Newt Gingrich and wife Calista visited Britain and took time to go to the castle where Downton Abbey is filmed.
As he relates, the owners Lord and Lady Carnavon may be wealthy, but they do a lot of good for their country. So much for socialism.
We had such a remarkable time visiting Highclere Castle—setting for the T.V. series Downton Abbey—that we wanted to share it with you.
As we arrived at 9:00 a.m. on a beautiful Sunday morning, complete with blue skies, Callista was thrilled to see “Downton Abbey” before her very eyes.
We were delighted to be greeted by Lady Carnarvon who was walking her dog. Lady Carnarvon is married to Geordie Herbert, the Eighth Earl of Carnarvon and Queen Elizabeth II’s godson.
She has a remarkable knowledge of history and archaeology. Lady Carnarvon showed us where an Iron Age fort was located more than 2,000 years ago. Highclere itself has been occupied in a variety of forms for 1,300 years.
Standing on a hill, the castle has an ample water supply, good land for farming and grazing and a commanding view of the area.
Highclere has 5,000 acres with working farms, horses, sheep and a host of outdoor activities.
Great Britain has a very high death tax for estates, but it can be postponed if the family is willing to share the estate with the nation as an educational site. The father of the current Lord Carnarvon signed an agreement to turn Highclere Castle into a public trust by opening parts of it to the public.
One part of becoming an educational institution was the addition of an Egyption exhibition. This exhibit features items collected by the fifth Lord Carnarvon, who discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. This collection alone is worth a visit to Highclere to see the remarkable Egyptian artifacts and the ties between Hampshire and the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt.
Highclere has also become a destination for beautiful and unique weddings. More than 20 weddings a year occur in the castle.
And then there is Downton Abbey.
The popular show carried images of Highclere Castle around the world, as country after country picked up the Masterpiece and Carnival Films production (now entering its sixth and, we are afraid, final season).
We unabashedly love Downton Abbey and were awestruck by Highclere Castle.
Lady Carnarvon described the challenges of having more than 70 people with all of their T.V. equipment and lights inside her home. The show uses the original furniture both for authenticity (rented furniture would not be elegant enough for the Downton Abbey effect) and also because moving the family furniture would damage it more than using it.
Imagine your home with 70 people and lots of equipment in it, and you can understand why Lady Carnarvon makes it her job to be present the entire time they are shooting.
Running a public home with up to 1,800 guests a day is a big project. In addition to those working the land, Highclere employs about 200 people. Managing all of this and paying for it is quite a challenge.
Lady Carnarvon is clearly up to the task. Getting to know her was the highlight of our five days in England.
She is smart, witty, personable, energetic and completely engaged in life. While her husband, Lord Carnarvon runs the broader estate, she focuses on the castle itself and its immediate environs.
She pointed out that some of the events in Downton Abbey actually occurred at Highclere.
For example, during World War I, the castle was turned into a military hospital and the countess of that era led an effort to help wounded soldiers.
Lady Carnarvon has written two best-selling books about the women of Highclere.
A great deal of her work goes into helping charities. As she told us, “Busy lives are good.”
Among Lady Carnarvon’s and Highclere Castle’s charitable activities:
Every year there is an Easter Egg Hunt for Naomi House–a children’s’ hospice not far from the castle. This has become a big event.
Every summer for the past 13 years, the castle has held an event for Starlight, a charity which helps desperate children and their families (similar to the Make-a-Wish Foundation). These events have raised £2 million.
The Heroes at Highclere event was held in August 2014–the commemoration for the centenary of the First World War. It supported the Royal British Legion, Combat Stress, Launchpad, Oxfam, Families of the Fallen, Blesma, and a host of smaller charities dealing with the consequences of war.
Every December there is a Christmas Fair for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance and Highclere Church.
Every September there is a 10k run for multiple sclerosis.
Highclere also supports a clinic in Luxor, Egypt for needy children.
We learned that Lady Carnarvon is interested in traveling to the United States to help with charity events here. Her visit would certainly attract a lot of Downton Abbey fans.
If you go to England, we encourage you to take a day to visit Highclere Castle! You will find it very worthwhile.