Posted by: marymarthatours | September 28, 2013

The Gardens of Highclere Castle…Home of Downton Abbey

Our 2013 and 2014 Visits


One of the highlights of our just-concluded Quilts & Textiles of England & Wales Tour, was a visit to Highclere Castle, the filming location for the popular TV show, Downton Abbey.  Eighteen months earlier, Martha had managed to book our visit for the final open day of this year.  We kept the visit a secret (we always have one or two special stops on our tours that are not mentioned in the brochure) until we were on the tour.  Then, after a stop in the Cotswold village of Bampton (used for the village scenes in Downton Abbey), Martha announced to the coach that we would also be visiting Highclere Castle.  We loved the looks of surprise and then excitement on the faces of the travelers as they realized that they would actually get to Highclere.

We have already booked a visit to Highclere Castle for our Spring Gardens of Cornwall and Devon Tour (April 26 – May 10, 2014).  It won’t be a surprise, but it will be just as exciting.

Highclere Castle exceeded our expectations.  Even without the fame of Downton Abbey, the house is magnificent in its own right.  Having seen all of the TV episodes, I thought I knew just how the rooms would look.  NOT SO.  From the very first room on the tour, the elegant two-sectioned library, the WOW factor was everywhere.  What a difference to see an entire room in three dimensions (often very large dimensions) rather than the smaller, flatter views seen on the TV.  And although you can still think, “this is where Maggie Smith and Shirley MacLaine sat in conversation”, when you see the drawing room, you also think, “this is where Lord and Lady Carnarvon sit every day”.

Some might be disappointed that the tour doesn’t focus more on the Downton Abbey characters (though signs do identify the major rooms used in the filming), but the story of Highclere Castle is really the story of the Carnarvon Family, now headed by the 8th Earl.  That story is just as fascinating as Julian Fellows’ fictionalized drama, and in fact, Fellows incorporated many parts of the Highclere story into his creation of Downton Abbey.  To learn more about the intersection of these stories, I recommend reading “Lady Armina and the Real Downton Abbey”, written by Fiona Carnarvon, the current Countess.


Martha and I were delighted to find that there is much more to see at Highclere in addition to the house with its grand rooms.  There are wonderful gardens too.  We haven’t seen them on the TV series partly because the filming season doesn’t lead itself to great garden shots, but also because the owners have declared the gardens “off limits” to the Downton Abbey cast and crew.  Fortunately, visitors to Highclere can wander throughout the gardens and grounds. 

The first of the garden areas is called the Monk’s Garden, harkening back to the days when the site was occupied by the bishops of Winchester.  Here formal hedges, topiary, plantings and lawn are surrounded by a beautiful brick wall with archways framing the views.


Behind the Monk’s Garden is a newer White Garden, still blooming with roses and other white flowers for our September visit.


Beyond the wall lies the Secret Garden with a meandering herbaceous border in glorious full color.


There should be plenty of color in the gardens and grounds when we visit Highclere Castle again in early May 2014.  In addition to rhododendrons and azaleas planted by past owners, over 15,000 spring bulbs have been planted by the present Lord and Lady Carnarvon.  Why not come along with us?

Registration deadline for the Spring Gardens of Cornwall and Devon Tour (with Highclere Castle) is December 15, 2013.

(by Mary)

photo credits:  all photos copyright Mary Wallace, September 2013




  1. Oh how wonderful to see how we could live if we just had staff . . .
    Beautiful and gracious – hopefully it travels with all and stays to cheer through the gray days of winter

  2. What is the status of your Cornwall and Devon tour? Has it filled yet? We are considering it and wondered if there are still openings. Thanks!

    • Thanks for your inquiry about the Spring Gardens of Cornwall & Devon tour. Yes, there is still room for more participants on this tour. Please do consider joining us. If you have questions, the best way to contact me is at

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