I’ve visited dozens of castles over the 6 months, and all seem to pale in comparison to Warwick Castle – at least in terms of preservation. Warwick seems frozen in time as if not a single battle or storm could shake its walls. As such, Warwick Castle is often hailed as England’s greatest Medieval castle, and I can see why.
The castle first appeared on this site in 1068 at the command of William the Conqueror. Its bloody history is steeped in treachery, murder, mystery and intrigue, and it has passed through several great dynasties – the Beaumonts and Beauchamps, the Nevilles, the Dudleys, the Richs and the Grevilles. And yet, here it stands nearly 1,000 years later as if its never been touched.
This is Highclere Castle, located in Hampshire. Some may know it better as Downton Abbey, the estate featured in the popular British period drama. Although it is the home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, it also serves as the filming set for the show.
Why “Abbey”? Like many of the great estate houses in England, Highclere rests on the site of a former ecclesiastical property. When King Henry VIII turned against the church in the 16th century, he seized many properties such as these. Used by the bishops of Winchester in the 12th century, even now it boasts a “monks’ garden.”
As a big fan of the show, it was quite a treat to visit this grand estate. Unfortunately, we arrived too late for the tour of the castle’s interior. We’ll save that for next weekend. If you’re looking to visit, make sure to book your tickets in advance. It sells out quickly!
I met a truly eccentric yet nice man who is the grounds keeper for Castle Rising near King’s Lynn. He had wild white hair, closely resembling the Doc from Back to the Future, wore a giant bronze key around his neck and talked to ghosts in his spare time. He told me stories of his encounters over the last 10 years, and all the footage and proof he’s assembled. “I talk to dead people” he says. “I have since I was a small child”. After giving me his own private tour of the castle, he showed me the tallest tower, which is normally locked up, and let me retire the castle flag for the evening. And as we were leaving, he bolted the doors, placed his hand gently on the wooden frame and whispered “goodnight”. He turned to me and said “just tucking them in for the night”. And that was that.