I have made some sauerkraut recently – so good for one’s health!
Well done, Lady Carnarvon for planning and holding such an interesting and novel competition. And thank you for sharing the winner’s experience with us in your blog.
That short film certainly captured Tressa’s excitement at winning the competition and staying at Highclere. Her excitement certainly is infectious. What a lovely and gracious person.
Mind you, I think your husband (& Rickie) may have been the real ‘winners’ with having been able to dine with so many lovely ladies on the one occasion!
Some final remarks:
– Congratulations on also raising funds and awareness for PBS and other charities.
– And a big ‘well done’ to Viking Cruises for its generosity. (My family is in the process of planning a Cruise next year with Viking, which, within a relatively short time of cruising in Australian waters, has already established a commanding presence and a rating of excellence “downunder”.)
– Your beautiful Bella’s behaviour was exemplary – especially given the multiple temptations on offer at the splendidly presented afternoon tea.
– “The Vineyard” is now most definitely on my list of ‘must stays’ when next in England.
And I cannot conclude without commenting on your magnificent “Roller”. What a gem of a vehicle and so beautifully restored. When it was restored was synchromesh added between 1st and 2nd or is the good old “double shuffle” of clutch and gears still required? Whatever be the case, your driving – as seen on that film – was impeccable.
Thank you again for yet another thoroughly enjoyable blog in which – as per usual – I also enjoyed reading all of the comments of fellow bloggers.
All the very best wishes,
Thank you Jeffrey – it is a great car – my gear changes are in fact most imperfect… once I am going I prefer not to stop
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
How fun! Wonderful.
Congratulations to all on such a lovely occasion.
Thank you for sharing the exciting and heartwarming story and video.
Blessings on the new puppies!
The puppies are heaven – they smell so snuggly and they wriggle so. They are still neither able to hear nor see!
PS In my above comment, I wrote Rickie when I meant Robert.
What a great contest to win!!!!
What an amazing experience for Tressa and her friends. Lady Carnarvon, you are so kind and generous opening your lovely home. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.
A thousand thank you’s for sharing the culmination of the “Come and Dine” project. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the event and viewing the short video. It was beautiful and I will save it in my favourite place to be enjoyed many times over. I am truly lost for words!!!
Looking forward to your next project for readers of your blog and fans of Downton Abbey.
Blessings on you and his Lordship for all you do to keep up Highclere Castle whilst gracefully sharing it with the public.
PS: I could not leave without remarking on Robert’s “movie star good looks”. Best of luck to him in his life’s endeavors.
Robert was an Oxford law scholar and now is sadly leaving us after being part of our team through his long holidays. Justine (my marketing right hand and Princess of Story Telling) and I will miss him hugely. He is so good he may not of course get a reference so he may have to stay!!!! In truth I wish him all the best
Like always I enjoy reading all of your blogs and I hope someday that I get the chance to visit England, which includes Highclere castle. I envy those eight winning guests who were able to stay the night at the castle,as well as the Vineyard.
Like I have said before please don’t stop writing your blogs, as I enjoy reading them always. Your blogs bring me one step closers to Highclere castle, as well as it gives me thanks that all my husband and I have to take care of is our two bedroom, one &1/2 bathrooms 1930 art deco bungalow. With a small enclosed porch,which about two years ago we replaced the porch floor, as the original floor boards were rotting.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,I hope yourself and your husband are both very well.My sister-in-law is visiting myself and my wife from Peru. about September 12th-15th.She is an avid Downton Abbey fan as we both are.We were wondering if it would be possible for us to come and visit Highclere House sometime during that period.We would be most grateful if we could.It would be a lasting memory for my sister-in-law to take back to Peru and indeed for us all.Thank you.
I am so sorry but we are closed for good reason – that is why the Heroes event is in the diary where it is!
Without Julian Fellows we would never have met you all and been engaged in such a magical journey. My thanks to him and you for such a superb collaberation. Thank you for keeping us forever Downton. Bon appetite!!
What a beautiful story, and for such a good cause. Congrats to Tressa and her family. Pbs is fantastic. It entairtains and educates. I loved Bella at the party!
As usual Bella was a star
Dear Lady Carnarvon
This was just so much fun to watch and you were so lucky to have beautiful weather! Thank you for sharing.
It looked like an amazing event, and well done on the video..but my dream of spending time at the grounds there would be playing with and massaging the dogs…brushing down the horses and taking them out for some exercise…driving a tractor around…planting some flowers or veggies…and the like. I can also cook/cater/flower arrange…so setting it all up…I would love. Had I been there for that tea…I would have slept through dinner 🙂
I sleep well after dinner!
I visited Highclair on one of my River Cruises with Viking. I can say it was a wonderful experience. What a great time all must have had at the dinner. Thanks for sharing this.
You must take another cruise come back here as well!
Dearest Lady Carnarvon,
I just want to thank you so much for such a lovely stay in your beautiful home. It will always be a time that I will treasure for the rest of my life. It truly was like a fairytale getting all dressed up and going down to the Saloon and then having dinner in that beautiful dining room. My favourite room was the library. Your hospitality was so lovely and so appreciated.
Thank you to Lord Carnarvon, and all your staff for making us feel so incredibly welcomed.
We were delighted to welcome you all – it was wonderful hearing the chatter as you found your bedrooms wandered around the Gallery and later walked down the stairs whilst the harpist’s music filled the Saloon- I also never tire of it.
Oh my, that was so nice! Tressa was so fortunate in winning this wonderful event! I did her dinner and really did look nice as did others too. I hope to one day visit Highclair.
Amazing experience! I’m looking for a puppy.
Thank you Lady Carnarvon,
Hope everything goes well.Looking forward to visiting Highclere sometime.
How beautiful! As lovely and perfect as a Downton set. What an incredible experience to bestow on anyone – it is such an inspired idea, Lady Carnarvon. I was also impressed by Tressa – she was so eloquent and genuinely grateful for the experience.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I remember when Tressa was chosen, and how she seemed the perfect choice. Thank you for sharing the experience with us, Tressa is indeed lovely and has enabled all of us to feel a bit of what it was like to actually be in your beautiful home. Wonderful!
All the best. And I hope you enjoy readying for the Downton movie (Thank you!)
This was wonderful to be part of the look on Tressa and her friends faces was just wonderful when I arrived with Lady Carnarvon in the Rolls -Royce at the Vineyard. It was a fantastic and wonderful special time for all.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Thank you for sharing that special event with us.
Congratulations Tressa from one canadian to another!
I espcially loved that Bella was part of the party.
My dear American Texas friend Nancy millberger is in England at the moment and will be having afternoon tea at Highclere tomorrow. ……she is extremely excited! I know she will receive a warm welcome there.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Thank you very much for such a great informative stay at Highclere Castle. Your attention to many details made our visit so lovely and was so appreciated. Your gardens are beautiful and were such a pleasure to see. Thank you again for a once in a life time event to be forever remembered.
Thank you Joyce. It was such a pleasure to have you all.
Oh please Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I know this isn’t the correct place to ask but I have been looking all over your blog as well as the Internet and I can not find the story I read about the statue at the base of the main staircase.
I read it was given to the Earl of Carnarvon but cannot remember by whom. This has been driving me sear mad.
Regards, (and thanks in advance)
It might be a nice idea to write a blog about it! It is in fact the 4th Earl and his sister by Tenerani. As another example, the sculptor created the statue of “Psyche Abandoned” perhaps one of the most famous Neoclassical sculptures in Italy – the first major success of Pietro Tenerani. The one here is extraordinary and I just want to take the child’s hand ….