Romance of Downton Abbey + Jane Austen

Monday, July 13th, was a day I had been dreaming of for years. In my heart, I wished it would happen, but I honestly did not know if it could ever be. However, boys and girls, dreams do come true, which is evidenced by my visit to Highclere Castle, more commonly known as Downton Abbey. It should come as no surprise to you by now that I longed to visit the country house setting of this worldwide phenomenon, and I do not exaggerate when I say that I FREAKED OUT.
Pulling up to the grounds, I kept repeating, “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.” HERE WAS DOWNTON ABBEY!!! It wasn’t on my tv screen, it wasn’t in my dream. It was real, and I just about drove my family crazy with how excited I was. The car park and exterior were packed with people — you can imagine how popular of a destination it is — but luckily, we had tickets and were able to go inside!!! The gloomy weather could not dampen my joy as we approached the front doors where Carson and the Granthams have received so many guests and loved ones. 

Walking into the house, there are no photographs allowed, so I simply had to marvel at the sights before me and imprint them in my memory as best I could. We began with the library, which is stunning and boosts a remarkable book collection. It’s quite fun because each room that’s featured in the show has an info card with a character on it; Highclere has embraced its Downton personality and conceeded to the fans. Moving then into the beautiful parlor, I could so easily picture the family waiting for the dinner bell to be rung. We even got to venture upstairs into the bedrooms — most of these scenes are not filmed on sight, howevere Sybil’s bedroom is still intact, and we all shed a tear for this departed loved one. Moving across the gallery that overlooks the main saloon, I marveled at the house on its own. I’m not even just saying this because it’s Downton Abbey – Highclere Castle is my favorite country house that I’ve visited. It is grand and ornate, yet I was shocked at how truly open and spacious the home felt. There are so many windows overlooking the gorgeous grounds, and each room has a light, warm feel to it. It is so unique in its disarming beauty, and I was very pleasently suprised by how much I loved the house on its own, aside from its tv personality.
As I made my way down the grand staircase, I couldn’t help but think about Lady Mary walking down in her wedding dress, an iconic image of the series. I will interject to say the disclaimer that I know Downton Abbey is not real. I recognize that I am an over zealous fan who is probably a little more into than I should be. But, in my defense, Downton Abbey has given me such an appreciation for these grand estates and the role they play in history. While Lady Mary does not exist, women just like her did, and it is a wonderous thing to be able to visualize what life was like for them. It makes the world seem much smaller and time much less of a barrier. Having the privelege of roaming these historic halls is a lifelong memory that I will cherish and hold dear forever.
As we explored the grounds a bit and done some souvenier shopping, we departed the stunning Highclere Castle and said farwell to its walls until January, when Downton Abbey returns to television in the states. We then began our drive to Winchester, home of the famed Winchester Cathedral. Reasons why I love my family: we sing along to obscure 1960s songs, such as the so-bad-that-it’s-good, “Winchester Cathedral” by The New Vaudeville Band. This was a big moment for us.

The cathedral itself is breathtaking, and the amazement only continues once inside. My breath was taken away underneath the exquisite stained glass window gracing the main wall. Two years ago while visiting York Minster, I had a similar awestuck effect; these churches are so magnificent and grand that it is almost too hard to comprehend. Their extravagent intentions are to glorify God, and while some may argue that it is a waste of money and effort, I have to agree with these ancient clergy. There is such a sense of peace and appreciation that comes from being in such a magnificent place, it’s as though God’s power and beauty are personified in this building. He is an amazing Father that desrves to be honored and celebrated to the highest caliber, and these churches make worshiping Him even more joyous and special.

My spiritual experience continued with a visit to Jane Austen’s grave. She is buried in the church, so Winchester Cathedral has a small exhibit on her life and a brass memorial commemorating her life. Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, as I’m sure many other people reading this blog would say, as well. Yes, her novels are great romances that cause many a day dream about Mr. Darcy, but they’re so much more than that. Jane’s writing has always read like that of a close friend and mentor: she provides so much wit and wisdom, making navigating life that much more enjoyable. I have gained so much from her novels…most of all reassurance. Her characters are relatable people you root for: they go through many ups and downs, making mistakes and experiencing detrimental downfalls. But they do what they feel is right at the time, learning along the way and growing into better people. And you know what? They are happy. They succeed and find love and end up in a spot that is so much better than anyone anticipated. It is Jane’s faith in our human journey that makes her so incredible. The greatest love in her books are not between the two protagonists but rather between herself and her readers. As I stood before her grave, my eyes glazed over and I was filled with pride and lightness. She has given me inspiration, laughter and hope, and I am so grateful I got to say thank you to the woman whose care and honesty has blessed me so much.

As this was our last full day in England, we went home and finished packing, bracing ourselves for a long day of travel tomorrow. Claire and Mom head to Austria for a week before Claire does a two-week study abroad program in Germany, and Dad and I return home to Houston and Margaret. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these graduation trip posts — it’s been an incredible month in Europe, but I’m excited to return back home to fresh laundry, ice water, and most importantly, Texas!

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