Celebrate the return of Downton Abbey with a spiffing day out!

Highclere CastleThe much-loved ITV drama Downton Abbey is returning on Sunday 21st September at 9pm on ITV for its fifth long-awaited season in September.  As well as the welcome return of favourite characters to the classy upstairs/downstairs drama, Richard E Grant is introduced as art historian Simon Bricker, and Anna Chancellor takes on the aristocratic role of Lady Anstruther.

There is much change afoot in the latest run, which picks up the story in 1924, where Britain is adjusting to its first Labour Government, but the winning formula of compelling characters and their stories from both sides of the class divide remains the same.

Lady Edith walks a fine line between secrecy and keeping in touch with her much-loved daughter Marigold, whilst feisty Kitchen maid Daisy yearns to break out of the restraints of service, but dare she risk it?

Lady Mary has been grieving her husband Matthew for many years, but may be ready to find a new partner to go through life, who will be her lucky suitor?

The Machiavellian Thomas still holds sway over the enigmatic and troubled Baxter, will he keep her secret or let the proverbial cat out of the bag?

These are just some of the tantalising story lines that will no doubt entice us to carry on watching the Sunday evening treat which encapsulates escapism, period elegance and romance, as well as quality actors enacting intricately-woven stories and gut-wrenching tension – plus generous helpings of humour! – to keep viewers of all ages avidly tuned in.  Take a look here for lots more juicy tidbits about the series including preview videos, The Carson Quiz and The Quotes Quiz.

If merely watching the series is not enough for you, and you fancy a day out to really soak up the atmosphere and learn more about this fascinating period in history, a trip to Highclere Castle (where the series is filmed) may be hard to resist.

Highclere Castle is the home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, and has become a tourist attraction in its own right. The Castle is close to Newbury in Berkshire and is open for 60-70 days a year, check their website for details of opening days and times.  Apart from being the location where lots of filming for the series happens, Julian Fellowes was inspired to create the drama through his longstanding friendship with the Carnarvon family, who have lived at Highclere since 1679.

There is much to admire and enjoy in this beautiful Victorian Castle set amidst 1, 000 acres of rolling parkland, but its ace card is no doubt the Downton connection as a visit allows you to walk in the well-trodden footsteps of the much-loved cast, and to see for yourself the imposing exterior and sumptuous interiors that evoke a bygone age of refinement.

You can explore the contrasting domains of the privileged gentry and the hard-working servants, as you have access to several of the bedrooms and state rooms as used by  the family members, as well as a chance to explore the more austerely decorated downstairs areas.  100 years ago, 60 members of staff lived in or around the castle, including a House Steward, butlers, footmen, housekeepers, maids, kitchen staff and steward room boys.

Very Downton Abbey!

If you’d like to step back in time to this era of privileged responsibility and servitude, then Preston Manor in Brighton is a good choice for a great visit.

Preston Manor is an Edwardian country house which belonged to the wealthy Stanford family for over 200 years and is now open to visitors for part of the year (check their website for information).  It is located adjacent to Brighton’s  Preston Park and is a hugely atmospheric location which allows a well-preserved  glimpse into the lives of both master and servant.

The present building dates mostly from 1738, and 1905, when the older building was extended. The Stanford’s were reputedly the richest family in Sussex and their lives were touched by tragedy when the two children of William Stanford and his first wife Elizabeth both died in 1790, followed by Elizabeth herself, the following year.  William later went on to marry Mary Tourle of Lewes and had 7 children with her.  He became High Sheriff of Sussex and when he died in 1841, he was thought to be one of the richest individuals in the country.  The subsequent lives of their descendants makes for very interesting reading, with an MP, a big game hunter and a war hero amongst their number.  Sometimes the lives of real people are just as fascinating as those fabricated for the purpose of a good tale – this is without touching on the Manor’s reputation as ‘one of Britain’s most haunted houses.’  Perhaps some of the Manor’s past residents are keen to stay and keep an eye on things…

You have access to over 20 rooms on 4 floors and collections of the Stanford’s furniture are on show including ceramics, glass, silver and clocks, as well English and continental furniture as well as decorative art.

You also get a glimpse at the working quarters of the servants who toiled for the family by exploring the servants’ quarters and hall, butlers’ pantry, boot hall, kitchen, head housemaids’ and personal maids’ rooms, as well as a period walled garden and family pets’ graveyard.  The servant’s bells now hanging idle, tell their own story about how the system worked!

Just a short bus ride from the centre of Brighton, Preston Manor is a bit of an undiscovered gem, complete with the original ground and first floor furnishings from about 1900.

In essence, it offers an authentic glimpse into an affluent Edwardian country house, which bears all the hallmarks of the fictional Downton Abbey.

What better day out to celebrate the return of the series to our screens?

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