10 sweeping escapes for Downton devotees
by Julie Vuong (September 2013)
My lords, ladies and gentlemen, with the new series of ITV's hugely popular Downton Abbey upon us the appetite for squabbles in the scullery, inappropriate dress codes at dinner and class warfare is set to go through the palace roof. Among the decadent costumes and relationship breakdowns, it's the house that guarantees viewers are gripped. Filmed at Highclere Castle, a sprawling estate in Berkshire home to the Count and Countess of Carnarvon, Downton's success has wooed aspiring Lady Marys and Lord Granthams up the sweeping drive to play out their very own upstairs downstairs drama. Britain isn't short of stately homes where you can enjoy the upper crust life and, unlike Highclere (which is a private estate) unpack your luggage in your chosen wing and live out your Downton dreams.
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The footmen and maids might have long gone but the sense of old school splendour is still in full majestic flow at Swinton Park. Ancestral seat of the Cunliffe-Lister family, the castle provides the ultimate outlet for your Downton passions. Like Highclere, it's an impressive and imposing facade: a medieval-like fortress, spiked with turrets romantically clad with ivy and surrounded by swathes of parkland in the North Yorkshire landscape that reach from the River Ure right up to the moorland dales. Take advantage of the estate and enjoy fishing, falconry, riding and shooting; or if you prefer a more genteel pace take afternoon tea and a turn around the extensive gardens before returning to your sleeping quarters, which, as you would expect, are fit for a king.
Leeds Castle, Maidstone
Once you've fallen in love with Leeds Castle, one of Britain's most famous and popular historic buildings, you needn't leave. Among the grounds, carpeted with beautiful parkland and gardens, sits five self-catering abodes that are lovingly converted former working outbuildings, now luxury apartments. Among them is the Keepers House (sleeps 2 - 10) which is tucked away overlooking the weir pond and retains period flagstone floors and beams, while Castle View (sleeps 4), whose direct access to the castle and cosy interiors allow you a privileged pass to your most esteemed neighbour.
Langley on Tyne, Hexham
There's a rich line of gentry that have called 14th century Langley Castle in Northumberland their home over the past 600 years, most famous being the two Viscounts Langley who were executed at the Tower of London in the 18th century. Nowadays it's more renowned for its hospitality - many of the 27 bedrooms feature window seats hewn from the 7ft thick castle walls, grand four-poster beds and luxury spa baths. Pick one of the five feature rooms and indulge in your very own privy chamber full of chandeliers, high ceilings and luxury fabrics.
Ashley Lane, Hendon, London
Hendon Hall's stately air would have even the Dowager Countess nodding in appreciation. A quick gallop from the centre of London, this former manor house whose facade will have graced many a watercolour in its time, boasts a history that’s been touched by King Henry VIII to the English Civil War. In its latest guise as a luxury hotel, you can experience all its charms from the comfort of your very modern bedroom, fitted with plump mattress, soft carpets and all the mod-cons from the digital age.
Portland House, near Chatsworth House, Derwent Valley World Heritage Site, Matlock Bath
Close to Chatsworth House, perhaps the stateliest of all stately homes, lord it up with your friends at Elton Old Hall (My Country Houses - 5* Historic Party Houses), a self-catering country pile nestled in the rolling hills of Derbyshire. Think handsome Chesterfield sofas by the fire, oak beams, mullioned windows and sumptuous four-posters. Lovers of the outdoors can take a breath of fresh air in its grade II walled garden and admire the rambling roses and playhouse, or pull on your hiking boots for a trek among England's finest landscapes.
Langar Village, Nottingham
One glance at Langar Hall and you’ll have your quilted coats and Hunter wellingtons on in a flash. This building, mellowed beautifully over time, is straight out of a lavish period drama and offers the ultimate in country glamour. With only 12 bedrooms it feels wonderfully exclusive, and the interiors are utterly sumptuous - each has its own flavour but all boast beautiful beds you can sink into, lovely decorative wallpaper, antique furniture and comfy fabrics. Dine in style at the hall’s fine restaurant with its Regency interiors and crisp white tablecloths.
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