Monday, November 28, 2011

Future Home of Victorian Swag: Highclere Castle


We are just coming off of an amazing Thanksgiving retreat and while recovering from that much fun won’t be easy, there is work to be done.  With only a few more days until December, the ladies of Victorian Swag need to start prepping for the Christmas Season! 
This week, the chilly weather and dreary days have brought us to our winter home at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England.  This lovely, hugely impressive and impeccably maintained Victorian Castle is on loan to us from the Carnarvon family who has lived here since 1679.  While Highclere is the perfect place in which to embrace the wintry season that is upon us, it also happens to be the filming location for the Downton Abbey.  Hopefully, we’ll be introducing this delightful period television show on the blog very soon if for no other reason than to give you one more fictional boyfriend (Cousin Matthew) to swoon over. 

(1, 2, 3)
Alas, we arrived after filming concluded for the second season, so we have the house and ground pretty much to ourselves during our stay.  That is, if you don’t count the dozens of staff members who maintain the property.  We are rather hoping that the Downton Abbey cast (or at least a select few) will join us for tea and crumpets one of these afternoons.  We spotted them in town and invited them over, so we’ll see.  In the meantime, we have a agreed to help the Earl and Countess decorate the castle and all of its towers for Christmas.  We really couldn’t refuse the opportunity to bring a Victorian Swag Christmas ambiance to the halls of Highclere.  I’m just not sure we’re going to have enough garland to cover the massive oak staircase in the main tower.  It took master carvers over a year to carve in the mid 1800s.  We’ll do our best, however.  We will also require 52 wreaths (lots of doors), 17 Christmas trees (at least one in each stateroom and every bedroom), 500 candles and lanterns to light the walkway and courtyard, and about as much mistletoe as the stable hands can carry.  Victorian Swag lives by the motto that one should never miss the chance to be standing under the mistletoe.   

Once the home is decorated we’ve got plans to do some serious baking followed by equally serious cookie eating.  We have also been given free reign over the stables and surrounding 1000 acres of property, so don’t be surprised if we take the horses out every few hours or so.  I think there may even be plans for a sleigh ride if the weather cooperates with an early snowfall.  All horseback and sleigh riding will be followed by piping hot mugs of hot chocolate and an hour or two of thawing in front of one of the many fireplaces.  We can’t wait to explore the hundreds of rooms, namely the library.  With over 5,000 books (some dating back to the 15th Century), I doubt we’ll run out of things to read. 
This house is simply decadent, even when it is not decked out for Christmas.  Its inhabitants travelled the world for centuries and returned with various luxuries with which to decorate.  The house features beautiful painted ceilings, master works (there’s a Van Dyck in the dining room, among amazing paintings), 16th Century Italian wall hangings, priceless Egyptian artifacts, beautiful crystal chandeliers, furniture from every design period you ever learned in Art History 101, and the list goes on.
The exterior is as lovely and ornate as the interior.  The 1000 acres of parkland feature formal gardens, sweeping lawns, stables, and even a secret garden!

It seems silly, but here are the scores:
Location: 9 – If you are looking for a real-life fairytale, and I usually am, then you simply must agree that the English countryside at the start of winter – while dull, dreary, and grey – is about as close as you’ll get to a happily-ever-after feeling.  Toss Christmas into the mix for an added bonus point. 
Landscape/Exterior: 10 – The Castle’s exterior dominates the landscape.  The Victorian era in which it was built is written all over its façade with its towering height and fanciful spires.  The scene itself is a time machine.  As for the landscape, well, there’s a lot you can do on 1000 acres.  And there is a secret garden.  Case in point, this place is a 10. 
Interior: 8.5 – The splendor, the grandeur!  Ah, it is almost too much! Indeed, at times it is.  As much as I love Highclere, I feel that too much time spent surrounded by that much old-world luxury could become a bit oppressive.  Then again, maybe not.  I am a lover of fine art, especially in the realm of interior design.  Rarely do you find a place so stuffed full of history and at the same time so beautifully kept.  We might just have to jump on the beds to make sure things don’t get too stuffy. 
Overall Design:  8.5 – What more can I say?  The castle is imposing while at the same time inviting.  It is everything today that it was in its youth and that is saying something.  I just can’t get enough of Victoria era architecture. 
Party Hostability Factor:  9.5  – This house comes awfully close to a 10.  If we actually had a party planned here, I might bump it up that last .5.  The staterooms have hosted countless English political greats and social notables throughout the past few centuries.  Every room is spacious; there are plenty of guest quarters and room to park your horse and carriage.  It’s really a shame that we are only decorating the house and not hosting a party.  We might have to rethink this and put on a little cocktail soiree before we go. 
We are very much looking forward to wandering these halls and gardens and enjoying the first taste of winter in the English countryside.  Hopefully we’ll make some new friends with the Downton Abbey bunch.  After all, who could resist sleigh rides and hot chocolate at a castle decorated for Christmas?   

For more pictures and more information on Highclere, click HERE.  


  1. WONDERFUL PLACE! I love that Downton Abbey is being filmed here and the new season starts in January! Can't wait!

  2. Just throwing it out there that I'm going to wrap mistletoe around my headband and follow Cousin Matthew everywhere in this house! AMAZINGGGG!!!!

  3. Can we slide down the banisters? WITH COUSIN MATTHEW? And Fassy, because we wouldn't want him to be jealous.