It’s no secret that I love British period dramas. On one hand, I enjoy them because it keeps me connected to my British roots, but I also like the costumes, the sets, literary adaptations and exploring different historical periods. Although not based on a real family, Downton Abbey is firmly near the top of my list (even the theme music gives me goosebumps!).
So, of course, I can’t live in the UK again and not go to Highclere Castle — my future self just wouldn’t forgive me. While I’m sure Joe would happily tag along with me if I asked him to, this trip had to be with another avid fan and luckily, my friend Lauren of 20 years is equally obsessed.
When booking this trip on the cheap a few months ago, the most affordable way to get there was a 5-hour coach ride from Manchester to London, followed by a 90-minute break and a 2-hour coach trip to Newbury. A long day, but what’s 10 hours of travelling when you’re with your best mate? On the plus, I managed to get through an entire book — Goodbye, Jimmy Choo which I enjoyed considering I picked it up for a pound at a second-hand book store in Buxton.
Another perk of the long travel time was that little break at London Victoria Coach Station as when we stepped outside for air, we discovered beautiful Elizabeth Street. I’ve been to this coach station quite a few times before, but I’ve always escaped quickly to make my way to the train station so I’ve never noticed the surroundings. Set in the heart of London’s Belgravia, it’s a gorgeous street filled with cute cafes and high-end retail stores, with extravagant flower displays on the store-fronts. Combined with the grand white stuccoed buildings, Lauren and I both said it felt like we were in Paris. I particularly enjoyed seeing Peggy Porschen Cakes up close as I see this all the time on Instagram and it’s such a dreamy cafe. Only wish we could have stayed longer to enjoy it more!
Back to Downton… we arrived in Newbury around 9.30pm and headed over to our accommodation for the night — The Hatchett Inn which is a Weatherspoons pub hotel and not too shabby at all for £40. It’s in a great location at the heart of the town centre and the room was large with modern amenities while keeping the traditional characters of a grade II listed building. The staff were all lovely too (they let us leave our luggage in their bottle room while we visited the castle) and it doesn’t hurt to have a pub directly underneath you.
The following morning started with a ‘spoons breakfast, of course, ready for the big day ahead. To tour Highclere Castle, we prebooked the morning session which is anytime between 10.30am – 1pm, but you can enter the grounds from 9.30am. It’s a bit tricky to get to the castle without a car as there’s no bus service and it’s too far to walk, so we took a 15-minute taxi ride which burnt a right big hole in the pocket. £18 each way! For less than a 15-minute drive! Ridiculous, but I suppose they know we have no choice but to pay it.
On arrival, we tackled the grounds first while it was still dry — a large grey cloud was looming. For anyone who is a Downton Abbey fan, seeing the castle is an experience to remember. As you walk up the gravel drive, you can’t help but imagine all of the Downton staff lined up at the front to welcome a carriage. We managed to get a few photos before the heavens opened up and poured — such a shame as it’s August. It was SUPPOSE to be sunny! Nevertheless, we greatly enjoyed the walk around and poked our heads in at the quaint little gardens and Etruscan Temple (where Lady Edith takes “Patrick” and they discuss the nanny chasing them around when they were kids).
The tour of the hour was interesting, but a little different from what I expected. Usually, on entry to a historic house or castle, you have the freedom to roam and take your time. But as it’s so popular, you’re literally in a single file queue going around the castle in a one-way-system. It’s difficult to explain (no photos allowed inside) but basically, your speed at walking around was controlled by the person in front of you. As such, we were often waiting for them to get a move on and there’s no going backwards.
The history of the real family who owns and live at Highclere Castle is annoyingly on display 😆 I’m sure it’s very interesting, but I think 90% of us are there for the Downton Abbey characters so it’d be better if they showcased more of that. You do get to see many of the rooms that appear in the TV series though, including the infamous Bachelor’s Corridor where Mr Pamuk’s body was carried that fateful night in season one. It was quite comical hearing everyone remember that scene as we walked past his room.
Afterwards, you can explore the gift shop — I had to show such restraint as I wanted everything. I settled on a Highclere Castle bone china teabag tidy which I’ve vowed not to use until I’m ready to buy a house. It’s just too pretty. The morning ended with a hot drink and biscuit in the pop-up cafe tent (main cafe was full) as it torrentially poured it down outside.
Back in Newbury, the weather had perked up and we had a free afternoon before our train back to Manchester that evening. Oddly, the cheapest option to get home was a 4-hour train ride, but no complaints here. Nestled in the heart of West Berkshire, Newbury is a lovely old market town with a mix of independently owned shops and highstreet favourites so we enjoyed browsing those. We also ventured to Newbury Emporium because I can’t resist an antique shop and it was a treasure trove of vintage goods. We spent ages looking at jewellery and old postcards but alas, I came away empty-handed this time.
The town felt very wholesome with the canal running through the centre and kids running around. I definitely recommend popping in if you’re ever down that way and it’s only one train stop from Oxford so you could even stop there to visit the fictional Downton Abbey village which is filmed in Bampton.