One month ago yesterday I treated myself to a Downton Abbey film locations tour and bought myself a 1920’s/1930’s-inspired dress. Since my birthday was on a week day and just before the general Downton Abbey group tours that usually take place at the end of July and throughout August, I scoured the internet until Expedia came to my rescue with a tour by Best Tours. A week prior to finding the tour, I was googling for a new birthday dress to fit in with the Downton Abbey theme, something either Edwardian-inspired or 1920’s-inspired. I was only too blessed to find a 1920’s/30’s-inspired dress from La Redoute. Read on below to find out more!
While the tour was costly for me at £130 (VAT incl.), most Downton tours are more than £130 and are for large groups, no meal included. The tour includes:
- Transport with mini coach (min. 2 people; max. 24 people)
- Entry to Highclere Castle
- Visit to Bampton Village
These tours take place on a daily basis and start at 9am (unlike other tours that start far too early). Our tour guide was a jack-of-all-trades but first and foremost an actor. In fact, we all told him he looked like he could be in historical dramas. He is usually the driver on these small group tours but on this day, he sat in the back with us.
There were 7 of us altogether, including the driver. Our group chatted about films (oldies and current) as well as genealogy. I really enjoyed our small group as the problem with large tour groups is that you’re constantly rushed and you can barely get to know anyone. Contrary to what the website says, we didn’t watch a behind-the-scenes video or play quizzes and win prizes. Nevertheless, we all had a marvellous time and I had wonderful birthday!
Stop 1: Highclere Castle
If you ever attend a Downton Abbey tour or go on your own visit to Highclere Castle, I highly recommend you go in the morning as the afternoons are full of people and your experience will be less than pleasant with so many people ruining your photos (outside) and making you break into a sweat indoors. Our tickets were bought at the gate (£15 for the castle and gardens) and our guide said there are usually quite a few available (so no need to panic if you missed the online sale).
Everything that happens is meant to be. So ’twas my luck to have vintage Morgan cars all in a row in front of the Castle that day.
No photos are allowed inside the beautiful castle. We recognised many of the rooms, of course, but were surprised how small they were compared to what we had imagined in the film. Some rooms were not featured in the TV series, such as the lady’s parlour or boudoir, a most elegant room. The self-guided tour begins in the library and continues all the way upstairs before taking visitors downstairs on the grand staircase. I could not have been luckier to walk down the staircase as Lady Mary did completely alone! I was disappointed that we could not go into the ‘living area’ on the main floor, which was completely cordoned off. Still, at least we had a lovely view from the upstairs balcony and from behind the ropes on the main level. I don’t want to spoil what you’ll see upstairs but I’m afraid I have to tell you that Lady Mary’s bedroom is not open to the public.
The exit takes visitors to the downstairs ‘kitchen’. The ceilings are considerably lower and unfortunately, much has been renovated since the Edwardian era. The kitchens in use are now modern (closed to the public) but we could still see the bell system from the early 20th Century. The basement is also where the Egyptian Exhibition is. By the way, ITV is coming out with a new TV mini-series called Tutankhamun, featuring an ancestor of the Earl of Carnarvon. Who knows, this might make the Egyptian Exhibition in the basement of the Castle even more popular?
We exited via the back of Highclere, which we never see all of in Downton Abbey. One of the tour members recalled seeing the brick wall from whenever Mrs O’Reilly and Mr Barrell went out for a smoke. The exterior is Jacobean, if I remember correctly.
In the former coach house, there’s a place where visitors can enjoy a snack or take tea.
I’ve mentioned earlier that Highclere Castle was used as Misslethwaite Manor in York for Hallmark’s The Secret Garden (1987). Well, as I went into the ‘Secret Garden’, what did I find but a gate that reminded me of The Secret Garden:
We were told that during the filming of Downton Abbey inside Highclere Castle, the Carnarvons stayed in one of their many cottages on their estate. We were also told that there are usually sheep around the estate but for some reason, none were seen that day.
Stop 2: Lunch at Aston Pottery & Country Cafe
Our guide told us that he or Best Tours had discovered this pottery cafe by chance as there are so few places to eat, other than pubs. In this pottery centre/cafe, all the ceramics are made in the centre. I had a very delicious cheese and chutney sandwich (so good that I want to know the recipe) with salad, as well as a bag of crisps and a rose-flavoured beverage. The only thing that I thought would be good for Best Tours to do is to give each person a budget. I didn’t know if I had ordered too much and I tried to order something cheaper.
Stop 3: Bampton Village, Oxfordshire
By the time we arrived in Bampton Village, about an hour away from Highclere Castle, the clouds had covered the sun. We spent at least an hour in the village, exploring the church and the village at our own leisure. Our tour concluded around 4/4:30pm.
Isobel Crawley’s Home
When we had gathered outside Isobel’s home, we met the lady owner of the house/cottage who told us that only the exterior was used and they were able to live as normal. She misses the filming around the village.
There were so many tombstones around the church, some cracked, some falling over. Our guide even found someone’s bone!
St Mary the Virgin #Church, the #DowntonAbbey church where Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Mr Carson & Mrs Hughes were married. This church is unique as it has both Anglican and Catholic services! #filmlocation #perioddrama #historicaldrama #BamptonVillage #historicalbuilding #igersengland #twitter #latergram
St Mary the Virgin church is predominantly Anglican but a small chapel to the left is for the small congregation of Catholics!
The Downton Cottage Hospital
The Downton Cottage Hospital is the Bampton Library! Here you’ll see a leftover film set that covered part of the wall across the library. You can also buy some #DowntonAbbey-inspired memorabilia to support the restoration work on the library, which had formerly been a school. #BamptonVillage #filmlocation #perioddrama #historicaldrama #historicalbuilding #library #igersengland #twitter
In this little Bampton Community Archive Shop, there are Downton-inspired memorabilia including Emma Bridgewater mugs, postcards, and George V pennies. Proceeds will go towards refurbishing the 17th Century building, home of Bampton’s Old Grammar School. If you were hoping to find some Downton Abbey merchandise, you’ll have to visit the PBS shop or US/Canada BBC shop.
Other tour groups
The Birthday Dress
I found my dress on La Redoute after googling “1920’s-inspired dress”. La Redoute is an online clothing and furniture store retailing mostly French brands. I chose the Blue Dress by Soft Grey, designed in France and made in India. It is a cotton drop-waist dress (google this term rather than 1920’s dress if you don’t want beaded party dresses) with a V design in the middle and a square neckline. I chose free shipping by selecting collection at one of their collection points and the dress arrived within a few days. Although the dress is loose, it is true to size. It will feel roomy on top but the size will be important when it comes to the hip measurements. There are no zippers on this dress except for three small (decorative) round buttons in the back. On another note, customer service was phenomenal and I loved how each of the customer service representatives who replied to me always greeted with ‘Bonjour’! The dress is £39 (VAT included) but after the summer sale, I bought mine for £11.70!
I wore my Clarks Wendy Laurel in pewter shoes, which are the most comfortable shoes I have. I still don’t know if they’re meant for the elderly but the Soft Cushion soles make me feel like I’m walking on a sofa. Definitely a good idea to wear comfortable shoes for tours in the countryside!