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While we had many items that were a priority on our list when we visited the UK, visiting Downton Abbey locations was pretty much at the top. For those who are new here, I first started watching Downton Abbey in 2017 and I’ve been unashamedly obsessed ever since. So while we were in the Cotswolds, we made sure to visit some pretty picturesque spots where they filmed the award-winning period drama. I can’t put my finger on it why I love the show so much. It can be very soap opera-y but I’m always in a better mood after watching an episode (except two episodes in season 3… true Downton fans know what I am talking about). I feel the show did a very good job in grasping upstairs/downstairs life as well as how the changing times affected each individual. This year at Christmas, we hosted my in-laws and I cooked every meal from an unofficial Downton Abbey cookbook (Mrs. Patmore’s Creamy Chicken is my go-to recipe for guests). But when it comes down to it, I think I am mostly fascinated with the time period. Downton Abbey takes place during an age where everything was being modernized but also still holding on to longstanding traditions and mannerisms.
Back in those days, women’s fashion was stunning, elegant, and feminine. Gourmet food and speciality wines were served daily, although if I lived in a house with a chef like Mrs. Patmore, I doubt I would fit into my corset at the end of the first week! Dinners were grand and always filled with the latest gossip. But two major downsides to this time period were the limits on women and racial segregation. Women’s places were expected to be in the home overseeing parties, staff, and the children (I think I’d get bored quite easily to be honest). Downton Abbey takes place when women were just starting to be allowed to vote, but only if they were over 30 or owned land, and in season 5 the show touches on racism when Lady Rose has a relationship with a Black man and brings Black musicians to Downton Abbey. But the parts of Downton Abbey I like to fantasize about are dressing up for dinner each night, attending beautiful garden parties with friends, riding horses, and indulging with afternoon tea with the sassy (and sometimes savage) Dowager Countess. With that said, I am sharing some of our favorite Downton Abbey locations they used for filming that we got to visit thanks to Visit Britain.
You might recognize the stone building covered in wisteria as the inn that a certain daughter runs away with a certain you-know-who to get married in the second season (sorry guys, I will try not to give away too many spoilers for those who haven’t seen it yet). In real life, it’s a real inn called The Swan Inn. While we didn’t stay here, we did get to dine on an absolutely delicious 3-course lunch by the fireplace on a rainy afternoon.
The restaurant at first feels like an old pub at first, but then evolves into a comfortable living room where we happily dined for nearly 3 hours. Sipping on a fantastic dry rosé wine, we devoured some local goat cheese and burrata, followed by steak and frites and ending the meal with my favorite dessert – sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream. Talk about delicious. The inn feels like it is in the middle of nowhere, and in a sense it is since it is deep within the Cotswolds. But it’s definitely worth a visit for at least a spectacular lunch before setting off to explore more Downton Abbey locations.
This was where I squealed. Bampton is about a 20 minute drive from Swinbrook, and it’s the location they use for Downton Village. All the iconic spots are here – Crawley House, the church, the pub, the post office… even Moseley’s father house. Bampton is a rather small town, and I can imagine in the summer how much busier it can get, but while we were there we were the only ones. Tor and I pretty much had Downton Village to ourselves. We went inside the church for a brief moment, as they were setting up for a wedding (why didn’t we get married here?!), but I immediately reflected on all the weddings featured in Downton Abbey that took place in that church.
Sometimes, visiting shooting locations or meeting the cast of a film or show can ruin the effect for me. For example, I know if I were to ever meet the cast of Star Wars I would not only lose my mind, but lose the kind of fantasy I’ve built up in my head of the story. But with Downton Abbey, being in Bampton felt like I had already been there many times before (probably because I’ve seen the show about 25 times in the last 13 months!). Everything felt familiar and exactly how I pictured it would look like in real life. Everything was placed exactly where I imagined it would be, too. The magic and fantasy in my mind definitely wasn’t taken away – it was enhanced.
And for the icing on the cake, no trip visiting Downton Abbey locations would be complete without a stop at Highclere Castle. This is the actual “Downton Abbey” in the show, the home where the main characters live. This is my Disneyland. I couldn’t tell if my body wanted to gasp, squeal, or cry when I saw it for the first time with my own eyes. All I know is I was full of excitement. Tor put the opening theme song on blast as we arrived, but for some reason I had Lady Sybil’s theme song stuck in my head instead. Since the castle is a home (it is the residence of Lord and Lady Carnavron, son and daughter-in-law of Lord Porchester in The Crown), it is only open on select days throughout the year and you can only go inside if you have pre-booked a tour. We were so extremely lucky that they had a date open for visitors during our trip, because it was one of only 3 days the castle the was open the entire month of May. No photos or videos are allowed inside the house since it is still a private home, but after seeing Downton Abbey so many times, you don’t really need to take any pictures.
It looks exactly like it does in the show (except the main hall looks so big in the show and in real life it’s not as big as you’d expect, and the bedrooms in the show look so small but in real life they are quite spacious). The kitchen and servants’ hall you see in the show is not actually filmed at Highclere Castle. Those scenes are all shot in a studio, but I still like to imagine Mrs. Patmore and Daisy whipping up a delicious delicacy downstairs. Thanks to Downton Abbey, tourism has made the upkeep with Highclere Castle much easier to manage and we were very honored to be welcomed into Lord and Lady Carnavron’s home. Lady Carnavron even greeted us when we arrived, very eager to show us Downton Abbey fans around.
After touring inside the house, we then wandered around the gardens. If you take an earlier tour, you can spend all afternoon wandering the gardens and the grounds, taking as many pictures as you want. We didn’t explore all of the gardens, but we did wander around, always turning around to take in another look of the majestic castle against the beautiful blue sky.
Highclere Castle is only open a few days out of the year. I recommend booking your tickets online, since there are some days that it’s open for pre-booked tickets only. Even if you didn’t want to go inside, you do need to buy a ticket just to wander the grounds (but seriously, why would you come there and not want to go inside?).
Out of all the Downton Abbey locations we got to squeeze in on our trip, I’d say we chose some of the most iconic ones. There’s still more to see, as they shot in many locations around the Cotswolds. We will just have to save those for another time. For now, I will always remember the day I walked through Lord Grantham’s library or enjoyed the sun in Lady Grantham’s drawing room.