By now, every faithful follower of the British television series Downton Abbey must know that the real Downton Abbey is Highclere Castle, a stately home in Berkshire about an hour from central London.
Have you ever wondered about all the other places featured in the program? After four seasons, (in 2014 in the USA), there are village houses, pubs, post offices, gardens, restaurants, even universities that have made cameo appearances and that will look just great in your photo collection or on your Facebook page.
This list should help you plan an itinerary around Oxfordshire and the Home Counties that takes in some of the best Downton photo ops and attractions.
And don't forget - Click here to learn more about visiting Highclere Castle.
Click images to enlarge.
The Village of Downton
Where is it? The Oxfordshire village of Bampton, about 20 miles west of Oxford.
What was filmed there? The village stands in for Downton and the exteriors of the church, the pub, the library and various houses were used for scenes outside of the Downton Cottage Hospital, the Post Office and Isobel Crawley's house.
What can I do there? There are some pleasant country walks outside of the village or you can walk around looking at the charming, typically Cotswold houses. Bampton has a good selection of country pubs, a bistro and a coffee shop. The Parish Council website is full of useful information about pubs, places to eat and accommodations.
How do I get there? Take the A20 west of Oxford for about 13 miles, then turn right on Buckland Road, signposted for Bampton.
What's nearby? There's plenty to do once you've seen enough of Downton - erm Bampton:
Where is it? Greys Court, a National Trust property near Henley-on-Thames, about 40 miles west of London.
What was filmed there? You may recall, in the third season of Downton Abbey, Lord Grantham's bad investments meant the family might have to downsize and move to a smaller house on their estate. They picnicked on the lawns of Downton Place, which even as their second best house looked pretty impressive to me.
What can I do there? Greys Court was built as a family home by Elizabeth I's treasurer, Sir Francis Knollys. The Tudor house was built on the site of an earlier medieval house. The estate has two towers, dating from the 11th and 12th centuries that you can also visit. Between the mid 16th century when it was built, to the 1960s when the house was given to the National Trust, only five families lived there.
You can visit the house and see its Tudor rooms, its stylish 18th century additions and the 20th century conveniences in its beautiful ancient kitchen equipped with everything a modern cook could need.
You can even have a seat in the sitting room, listen to an old-fashioned record player and watch a 1960s BBC documentary about the house on the telly.
The estate also has lovely gardens and a gentle walk, of about a mile and a half, laid out by a 20th century owner.
How do I get there? Greys Hall is about 3 miles from Henley-on-Thames train station. Take a taxi from the train station or a number 145 bus from the town hall to Greys Green and follow a signposted path for 1/4 mile. If you drive, there is an unsigned, direct route from Henley. Follow signs to Badgemore Golf Club towards Peppard, Greys Hall is about three miles along this route.
- Henley-on-Thames is the location of the Henley-Royal-Regatta, so if you time it right, you could drop by to see the rowing.
- Or take a fine country walk from Maidensgrove Farm, about seven miles away, ending with a great gastropub lunch at The Five Horseshoes.
Tea With the Dowager Countess of Grantham
Where is it? Byfleet Manor is in Byfleet, Surrey, about 25 miles southwest of London
What was filmed there? Interiors of this private manor house were used for the Dower House, home of the Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, aka Maggie Smith.
What can I do there? Not a lot. The house is not open to the public except for weddings, events and private parties. In fact, you cannot even get within sight of the house, which is deep within its own private acreage. However, you can make a private reservation for afternoon tea (for between 4 and 30 people) in the "Downton Room" where you have no doubt seen Lady Violet and Isobel Crawley spar on many an occasion.
How do I get there? Take the afternoon tea tour. Otherwise, don't bother. You cannot see the house from Byfleet and the town itself is basically a suburban bedroom community for London.
What's nearby? You are deep in the stockbroker belt here. Not a lot to see. But if you're in the area, the Royal Horticultural Society's Wisley Garden is about five and a half miles away.
Where is it? The Swan Inn in Swinbrook is about 12 miles NW of Oxford, just outside of the Cotswold village of Burford.
What was filmed there? One of the most romantic, dramatic story lines in the second series reached its culmination here as the ultimately tragic Lady Sybil eloped with chauffeur Tom Branson, her sisters in hot pursuit.
What can I do there? You can dine (the pub is noted for its food) and even stay at the inn, though the rooms are more modern and luxurious than they appeared in the scenes from the series. Once you've got Downton out of your system, you can look into the history of the notorious Mitford sisters.
The pub is owned by Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, once chatelaine of Chatsworth in Derbyshire, the youngest and the last surviving Mitford sister. She and her sisters grew up in this Cotswold village. Now in her 90s, she rarely visits the inn but there are reminders of the family history and pictures of the Mitford sisters at the inn.
Besides the Dowager Duchess, the sometimes scandalous Mitford sisters included Diana who was a fascist, Unity who may have been Hitler's lover, Jessica, a left wing political activist, civil rights campaigner and ultimately an American citizen; novelist Nancy, who wrote Love in a Cold Climate, and the little known Pamela. While you are in Swinbrook you can visit some of their graves in the village churchyard.
How do I get there? Take the A40 west of Oxford, then, after about 12 miles a right turn on an unnamed single track road, signposted for. Swinbrook and The Swan Inn, beside the River Windrush.
What's nearby? The inn is on the outskirts of Burford and close to Minster Lovell (see item 1 in this list for details).
Home of Lady Rosamund - The Keeper of Secrets
Where is it? West Wycombe Park is just outside of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, about 35 miles northwest of London
What was filmed there? When the young women need someone independent to confide in, they tend to confess their sorrows and their indiscretions to their aunt, Lady Rosamund. Lady Rosamund, who lives in London, often acts as a secret confident to her nieces. Her London drawing room, scene of many secrets and much plotting, was filmed in this grand Palladian house.
What can I do there? You can enjoy the 45 acres of glorious parkland, the views of the Chilterns from West Wycombe Hill and explore historic West Wycombe Village. The village itself is owned by the National Trust and is lined with houses that date from the 16th to the 18th century.
Though owned by the trust, the house itself is still occupied by the Dashwood family and is only open to the public during the summer. Check the website for visiting times and details.
If the name seems familiar, it's because Jane Austen borrowed it for the sisters in Sense and Sensibility. The real Sir Francis Dashwood, who built the house in the 18th century, was a noted bon viveur and dilettante. He created this lavish and theatrical house as a kind of pleasure palace for himself and his extravagant tastes.
How do I get there? The park and house are two miles west of High Wycombe, off the A40. Chiltern Railways run frequent commuter trains between London Marylebone Station and High Wycombe station, about two and a half miles away. The trip takes about half an hour, with bus or taxi services to the park. Check National Rail Enquiries for times and prices.
What's nearby? There have been plenty of high livers besides Sir Francis Dashwood in this part of the Home Counties:
- Waddesdon Manor, built by a Rothschild as his private play house, is 21 miles away.
- Notorious Cliveden, once home of Nancy Astor and the scene of many political and romantic scandals is just 10 miles away.
- And you can do some high living yourself in Bray, a tiny village with two restaurants that each hold three Michelin stars. Try the Waterside Inn, a restaurant favored by the Queen. Or go all experimental at Heston Blumenthal's Fatted Duck.