09.04.22: Going Downton

Highclere Castle, built in 1679 in Highclere, Hampshire, England, is the country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon. It is likely better known as the main setting for the award-winning British television period drama Downton Abbey.

Highclere Castle, built in 1679 in Highclere, Hampshire, England, is the country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon. It is likely better known as the main setting for the award-winning British television period drama Downton Abbey.

Visiting locations without seeing the TV show

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Jul 23, 2018 9:12 AM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM 
  • Focal length: 40mm
  • Aperture: f/8
  • Shutter: 1/500 second
  • ISO: 200

If you recognize this building you are likely part of the sizable portion of the American population who has watched the award-winning British television drama Downton Abbey.

The building is Highclere Castle in Highclere, England, better known as the main setting for the drama.

My wife and I visited Highclere in 2018 as part of a post-cruise extension after a Viking river cruise we did from Paris to Normandy. A couple we were with booked the extension to Oxford, England, so we joined them.

There was only one minor issue: The extension was created for those who watched Downton Abbey and included visits to several locations tied to the program. My wife and I had never seen Downton Abbey (and neither had the couple we were with). We had no clue what the show was about, although we had heard it was very good. And the four of us were the only ones out of more than 20 people who booked the extension who weren’t enthusiastic followers of Downton Abbey.

I was expecting to be completely lost and possibly bored when we visited the locations over our three-day stay.

Turns out I was only somewhat lost — just when our guides mentioned the name of a character or cited an event from Downton Abby. And I definitely wasn’t bored.

The Downton-related locations and the many other locations we visited that weren’t tied to Downton Abbey were fantastic. The historic significance of the sites was very interesting.

Highclere Castle is located about 30 miles south of Oxford. The castle, which was built in 1679 and renovated in the 1840s, stands in the middle of a 5,000-acre park-like estate. Through the centuries the castle has served as the country house of the Earls of Carnarvon — but don’t ask me what an Earl of Carnarvon is. I can’t figure out the various tiers of British royalty and definitely don’t understand the role of an Earl.

But I have learned that owning a castle built more than five centuries ago is an expensive proposition. That fact was mentioned several times during our tour of Highclere Castle and, later, Blenheim Palace, a location not seen in Downton Abbey that serves as the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough (Dukes … Earls … I think I need to play Gene Chandler singing “Duke of Earl.”)

According to various online sources, after centuries of patching and general lack of repair, Highclere was in need of major repairs by 2009. Stonework was crumbling, ceilings were collapsing and at least 50 rooms were uninhabitable. Estimates of necessary repairs for the entire estate ran almost $20 million. Urgently-needed repairs on the castle alone were estimated at almost $3 million.

But then came Downton Abbey, which began airing on ITV in England in 2010 and later became a hit on PBS in the United States. 

The show was an international phenomenon, bringing Highclere Castle international fame. Paying visitors to the castle and grounds increased exponentially. By late 2012, Lord and Lady Carnarvon credited the increase in the number of paying visitors for the start of major repairs on Highclere Castle’s interior and turrets.

We were very impressed with the castle and grounds. The enthusiasm of the Downton Abbey fans in our group had us convinced that we needed to watch the show.

It’s been four years since we visited Highclere. We still haven’t watched Downton Abbey … but I heard there was some sort of movie out now. Wonder if it’s available to stream on one of our apps? 


There was only one minor issue: The extension was created for those who watched Downton Abbey and included visits to several locations tied to the program. My wife and I had never seen Downton Abbey.

Purchase photos

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