Experiencing Stately Homes in England
With the “Downton Abbey” movie coming to theaters in September, fans will once again have a chance to immerse themselves in the world of a historic British mansion and the people who lived and worked there.
But travelers can have that experience in person by visiting some of the many stately homes, palaces and castles in the United Kingdom.
One of the most well known is Blenheim Palace. Located on the edge of England’s scenic Cotswolds, Blenheim is the ancestral home of the duke of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill. Built in the 18th century, it’s one of England’s largest houses, with a priceless collection of paintings, furniture, sculptures and tapestries. Blenheim is also home to a permanent exhibit tracing Churchill’s life, which includes the room where the future prime minister was born in 1874, plus photographs, artifacts and excerpts from his famous speeches.
Castle Howard, near the northern English city of York, has served as the backdrop for many TV series and films, including “Brideshead Revisited” and, most recently, “Victoria.” The castle is located amid some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside, and outdoor tours are offered from March through October. Castle Howard’s newest attraction, Skelf Island, is an adventure playground for visitors of all ages to explore and learn about the estate’s natural environment.
To go behind the scenes of the real “Downton Abbey,” visit Highclere Castle, about two hours west of London. The country home of the Earl of Carnarvon is still a family residence, but it’s open for tours on select dates through the summer and fall. Visitors will get to see many of the rooms where the popular series was filmed. Special events include a “Real Lives and Film Sets” guided tour, followed by an exhibit that tells the story of the 1922 discovery in Egypt of the tomb of Tutankhamun, during an archaeological dig financed by the 5th earl.
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile runs from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the monarch’s official residence in Scotland. The palace tells the story of Scottish royal history, including such famous residents as Mary, Queen of Scots. Parts of the palace open to the public include the Throne Room and the Great Gallery, lined with portraits of real and legendary kings of Scotland. Visitors can also see the gardens and the remains of the 12th-century Holyrood Abbey.
Wales is sometimes called the Castle Capital of the World. A good place to start exploring them is Caernarfon Castle, in northwestern Wales. Built by King Edward I on the banks of the River Seiont, this massive and imposing fortress dates from the 13th century. Visitors can spend hours discovering the many rooms, passageways and towers winding through the castle, while taking in Welsh history. In 1969, the castle was the site of Prince Charles’ investiture as Prince of Wales.