Now that the fifth season of Downton Abbey is upon us (Sundays, 9pm, ITV) we’ve got a taste for all things fancy. As well as Highclere Castle – where Downton is filmed – there are plenty of other preposterously decadent houses and estates scattered across the nation that will quench your desire for the superior. Here are 10 top locations where you can dabble in croquet, afternoon tea and a hunt – just don’t forget your corduroy trousers.
Voted number two in Channel 5’s Britain’s Finest Stately Homes, there’s a real hierarchy at 1,200 acre estate built in the 18th century. The gentry owners over the years have preserved the original wallpaper, furniture and fittings, and have paid homage to their trusted servants throughout the building’s 250-year history by hanging portraits of favoured staff in the ‘Servants Hall’. Each painting also has a poem about the servant in question, written by their employer at the time. nationaltrust.org.uk/erddig/
Rothley Court Hotel, Leicestershire
Built in the16th century, this grade I listed manor house was mentioned in the Domesday Book, and was also used by the Knights Templar. The chapel is particularly atmospheric – as well as an original font and roof timbers, there’s a reading desk under the window, which is believed to be Jacobean. Meanwhile, overnight guests will bed up in one of 30 cosy rooms, and find features such as beautiful stained glass windows, oak panelling and open fireplaces throughout the property.
Highclere Castle, Berkshire
Earls have lived at “the real Downton Abbey” for more than 300 years – the Earl of Carnarvon and his family currently live here and, due to the hit TV show, receive thousands of visitors each year. The Jacobethan style mansion is spectacular, and if you’re willing to brave the masses on a day trip, you’ll be rewarded with antiques in every room, a library, music room, huge portraits of monarchs and noblemen, plus 1,000 acres of parklands.
Castle Howard, Yorkshire
Canny viewers may recognise this castle from the BBC Brideshead Revisited period drama and Emma Thompson movie. This Baroque stately home was built in the 1700s for the third Earl of Carlisle. Here you’ll find 1,000 acres of gardens and parklands, a grand Great Hall, plus a vivid turquoise drawing room and ornate chapel. Christmas is a particularly special time to visit, as the grounds are dressed with seasonal lights and a Christkindelmarkt, selling handmade gifts, mulled wine and specialty foods, is held here every year.
Kinlochmoidart House, Scotland
Split in to three residences, one of which includes a service wing, this proper Scottish abode offers exactly what you’d expect from a stay in the bonnie highlands. Moose heads adorn the walls, creaky staircases lead you to the rooms and food is served on antique banquet tables. Nineteenth century architect William Leiper designed this building, and touches of his art, craft and gothic style remain throughout. Outside, there are 2,000 acres of land to explore, as well as the nearby Glenuig beach, and nature and fishing spots Loch Shiel, Loch Sunart and Ariundle Oakwoods Nature Reserve.
Thoresby Hall Hotel, Nottinghamshire
Get your hunting voice ready and “pull!” – activities at Thoresby include rifle shooting and falconry. Once the home of dukes this rock-faced ashlar building is steeped in legend. Locals believe it may be haunted, and some claim they’ve witnessed unusual sightings here. The hotel plays up to the myths and legends by hosting ghost tours and psychic schools here. However, the inside takes on a decidedly different feel, having been recently refurbished, and includes a shiny leisure club, with swimming pool and spa, plus two fine dining restaurants –The Sherwood Restaurant and The Blue Room, which was recently awarded two AA rosettes.
Ludbrook Manor, South Devon
This turreted manor house can be rented for a weekend away among orchids, duck ponds and eight acres of land. Inside, the high-ceilinged rooms include detailing such as a mosaic crest in the drawing room, French doors into the gardens and a sitting room with beautiful views out to Dartmoor. Rugby fans should bring their kit; there are posts in the grounds. Alternatively, the place hosts wild game days followed by a soak in the hot tub.
Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire
If you’re looking for something royal, it doesn’t get much more spectacular than the Queen’s favourite summer retreat. Queen Victoria described this enormous 49,000-acre property as “my dear paradise in the Highlands”. Activities in the historic grounds include rover safaris and guided walks. Inside the castle visitors will find fine silver, china and priceless paintings. Although you can’t stay in the castle itself (unless you’re invited by the Queen), it is possible to stay on the estate in one of the five simple and cosy self-catering cottages. balmoralcastle.com
Wynyard Hall, Yorkshire
Once owned by the Marquisses of Londonderry, this impressive property is secured by golden gates and thick oak doors; and when you step inside you’ll realise why. Chandeliers meet a grand piano, stained glass, statues of Atlas, an ornate ballroom and a room dressed floor to ceiling with mirrors. A stay here is utterly indulgent. Former guests include Queen Elizabeth II, Charles Dickens, the Duke of Wellington and Russell Crowe.
Weston Park, Shropshire
Gardeners will love the former home of the Earl of Bradford. Among the 1,000 acres of land there’s a medieval deer park and forest, plus landscaped gardens designed by Capability Brown – the man dubbed ‘England’s greatest gardener’. Inside the property, guests are greeted by a head butler, and the experience gets more luxuriously olde worldly from here on in – this is, after all, the same place they held a G8 Summit Retreat, and hosted former heads of state including Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin. www.westonparkhospitality.com
Pictures courtesy of Richard Munckton, Diverstonefly, WikiCommons and The National Trust