Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Travels with Em

While Em was here, we did all kinds of fun stuff. She arranged a hack (trail ride) at a local stables. I rode for the first time in 30 yrs. I felt it for the next week, but the breathtaking scenery made it totally worth it. I even did some trotting! No photos, sorry!
We also went to the Cirencester Polo Park, where the royal family play polo. We had a great time, everyone there was friendly and made us feel welcome. unfortunately, no royals were there that day. 
We shopped in town, walked in the country and ate in village pubs. We visited South Wales(see previous post) and London.  In London we at dim sum in Chinatown, saw a movie, and the changing of the guard at the Horse Guard.  Before we dropped her at Heathrow, we went to Hampton Court Palace, and spent a few hours going the the palace and grounds, (must return to tour the expansive gardens). Many beautiful photos were taken, what follows are some of our favorites.

Tintern Abbey and Chepstow Castle in South Wales

Tintern Abbey

This Cistercian abbey buil in 1100 is still remarkably preserved.
Low remains in forefront are the infirmary and its kitchen.

Chepstow Castle

 We first came to Chepstow Castle 20 yrs ago. It was as impressive then as it is  now still.  It is perched on a hill above the winding Wye River and the town of Chepstow. First built by the Normans in 1066, it has been altered, changed and added to over the centuries.  I took these pictures with my new camera. I am still working out how to use it, but there are some nice shots. Enjoy!

Wye River

Cows in the shadow of Chepstow Castle
Scenic view from the castle



Thursday, 6 September 2012

Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey

I have a confession to make. I am CRAZY about Downton Abbey. Thats right, I love it. When sisters Mary and Edith mix it up I love it. And I love it when Violet's wicked tongue, spews it's acerbic dialogue. Upstairs and downstairs, Lord this, m'lady that, its all good fun.

Before I got to the UK, I found out about Highclere Castle, the filming location for DA, and was thrilled to learn it was only an hour or so away. As soon as I got here, I booked my tickets online to visit in September. Tickets are timed morning or afternoon and there is the castle (no photogrpahy allowed, rats!), gardens, and an Egyptian Exhibit which you might think (as I did) is a little random , but not so. Don't worry, all will be revealed.
So, here we go!!!!!!!! Enjoy the photos......

  Coaches were lined up in the car park but the house and grounds are are so massive that it rarely felt crowded. As we made our way through the house on a self guided tour,we imagined the lights and cameras that are present during filming. Unfortunately for us, no photography is allowed in the house.

Jackdaw Castle

Grounds include beautiful gardens.

We spent the whole afternoon there, going through the house, strolling the gardens and visiting the Egyptian exhibit, and giftshop and having a bite to eat. The tea rooms are in the servants dining rooms. In the 1924 there were 25 staff in the house. There is list of them and their duties, many of which are recreated on the TV series.

Entrance to the Monk's Garden

Monk's Garden

 The current family, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon and his wife Fiona, and son are present throughout, in photos, paintings drawings etc. Despite the magnificant paintings and architecture, they manage to keep it a family home. Mixed in with all the family pictures are pictures of members of the Grantham family in places such as Lord Grantham's study, or  Lady Edith's bedroom. The infamous bedroom or Mr. Pamuk is there in its scarlet red splendor! It was fun to see the saloon and the dining room where the family entertains their guests. We also saw the stairway where Matthew's fiance watched as he and Mary danced, OOHH.

 There also many paintings and photos of past residents of the home, Lady Almina was particularly interesting. She was the 5th Countess and turned the castle into a hospital during the First World War. She hired the best doctors and nurses and insisted on the highest level of care. There were letters from soldiers who had been there, thanking the Countress for opening her home to them. Countess Fiona has written a book about her (signed copies available in the small gift shop, yes please!)

View from the expansive lawn surrounding the castle.

Countess Fiona  has also written a book about the Egyptian exhibit that is housed in the cellar of the castle. It turns out that in 1922 the 5th Earl spent time in Egypt seeking temperate climate after an illness. There he developed an interest in archeology and after several attempts (with his colleague Howard Carter) discovered the tomb of the boy king Tutkenkhamen. Spoiler Alert: It is a fascinating story made even more so, by Lord Carnarvon's untimely death from septic after an insect bite..Was it the Curse of the Boy King?  Many think so. Excellent little exhibit that really added to the whole experience.
The Golden Mask

More beautiful views at the now famous Highclere Castle

After lunch in the tearoom, we walked to Jackdaw Castle and took this shot of Highclere through its pilars.

Wildlife on the grounds.
Rolling hills are home for these adorable sheep.

Lucky for me, the new season starts in 7 days, 14 hours, 37 mins!!!!!! Not that I am counting or anything.
So, even though we didn't run into Hugh Bonneville, or Elizabeth McGovern, we would definitely recommend a visit to this castle.  It is great for those who are diehard fans like me and those who are not but are just looking for a nice day out in the English countryside.