Rolling green hills, pretty ponds, and sheep calmly grazing across vast expanses of English countryside − it was all very dreamy, as we headed towards the filming location of Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle.
We’d been driving along a quiet winding road for a while and wondered where it was.
“If you tilt your head to the left, Miss, just over the tops of those trees, you’ll see it in a moment,” chimed the jolly cab driver I’d met just 15 minutes ago in the nearby village of Newbury.
Filming location of Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle
As he spoke, indeed, it appeared! How amazing – Downton Abbey, or in real life, Highclere Castle – a very accessible day trip from London.
I couldn’t help the welling of excitement as we rounded the corner past more manicured greenery.
All of a sudden, England’s most famous stately home, Highclere Castle arose, grand as ever.
It reminded me of the excitement of when we had the chance to explore historical Blencowe Hall (part of my heritage and a stately place up in the north of England)!
It was just like in one of the world’s most-watched series’, Downton Abbey (sadly, final season aired in 2016, but as of an update to this blog, a film was released late 2019.
Exploring Highclere Castle (‘Downton Abbey’)
You too can play out your Crawley family fantasies by visiting the filming location of Downton Abbey, as do thousands of others who visit annually during the lavish property’s open periods (usually UK’s spring/summer).
It’s an opportunity to step back into another world altogether.
The library is magnificent, housing over 5000 classic editions; pause a moment in the posh dining room and ballroom (where many a romantic Downton moment has been stolen), and the bedrooms (there’s over 50!).
When Downton filming is done, Highclere hosts expensive events and celebrity weddings.
It’s home to Lord and Lady Carnarvon, and the property has been in the Carnarvon family for over 300 years.
Back in its heyday, an army of 60 servants catered to the Carnarvons’ every desire. However, it costs around $1 million to maintain such a stately home these days, with just 20 full time staff.
Getting from London to Highclere Castle
It’s an easy day trip − around an hour’s train ride from Paddington to the quaint town of Newbury, then a friendly cab driver will ferry you to Downton… er, I mean, Highclere (but don’t worry if you get it wrong, they’re used to it!).
Good news for those fretting over the end of our favourite show or indeed excited for the new film – you can still make a pilgrimage here and enjoy ever more of England’s charms. Book your tickets here
Are you a Downton Abbely fan too? Drop me a line in the comments!
It’s amazing to know that in this day and age – following numerous wars, conflicts, industrial changes and migration to all corners of the world – that a medieval building like Blencowe Hall can be visited by me. Me, an Aussie living in London, coming back home, almost.
I say ‘by me’ because Blencowe Hall belonged to an original ancestor of mine in the Blinco clan.
I had the chance to visit Blencowe Hall because of my ancestral roots. You can actually hire the place for an event. It’s exquisite, set in the countryside just outside of Penrith, UK.
Blencowe Hall – the story
As two cyclists pause with cameras on the country path border of the gorgeous property I’m dancing excitedly around, I’m proud to say ‘it’s mine’!
Well, sort of.
You see, today we ventured to a village, more precisely a property, Blencowe Hall (pictured above).
‘Blencowe’, as you may have noticed, is quite similar to ‘Blinco’.
If you had figured that far, perhaps you correctly assumed that this is somehow related to me.
Related it is, literally, because over the past few years my family in Australia, along with a dedicated international group has been researching, documenting and sharing our ancestry.
It hails all the way from here – a little place called Blencow in northern England.
A book has even been published on our origins – American and Australian migrants.
It covers our surname variations – Blencow, Blencowe, Blincoe, Blinco.
We’re lucky because our surname is unique and more easily traceable than some.
One popular theory over this side of the world is that a young lad, Robert Blincoe, was actually the ‘real’ Oliver Twist! But I digress from my actual journey which leads me to The Lakes District.
This area is a well-know ‘must-do’ on any UK itinerary.
But it’s a journey that has become a special individual quest as well. What an extraordinary place to find!
Exploring Blencowe Hall
Among other accolades, the property (its owners and architect at time of publishing) won a 2009 Design Award, and in 2010 was an RICS North West winner of a Building Conservation award as supported by the English Heritage Council.
The estate continues to undergo renovations, but is now regularly used for parties, functions, special gatherings and events.
We were lucky enough to enjoy a private viewing.
While it has been restored to the ultimate in chic, original aspects of Blencowe Hall remain both inside and out, including stone staircases, windowsills and fireplaces.
Furnishings within complement the old-world feel, with antique wardrobes, dressers and bookshelves completing each room.
Stylish and contemporary fittings are all visitors will find in the bathrooms, kitchen and entertainment areas though.
The main home comprises of a lavish entrance hall, two reception rooms, massive kitchen and pantry.
There are three large levels boasting five bedrooms, a study bedroom, six bathrooms, mature gardens, traditional and modern range of outbuildings (including stables) across 55 hectares.
A spectacular dark glazed window over the huge crack in the south tower is the centrepiece of this unique renovation. The project was lovingly embarked upon by the property’s [current] London-based owners who spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on restoring the structure.
Their vision was to transform ruins into a historical kind of luxury.
Location of Blencowe Hall
Blencowe Hall is listed as a Grade 1 fortified medieval manor. It’s undergone ambitious renovations over the past ten years.
Perched atop a bluff above the small river of Peterill, it is surrounded by its own fields and views to the Lakeland Fells.
Blencowe Hall is nearby to the village of Greystoke which is dominated by Greystoke Castle. It’s near a fabulous pub (always important!), the Crown Inn that’s located in the Hamlet of Blencowe. Blencowe Hall is positioned on the very edge of the stunning Lakes District.
The discovery of Roman ruins, gold coins dating back to the reign of James I, artefacts and reportedly the oldest indoor toilets in the region point to the historical interest of this property.
For me though, it’s personal.
Knights and Queens at Blencowe Hall
The people who originally lived here and ran the estate are, we’ve recently discovered, my family.
Sir Henry de Blencowe was one of the most prominent members of my ancestors to live here.
Having served twice as High Sheriff of Cumberland, in 1617 he was knighted (fab!) by King James I.
Evidently there was some scandal surrounding this knighthood, but that’s ok – it’s not my place to query and am happy to have knights in my family ;-)
Another interesting link is ‘The Nine Days Queen’ angle.
Anthony Blencowe was the sixth generation of the family at Blencowe Hall. He married Winnifred Dudley who was a relation of Lord Guildford Dudley, the husband of Lady Jane Grey (that is, the ill-fated Queen of England for nine days).
Her connection to Blencowe Hall is recalled in a dedication over the main entrance in the Central Range.
It’s thought to have been inscribed by Sir Henry Blencowe during extensive renovations of the property in the late 1500s.
The inscription is in Latin but is said to read:
“Live still to die, that you by death may purchase eternal life.”
It’s a sentiment Lady Jane wrote to her sister the night before her sad end.
Alas, poor Lady Jane was caught up in the whole ‘King Edward VI (15-years-old) nominating her to be Queen before he died’ affair.
Mary (his half sister, soon-to-turn-a-bit-crazy-on-England, and daughter of Henry VIII) was not pleased at this declaration and managed to take the throne in the end.
Consequently Lady Jane ended up beheaded, along with Lord Dudley.
Interestingly (and on a similar thread), Robert Dudley, a later descendant of the Dudley family, is thought to have Royal connections.
He was one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite suitors. How exciting – just like an episode of The Tudors!
At the beginning
Most importantly in relation to Blencowe Hall, the original who made it all happen was a gentleman by the name of Adam de Blencowe.
He is the earliest traceable ancestor of our family and founder of the lands we visit here.
Adam’s estate was gradually built up in the area through the 1300s primarily thanks to gifts of land received for ‘loyal service’ from King Edward III.
Adam was actually knighted too, and granted a coat of arms. How extraordinary to think of this lifetime long ago that I’m linked to! A fascinating world of knights, manors, legends and romance. Actually, I made the romance bit up, but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere…
Another amazing historical fact: during excavation work in the area, archaeologists found an ancient Roman drainage system.
It ran from the main courtyard area of Blencowe Hall, under the north tower and out into the garden. This was measured, recorded and left intact under the new floors because it is working just as well now as it ever did!
Elsewhere around the area
Rain dissipating (finally) and sun emerging, we bid farewell to my own Downtown Abbey… er, sorry, Blencowe Hall, and zoomed off down the M6 towards Windermere.
Here you’ll find the most gorgeous (and largest) lake in England. This region around Windermere is famous for inspiring writers like William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter.
I have to admit, after visiting the quaint village with its water activities, cute dogs and bird-life, ice-cream shops and sweet local gift shops I was definitely in an inspired mood.
We headed back towards Penrith via scenic winding back roads, past the equally pretty lake-land precinct of Ullswater, across rolling green hills lined with mysterious stone walls and dotted with old homes and pubs.
A fabulous, interesting, intriguing and uniquely lovely day.
This Cumbrian market town is well-served by transport from all over the UK. It’s a quaint, historical spot to stop and within easy driving (or train) distance of all The Lakes District attractions including Blencowe Hall, Windermere and Ullswater.
The Roundthorn, Penrith for its large lovely rooms, scenic views, fantastic service, delicious breakfast and free WiFi.
Cabs are simple and reasonable here, but for exploration of the Lakes District try Enterprise rent-a-car. They offered us pick-up + drop-off service (with a smile) and an economical deal. More on: 01768 893840 or enterprise.co.uk
Welcome! We are Sarah + Cooper, Aussie expats living in the UK with our Westie dog, London. We like to inspire on how to travel for longer and to live and work from anywhere. Our most popular content here is about seeing the world with your pet, remote working & digital nomadism, and house + pet sitting. Create a global life of your dreams at any age! Subscribe to find out more :)