'Downton Abbey' in Rear View

We pay tribute and bid reluctant farewell to one extraordinary TV drama, take you to the Yorkshire estate where the series was shot and introduce you to the real-life lord and lady of the manor.

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What will we do with our Sunday nights now that we will no longer hear that warm and welcoming opening theme to Downton Abbey that simultaneously soothes and excites us? How ever shall we carry on without weekly helpings of the trials and upheavals of Mr. Bates and Anna, the calming demeanor and sage advice of Lord and Lady Grantham, the mannered precision and flawlessly starched collars of Mr. Carson, the devious (but occasionally empathy-inducing) machinations of Barrow, the complex soap opera that is Lady Mary and — of course — the rapier wit and legendary snark of the Dowager Countess?

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle, the English manor that serves as backdrop for the PBS series Downton Abbey , is in reality one of the most magnificent of England's stately homes. It's an actual working estate in the Hampshire countryside and home to modern-day members of the real British aristocracy. The Victorian-era manor is 175 years old, contains around 30,000 square feet of living space and is currently maintained by a staff of 70.

PBS has been treating audiences to excellent scripted dramas for years on series like Masterpiece Theater, Masterpiece Classics and Mystery, but what is it about this one that is so profoundly captivating to so many people? Sharply defined characters, bullseye casting, intelligent dialog and meticulous period authenticity are among the show's keynote attributes that are cited as essentials to its continued success and acclaim. But more than that, this series somehow found its way to that hard-to-define thing that's greater than the sum of its parts, an overarching gestalt, a perfect pitch that enabled it to reach deep into audiences far beyond the network's usual devotees – making it one of the most watched television series in the world and Britain's most popular TV drama ever.

State Room With Stone Arches

State Room With Stone Arches

The grandeur of Highclere is perhaps most notably exemplified in the magnificent state room seen here. The front entrance opens onto this central room called the Saloon. This room was designed in the gothic style for the 4th Earl of Carnarvon and features a 50-foot vaulted ceiling and magnificent stone arches.

For those who have fallen under its spell, there's an undeniable draw to the heartwarming narrative and interplay of the formidably large company of characters distinctly divided between aristocrats and servants — and to the setting itself and the beautiful aesthetic with which the show is shot and constructed. It's like that great novel that you can't stop reading and hope will just never end. And it keeps welcoming you back while deftly and gently reminding those who would yearn for simpler times that those times may not, in reality, have been so simple.

Saloon and Carved Stone Arches

Saloon and Carved Stone Arches

This view of Highclere Castle's Saloon, seen through the carved stone arches of the entry hall, is from the great oak staircase built in 1861. The Saloon's walls are lined with 400-year-old embossed Spanish leather wall coverings.

We at HGTV have no idea what we will do after the finale, but a lot of us are about to be genuinely sad. In fact, some of us are positively in denial. What we can do (and, in fact, is something we specialize in), is show you beautiful pictures and informative video. To that end, and as we bid a melancholy farewell to one outstanding television show, we revisit Highclere Castle, the "real" Downton Abbey – via Castles on Camera, a special HGTV first aired a couple of years ago.

Downton Abbey, we will miss you. In the words of Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (actually, in this case, quoting French poet François Villon), Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan? Translation: "Where are the snows of yesteryear?"

The Real 'Downton Abbey'

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The stately home that millions of Downton Abbey fans have grown to adore is no movie set. It's an actual working estate in England's countryside and home to modern day members of the real British aristocracy. Go inside Highclere Castle to see its lavish rooms and meet the real-life lord and lady of the manor.

A Castle in Real Life

Highclere Castle, the English manor that serves as backdrop for the PBS series Downton Abbey, is in reality one of the most magnificent of England's stately homes. It's an actual working estate in the Hampshire countryside and home to modern-day members of the real British aristocracy. The Victorian-era manor is 175 years old, contains around 30,000 square feet of living space and is currently maintained by a staff of 70.

Just a Modest Country Home

The Highclere house, located near the town of Newbury in southeast England, has approximately 200 rooms, including more than 50 bedrooms and six separate entertaining spaces. Past houseguests have included actor Omar Sharif, film director Stanley Kubrick and numerous members of England's royal family.

Windows on the Past

Upon approaching the home, visitors are greeted by the ornate carved stone façade and 170 windows. Highclere has been in the family of its current owners for 370 years. The original house that stood here was, by the standards of the time, a medium-sized mansion. The grand castle that now stands on the site was commissioned in 1838 by the present Earl's great-great-great-grandfather. It was designed in the Jacobethan style by Sir Charles Barry, architect of Britain's Houses of Parliament. Though the home's current lineage dates back about four centuries, the estate at Highclere has been inhabited in some form for around 1300 years. The present-day castle stands at the location of the 8th-century palace of the Bishops of Winchester.

Countess of Carnarvon

The fictional world of Downton Abbey draws some of its inspiration from real life and past events at Highclere Castle. Though their names are not Lord and Lady Grantham, the home's current owners are true modern-day aristocrats: George Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, and his wife, Lady Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon, pictured here. Lady Fiona is a historian and has written a biography of her predecessor Lady Almina, an English heiress and a former Countess of Carnarvon. Almina, whose wealth and status helped to preserve the family estate through troubled times, serves in part as the basis for Downton Abbey's Lady Cora.

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Lord of the Manor

George Reginald Oliver Molyneuz Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon, godson of Queen Elizabeth II and Lord of Highclere Castle, stands in the home's library. This room was a favorite of the current Earl's great-great-grandfather, who used it for entertaining and as a personal retreat. The actual library — which, in Downton Abbey, doubles as Lord Grantham's study and refuge — contains around 5,650 books, some of which are more than 500 years old. The producers of the series found Highclere's interiors to be so ideal for their needs that they film many of the show's scenes in the castle's rooms just as they are — with the actual furnishings in place and with little or no redressing.

First Impressions

The grandeur of Highclere is perhaps most notably exemplified in the magnificent state room seen here. The front entrance opens onto this central room called the Saloon. This room was designed in the gothic style for the 4th Earl of Carnarvon and features a 50-foot vaulted ceiling and magnificent stone arches.

Great Room

The span of the Saloon extends upward through the full height of the house, and custom-made skylights illuminate the space. This magnificent parlor serves as gateway to the home's other state rooms, including the library, dining room, smoking room and drawing room. This view of the Saloon is from the upstairs gallery where the main bedrooms are situated. Though the overall design of the castle was by Sir Charles Barry, many of the spectacular interior spaces like this one were the creation of architect Thomas Allom, who had earlier worked with Barry.

Grand Entrance

This view of the Saloon, seen through the carved stone arches of the entry hall, is from the great oak staircase built in 1861. The Saloon's walls are lined with 400-year-old embossed Spanish leather wall coverings.

How Many Bedrooms?!

According to Lady Fiona, the house at Highclere has somewhere between 50 and 80 bedrooms. In fact, she's not certain exactly how many. Since some of the rooms were originally used as servant's quarters, most of which are no longer used, it's now uncertain just how many actually were bedrooms. This guest bedroom, however, the Cream Bedroom, is still very much in use. Yet another guest bedroom, decorated in 1895 in anticipation of a visit by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), serves on Downton Abbey as the bedroom of Lady Mary. That room was famously the setting for one of the series' more scandalous incidents: the unexpected death of Turkish diplomat Mr. Pamuk.

Grounds Tour

The Highclere home is set among 6,000 acres of farmland with beautifully manicured gardens and numerous walking trails. The estate is valued today at more than $240,000,000. To help finance the monumental upkeep on the home and grounds, the owners rent it out for corporate events, weddings and other occasions. The site fee for the rental is around $23,000. With the success of the series Downton Abbey, the owners have also opened the home for tours during a portion of the year. Visitors, who number more than 60,000 annually, have come from as far as New Zealand, Russia and China.

The House Staff, Upstairs and Down

The present butler at Highclere Castle is Colin Edwards, pictured here in the home's main dining room — another setting that's quite familiar to viewers of Downton Abbey. Mr. Edwards admits to wishing that he had a staff the size of that of his fictional counterpart, Mr. Carson. In the home's heyday, the house staff might have numbered as many as 150. Today's staff of 70 includes many who help cater to the needs of those who have rented the home for special occasions, visitors during tourist season and, now, Downton Abbey's film crew.

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Gardens, Monuments and Artifacts

This distant view of Highclere is through one of the more spectacular grounds features known as Heaven's Gate. Structures like this are known by the term "folly," which refers to architectural features constructed essentially for decorative purposes only. English gardens from this era often incorporated faux ruins of ancient temples, abbeys, stone cottages and the like. The park and gardens surrounding Highclere Castle were fashioned in the late 1700s from a design by the famed English landscape architect Lancelot "Capability" Brown. Visitors to the house today enter by means of a mile-long driveway lined by massive 250-year-old Lebanon Cedars.

Royalty From an Earlier Era

This famous likeness of the boy king, Tutankhamun, is part of the Egyptian exhibition at Highclere Castle. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon was not only an English nobleman but was also a renowned explorer who, in 1922, discovered the 3200-year-old tomb of the Egyptian king along with fellow explorer Howard Carter. Prior to being featured in Downton Abbey, most of Highclere's fame was derived from its association with the 5th Earl and his archaeological discoveries.

Castles on Camera: Video Highlights

HGTV takes you to Highclere Castle, the setting for Downton Abbey, and to two other famous British estates.

Welcome to Castles on Camera

Castles on Camera: Royal Residences

Another Stately Manor

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Visit Althorp House, the regal estate of England's famed Spencer family and the childhood home of the late Princess Diana.   

Althorp House

Althorp House, home to the Spencer family for five centuries, is currently owned by Charles Spencer, the 9th Earl of Spencer and brother to the late Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales. This elegant house, located in England's East Midlands, contains some 100,000 square feet of interior space and 31 bedrooms. The home sits on an estate of 14,000 acres — an area approximately the size of Manhattan. Though this current structure is a couple of centuries newer, the original house on the estate dates to the year 1508, when the Tudors still ruled England. In more recent times, guests to the home have included Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Winston Churchill and nearly every British king and queen for the past 400 years.

Althorp House

This exterior view of the mansion is a favorite of Charles, the present Earl of Spencer. Though it's famous as a historic and ancestral family home, most of the world knows Althorp as the final resting place of the late and much-beloved Princess Diana. She is buried on a tree-covered island in a small lake near the main house. More than 30,000 people make pilgrimages to the site annually, but visitors may pay homage to the late princess only from the water's edge. No one is allowed to set foot on the island without special permission, and Diana's actual grave is unmarked. A path leading from the house to the lake is lined by a row of 36 oak trees planted by Diana's brother Charles — one tree to commemorate each year of Diana's life.

The 9th Earl of Spencer

Charles, the current Earl Spencer, stands on the 340-year-old staircase in the entry space known as the Saloon. In the original Tudor structure, this space was actually an open courtyard. It was enclosed and turned into this magnificent room in the 1670s.

Althorp House: Picture Gallery

Though it's not the largest, the picture gallery is perhaps the grandest room in the Althorp house. This room was originally designed to allow the lady residents of the house to take exercise during inclement weather. (Exercise consisted simply of walking back and forth along the room's 115-foot span.) Some of the Spencer family portraits in the home's collection date back as far as 19 generations, including a portrait of William Spencer, born in the year 1496.

Althorp House: Portrait Collection

Paintings in the home's collection include works by the famed Baroque artist Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641).

Althorp House

The Blue Gallery at Althorp is lined with masterworks of both sculpture and portraiture.

Althorp Library

The library at Althorp is one of the most visually arresting rooms in the house. At one time, the book collection at Althorp numbered more than 40,000 volumes — the largest private book collection in the world. The present Earl's great-great-grandfather sold the collection to a British university in 1892 to pay family debts. The purchase price for the collection at the time was 210,000 pounds — roughly equivalent to $30 million today. The library collection has since been rebuilt, although not to its former enormous scale. Still, the current library provides ample reading with an offering of about 10,000 books. Since 2003, the Althorp estate has played host to a world-class literary festival sponsored by Christie's of London.

Althorp House: Stables and Gatehouse

The gatehouse and stables at Althorp, seen here, were built around 1732 and are regarded by some as the finest example of architecture on the estate. The main castle was built by the second Earl of Sunderland in 1688. The original house was in the decorative Tudor style, but it was altered dramatically by a redesign commissioned in the 18th century.

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