Picturesque Towns, Gardens, Arboretums and Highclere Castle in England
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Highclere CastleHighclere Castle, located in Newbury and about 67-miles west of London, became globally popular with the hit BBC series Downtown Abbey. Although the series made the castle a must-visit for fans, Highclere has its own Lord and Lady with a fascinating history to match.
Highclere Castle and grounds have a long chronicle and before its current foundations were built, a series of medieval buildings first occupied the site, followed by a brick mansion. In the late 18th century, Highclere was built as a Georgian manor; in the 19th century, Sir Charles Barry (Houses of Parliament in London) was brought in to transform the manor house into a grand mansion, that once completed, was called Highclere Castle. However, it wasn't until 1922 and a discovery by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter, followed by a mysterious event that would bring Highclere Castle into the consciousness of the world; the astonishing discovery -- the tomb of the Egyptian Boy Pharaoh, Tutankhamun. Yet, only four-and-half months later, Carnarvon would die in Egypt and rumors flew that his death was due to a legendary curse of the Pharaohs. In reality, the 5th earl died of septicemia after nicking a mosquito bite while shaving that became fatally infectious.
Today, the 8th Earl and Lady Carnarvon preside in the castle and have opened Highclere to the public for tours and to share its amazing history, antiquities and grounds. While there are several large poster boards with information and photos from the Downton Abbey series located throughout rooms on the guided castle tour, most of the information presented focuses on the castle, its history and the current Lord and Lady Carnarvon. The tour is fascinating, as it takes visitors through the pure gothic entrance hall with its elaborate columns. The tour then meanders into important rooms of the castle, such as the opulent bedrooms and library with its gilded ceiling, bookcases and exquisite, George III Carlton House Desk. It's a bit of an overload to take in all of the amazing artwork, family history and furnishings that adorn the castle, but make sure to see the Egyptian Exhibition located in the lower levels of the castle. The exhibit rooms consist of artifacts from Carnarvon and Carter's excavations from the Valley of the Kings, with the intriguing account of the discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb. A showcase of detailed reproductions of his tomb and sarcophagus are on display as well.
Once you have finished the tour, you can stop by for an English lunch in the small annexed restaurant and sip a cup of tea while you digest your previous tour; or, if you purchase tickets before your visit, indulge in a lovely afternoon tea. In addition, the extensive grounds that surround the immediate castle are available for guests to explore. Definitely break out your camera for the beautiful, 1000 acres of parkland and gardens with many areas that famous landscape architect Capability Brown designed in the late 1700s. One of the most arresting and famous sights are the great Cedars of Lebanon trees that frame the approach to the castle.
Tips for visiting: The castle tours are popular and they can easily sell out, especially in the summer. Make sure you purchase your tour tickets and afternoon tea reservations at least three to six months in advance online. No cameras are allowed inside -- outside is fine. There is a gift shop that sells wonderful items, such as seeds from the estate gardens and excellent books with brilliant photos and history on Highclere Castle. . For additional castle events, tours and information visit Highclere Castle.
TetburyLocated in the Cotswold district of Gloucestershire and about 58-miles from Highclere Castle, Tetbury is a small town you won't want to miss. In the middle ages, the town was an important market for Cotswold wool and yarn. Today, Tetbury draws visitors to admire its 16th century stone buildings and alluring shops that line the avenues. Stop in at an antiquarian bookshop for some rare finds or pop into the corner pub, The Snooty Fox for a pint of ale. Or, if you like to shop for chic designs, Moloh, the favorite boutique of the Duchess of Cambridge, features some amazing understated and casual British fashions. The shop also sports some of the coolest, knee-length boots in England. Another fabulous shop to peruse is Prince Charles' Highgrove. The shop features an array of crave-worthy home and garden accents, as well as British made teddy bears and a plethora of unique items. The best aspect of Highgrove is that the prices are surprisingly reasonable and all of the shops sales goes to HRH's charitable foundation.
South Tetbury is also home to Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at Highgrove House. Visitors can tour Highgrove's magnificent gardens and enjoy a sumptuous afternoon tea at the estate's Orchard Restaurant. For about 35-years, the gardens went through changes and resulted in several themed gardens, terraces and walks. in the spring and summer, the gardens are splendid with flowering trellised arbors and brilliantly sculpted topiary grounds. However, one of the nicest areas of the gardens is the English wildflower meadow that borders the grass path to the house; it's a wonderful stroll on a tranquil, sunny day.
The garden tours and afternoon tea reservations must be made in advance -- six months at least to insure you are able to get tickets.
WestonbirtWestonbirt, the National Arboretum, is the perfect place to spend the entire day walking through magical looking forests and concealed paths. Located just three-miles from the town of Tetbury, the arboretum's first tree plantings began in the 1850's. Today, Westonbirt encompasses 600-acres with 15,000 labeled trees and over 2,500 different types of trees from around the globe. Moreover, there are 17-miles of trails located within the arboretum that lead visitors past three main areas, such as the Tree Walkway. The Treetop walk offers spectacular, panoramic views over the arboretum and winds through leafy canopies.
Additional trails lead visitors through almost mystical tree-lined meadows where a stone wizard and other remarkable sculptures pop up along the various paths. after a long walk, you'll find plenty of benches scattered in propitious areas; visitors can take a respite and just enjoy the peacefulness throughout the forest and meadows. In addition, the family-friendly arboretum has a wonderful cafe and restaurant and parts of Westonbirt are dog-friendly.
For accommodations, Highclere Castle, Tetbury, Highgrove Gardens and Westonbirt Arboretum are all within driving distance of Bath. The city features an abundance of hotels, Inns and B&Bs. If you wish to stay in Tetbury, The Snooty Fox offers lovely rooms that overlook the town. For additional information, go to VisitTetbury.co.uk
If you don't wish to drive in the UK and you want to visit the locations in this article, consider a train to Bath from London or book car tour company. Majestic Cars will take passengers from London to Bath and to destinations mentioned in this article. They are highly recommended and are an excellent company that is friendly, honest and offer reasonable prices. For additional information, visit www.majestictaxis.com. There are also companies that will take tour buses to Highclere Castle as well. For additional information, go to VisitNewbury.org.uk
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Patrice Raplee is an accomplished travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel and is a regular correspondent for award-winning travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in national magazines and newspapers such as Alaska Airlines in-flight magazine, Beyond and the Seattle Times. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.