witf Events

'Downton' sights accent British romp

Written by Kathleen Pavelko | Jul 3, 2013 2:41 PM
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The Highclere Castle in Hampshire, left, doubles as “Downton Abbey” on the Masterpiece Classic series.

We called it the “Downton Abbey” trip for short, but it was officially the British Landscapes tour sponsored by witf. And it was a wonderful 10- day romp through England, Scotland and Wales for 45 enthusiastic travelers in April.

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witf travelers at Buckingham Palace

I was lucky indeed to accompany witf’s friends and fans of “Downton Abbey” for this trip, which began with a visit to Highclere Castle, the stately home that “stands in” for Downton Abbey on the hit Masterpiece Classic series. (The fourth season of the sensational series is slated to begin in January.)

The Highclere Castle visit was the first of many highlights of the trip. The castle is a neo-Gothic wonder whose architect also designed the Houses of Parliament. Highclere seemed both larger and smaller than I imagined. It was larger in the scale of the exterior and in the expansive grounds, which are productively used for summer fairs and fetes, to raise sheep and to grow oats for thoroughbreds. It was smaller in that the interior rooms featured in the series (such as the grand dining room, the entrance hall and library) were more human in scale than they seem on the screen.

After Highclere Castle, our group spent two days in London, grandly put up in a new hotel round the corner from the old Tower of London. There was free time used fully by our travelers for everything from a visit to Westminster Abbey to a spin on the London Eye (a gigantic ferris wheel with splendid views of the city and the Thames valley).

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The interior courtyard at Holyrood House, Edinburgh.

But then it was off to the medieval city of York, the border region of Scotland and then two days in the architecturally remarkable city of Edinburgh. Between the Royal Palace at Holyrood House and Edinburgh Castle stretches the “Royal Mile,” a handsome thoroughfare studded with shops and the beautiful St. Giles Cathedral. A “Scottish Evening” of song, dance (and haggis) rounded out the Scottish experience.

And then it was off for a single memorable night in Wales at Ruthin (pronounced “Rith-in”) Castle, a Gothic-style country house built in the 1860s on the grounds of a 13th century red-brick castle — once a stronghold for Edward I’s conquest of Wales. (The red-brick structure was destroyed in the Civil War of the 1640s.) It was a gracious experience quite unlike the bustle of London and Edinburgh.

The final days of our trip were based at Stratford on Avon, which allowed us to experience the Lake District and Cotswolds, Bath and Stonehenge as well as Shakespeare’s birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.

Sixty-six fans experienced this itinerary on two tours this year. Because of popular demand, witf plans to sponsor another trip tentatively scheduled for September 2014. You can put your name on the reserve list by calling 717.704.3000.

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