My body aches. The muscles from the base of my head to the tip of my sacrum protest the frame of daylight peeking around the heavy drapery. The curtains are drawn to prevent the cool, damp environs outside of the glass panes from creeping in; the soft, white duvet I cuddle under is my last fortress of defense. The thick, brick walls, common in English homes prove to be quiet effective in conservation of energy.
I'm tired. Tired due to the 7 hour time change. Tired due to the dubious 3 hours of sleep on the overnight, transatlantic flight. Tired due to the overwhelming day filled with an earldom estate and neolithic granite. Tired because my children, in response to their fatigue, become a comic scene from Punch and Judy.
I am in the land of Shakespeare, and in the best English fashion, my flight check-in proved to be 'much ado about nothing'. Rather anti-climatically, we arrived early, checked-in and were assigned seats altogether in the center row, four seats, four to our family. However much, we did need a fork-tine to pry us out, but never-mind. Never mind the 6'4" young man, seated behind me, who inadvertently offered my kidneys an irregular wake-up shot. Never mind the man, opposite my aisle, who opened the blind and pulled his sweater over his eyes, flooding the rest of us with sunlight, while he slept peacefully. Never you mind.
|Michael and Rachel's 'Brownstone'|
We arrive, mid-day and are greeted by a family friend. He's graciously offered to pick us up at Heathrow and opened his Leytonstone home for our deposit into East London. We have tried to make Michael and his wife as close to family as possible, naming them Godparents to our son. They rever God about as much as we do. The familial connection was gained through freemasonry and an epic story of Iraq, Assyria and the British military...in the 1930s. There is a romance novel in that story. Maybe, someday.
But today, Michael gives us a mini-tour of London. Driving us past the highlights: Big Ben, Buckingham, the Eye, Harrod's, the Ghurkin. Michael could have chosen the Ring Road but he didn't and that's why we love him. He grew up here, learned to drive here, darted his bike through the lanes here, loaded storage containers and roadie vans here, he married a kiwi here and she helped market the Olympics here, he amassed a small retirement package in the early tech world here. And at 48 he retired here and enjoys his real estate investments here. Rather, in Norwich & Norfolk...but more about there later.
We arrive to his brownstone-style home, weary, travel-smelly and hungry. By 9pm, we were fed, bathed and off to the land of nod.
I have always found adjusting to the time change easier going to Europe than returning. Staying up for 34 hours also will gaurantee a full night's sleep, but never make-up for the sleep-loss. Yet the traveler must soldier-on.
5am wake-up, wash-clothe bath and french-press coffee, out the door for tea and tour of Highclere castle...of Downton Abbey fame. The worst decision I have made so far is scheduling this visit on a Monday, 9:30am start time. We are in east London, the Keep is directly west of London and the Ring Road is a bit busy on a Monday at 7/8am...
|Two Legged Griffen, symbol of Earldom|
Poor Michael and bless his ginormous heart; thankfully he'd never been to this estate (nor has he watched the costume drama *gasp*) but he fancies English histories, so he was 'a bit curious.' Thusly, he joined us and did all the driving (as if he wanted me to drive on the wrong side, I mean left side of the road), nearly falling asleep on the way home. I didn't help keeping him alert with my jellyneck head bobbing.
Notwithstanding, Highclere Castle is the estate of the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, although likely now held in-trust to avoid Death Duty (a whopping 40%). The estate is the setting of the mini-series Downton Abbey and many rooms were used during film production. It's a good thing the camera does not pick up small details. Many corners and niches are a little worse-for-wear. The estate has obviously gone through a few rough years.
|Tudor Chapel & the Tower|
As best I could tell, and I will say the tour-guide was 'a bit dotty', there has been a long history at Highclere. Buildings have been in existence since 749AD. There was a medieval palace at some point. This rubble was replaced with a red brick Tudor, that is now incorporated with the larger residence. The main building is a classical Georgian mansion and it was the 3rd Earl who transformed the home into it's current architectural state in 1838. The castle was converted into a WW1 hospital (as per the show) and then the 5th Earl, who funded the archeological dig of King Tutankhamun's tomb continued residency. To this day, heads of state and the Queen will come calling for a weekend.
What is not recorded is the history of the 6th Earl, known to be a ladies' man, and with whom most of the fortune was misted away. At the time of the show, the third floor had deteriorated to a state of disuse and very little habitation sustained.
|Poseidon in the Secret Garden|
|Highclere and Tudor|
The 'castle' itself is considered relatively small and the 19th century construction was subpar to concurrent estates. It truly was considered a garden home with less efforts to the quality. Nonetheless, it has 200+ rooms, 50+ are bedrooms. All of which are now being invested back into for reparations. The storyline of Downton Abbey was inspired and loosely based on Highclere. Nonetheless, the filming was not gaurantee to be placed there nor was the success of the show. Yet, it did and from the proceeds of the first season, the Lord and Lady, whom presented the "Capability" Brown garden lecture (and by all accounts seem like genuinely nice aristocracy) were able to repair the roof for the meager sum of £3M.
|Original Tudor Chapel, Egyptian Museum |
|Looking back at HC|
|The Monk's Garden Gate|
Tours are not frequent (the family does reside there for part of the year) and tickets, as told, are sold-out at high season. I do believe they need to ride this meal-ticket a bit more before the next really big show moves the public onward and Downton is no longer the hot spot. Lady Carnarvon is a trained accountant and seems to be doing right by this home. They do have many paintings by the dutchman Van Dyke, a desk from Napoleon's years at St. Helena and a hall of Egyptain artifacts. That is to say, the show was a great boon for this family and prior to the the series, they feared the sale of many of these collectibles. I was a little disenchanted with some of their corner-cutting. The tour guides were substandard, with poor presentation, no script, mostly just asking if we had questions. Yet, I understand they likely didn't sign-up for an amusement park life, with brazen American's poking around their family belongings. What a poor state of affairs for these English bloke's.
The tickets I purchased were considered a special event for the 'Capability' Brown grounds tour. Brown was a 19th century landscape architect and designed many parks and estates around England. He is most famous for his engineering of ponds, bridges and follies. He designed to optimize the visual impact from the main house views, entrances and thoroughfares with a natural state in mind. As well, the roads are circuitous, to optimize the view of other follies across the estate. Also, of interest, while not Brown's doing, the tower to HC is offset from center, this was done to create a centered look from the main entrance for guests as they arrived. Our journey continued after a light cucumber sandwich and tea; onward, we progressed...back in time.
|Corinthian Folly |
|"My favorite was the sheepdogs at work and the hidden door in the library." ~Ethan|
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