Downton Abbey has become one of television’s biggest success stories, but the period drama set in a fictional house in North Yorkshire is actually filmed in a number of locations in southern England. While Bampton in Oxfordshire doubles as Downton village, the architectural star of the show is undoubtedly the “Jacobethan” country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon — Highclere Castle in Hampshire. The walk follows the public footpath across the estate and back again; with an alternative return route (marked in red) over estate paths open only during the summer.
Distance: 4 1/2 miles (7km) Time: About 2 hours
Walk over the single-track bridge that crosses the A34 and head through the gates onto the main drive of the house. The drive emerges from a belt of trees to a sublime view of Highclere Park with its magnificent Lebanon cedars. The park was laid out by none other than Lancelot “Capability” Brown and the trees were grown from seeds that were brought here 200 years ago.
There are glances of the Castle as you follow the drive down and around to the left, while on the right there are occasional glimpses of the Temple of Diana above Duns Mere, the lake that the injured veteran and valet Bates (played by Brendan Coyle) threw his leg brace into under the watchful eye of Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan), the housekeeper.
Turn right at the park’s central crossroads and head up and away from the house. The tract of park to the left was used for the hunting scenes when the “Turkish gentleman” came to stay, shortly before having his wicked and final way with Lady Mary, played by Michelle Dockery.
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THE RED HOUSE
The drive winds around to the left to a junction where the public footpath takes a sharp left down a narrow road into a valley and up again to a Victorian chapel. Keep to the left of the chapel and walk through the cemetery to a gate at the bottom, turn right onto the track and immediately left into a field bordered by woodland that recalls the shooting scenes with bullying Sir Richard Carlisle, and Lady Mary, his fiancée. Keep to the right of the tyre tracks and ruts as you head up the slope and, at the crest, head for a wooden field gate with a white footpath sign.
Fork right into the wood — a white arrow is painted on a tree trunk — and follow the path as it curves to the left and up a slight incline. From the top, walk down to a stream and into a field. Follow the field edge, keeping the woods on your right, to a stile onto the A343.
Turn right onto the pavement and head for a warm welcome at the Red House pub/ restaurant, a short walk up the road.
In winter, you can retrace your steps through the park, but in summer, it’s possible to walk back
via a footpath on your right about 150 yards past the Red House. The path goes to
Highclere Church, from where you can wander up a quiet road to the estate gates. A seasonal permissive path runs from the lodge to join the estate drive back to the start.
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The first mile is all on estate roads. Further on, conditions can be wet underfoot. Some short, steep sections.
WHERE IS IT?
Five miles from Newbury.
Nearest train station is Newbury. Four buses a day go to Carnarvon Arms, just north of start; it’s a 20 to 30-minute journey.
Carnarvon Arms, off A34 at eastern end of the walk; (bespokehotels. com).
The Red House pub at Highclere village (highclere-red-house.co.uk).
OS Explorer 158.
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Image courtesy of: Katherine Baxter