Mrs P and I have for several years trawled the south of England for stately homes, castles, palaces, mansions, abbeys and other historic houses. But there was one address that had escaped us, till now. Something of a holy grail in the world of the country estate. It opens sporadically and tickets sell out quickly. A visit there requires planning. Our days out tend to be a bit more spontaneous.
The map, and title of this post, tells you that our destination was Highclere Castle. If you are something of an entertainment buff, you might more readily identify the rather spendid outline of the castle as Downton Abbey. But perhaps there is a historian amongst you, and the fame of this property is based on events thousands of miles away more than a century ago. Highclere Castle is home to the Carnarvons, the 5th Earl of whom teamed up with Howard Carter to discover the lost tomb of Tutankamun in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt.
The interior of the castle is as grand a display of grandeur as we have encountered. Whilst most historic houses that we have visited are worn, in need of attention or even in a state of disrepair, relying on faded glory and charm to enterain visitors, Highclere is superbly maintained. Like the finest of wines, it has improved with aged.
And it does ‘age’ in abundance. Parts of the house have been added to over the centuries since the first stones were laid in 1679. But the truly ancient stuff lies in an exhibition that is appropriately buried in the basement. The collection of Egyptian antiquities brought back to Blighty by the 5th Earl together with a recreation of King Tuts tomb, including the legendary face mask of the boy king. Sadly, photography is barred from the interior of the castle. Luckily, I have a photograph of myself with the real facemask taken in Cairo nearly twenty years ago.