Browsing Tag


Downton Abbey, England, The Cotswolds

A Day Discovering Downton (*Spoiler Alert*)

January 14th is my sister-in-law’s birthday, and as my grandmother’s 90th birthday fell just two days ago, we are all still in England for this occasion. Since she is a relatively new Downton Abbey fan, we decided to take her to see Highclere Castle and some of the surrounding English countryside today… and I am the one organizing this.

After a brief online search for Downton tours from London, I gathered that we weren’t really in the right season for this visit, and then I learned that Highclere Castle is actually closed until the Spring. No worries, I thought… we will still be able to get a good look at the place, right? Well, after a little further research last night, I learned that you can’t even see a shred of the castle, not even a peek at the parking  lot.

A little bit of panic set in, seeing as I was responsible for making this day happen and making it a good one… OK, onto plan b. What’s neat is that the reason you can’t visit, or even see Highclere Castle in the off season, is because it’s actually inhabited by its owners, the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. Seeing as they’ve been kicked out for the filming of Downton and now have become a destination for every Downton fan, I can see why they want their privacy… for some of the year at least.

So we can’t see Highclere, but I remember reading about the surrounding villages that were also used as sets during filming. Back to google. A few minutes later, I come across a website called Downton Abbey film locations  … “Locations withing the Oxfordshire Cotswolds have featured prominently in the popular TV drama Downton Abbey…” cha ching.

I make a quick call to my brother, informing him we won’t actually be able to see the castle, but that we’re going to do a little self-guided Downton Tour.

Cut to this morning. Directions to and from each little village are printed and our two-car convoy heads out on the M-40 to our first stop… The little village of Bampton. (Fortunately, one car has a sat nav,  or gps, because at one point the directions read, “Enter roundabout and take THE exit,” Which exit???)


But we make it to Bampton will relatively no hiccups, and park at the end of the main road. We walk to the center of town and while everyone uses the public bathroom, I make my way across the road to a bakery to ask for directions. A lovely Turkish man, who has been living here for 27 years says, “Let me guess, Downton Abbey?” He points us in the direction of the church.


St. Mary’s Church, Bampton

Now, Bampton is probably the most important location we will see today, and therefore the most recognizable. The town is actually used as the fictional village of Yorkshire on Downton Abbey.

Inside St. Mary’s Church, Bampton

Our first stop is Bampton’s St. Mary’s Church. Renamed as St. Michael and All Angels in Downton Abbey, this is the church where all weddings, christenings and funerals take place. It’s also the spot where Lady Edith was jilted at the altar. Next to the church grounds is Church View, which is turned into a hospital on the show.


Scenes from series 6

We walk through the church gate and up a paved path to the heavy, oak doors. After a nudge, we realize the church is open, and we pop in for a peek. At the back of the church is a small table, with some photographs from filming, as well as some memorabilia (photographs, mugs, postcards), and on a table by the entryway is some history on the church. I am baffled to learn that some parts of the church’s foundation date back to the Norman Conquest, 1066.

We exit the church grounds at the rear and walk by Churchgate House, which is Isobel Crawley’s Downton home. Then, we walk back through the little village of Bampton, passing some of the pubs and post offices that were also used on set. Now it’s time to move on to our second stop of the day, Swinbrook.

The Cotswold’s countryside

Swinbrook is idyllic. It’s one of those places where once you arrive, you don’t want to leave. It is quintessential English countryside. Rolling green fields dotted with hay bales, the odd cottage, picket fences and meandering streams.

Swinbrook’s Swan Inn

We park up at The Swan Inn, a pub that played an important role in  series two of Downton, as it’s where Lady Sybil and Branson stayed while planning their elopement.

We’ve made it just in time for lunch and take a table in the back room. Along with seeing some more of Downton history, we’re also treated to a delicious lunch. To call The Swan Inn a pub, is a bit of a stretch. We order homemade soups, fish and chips, a fish pie, cheese plates and quinoa cakes, all topped off with a local Cotswold Ale.

Birthday lunch at The Swan Inn

Birthday lunch at The Swan Inn

After lunch, we walk along the side of the pub and realize that it’s actually an old mill. Water rushes underneath one part of the pub, under a bridge and into a river on the other side of the road.

Back in the car, we make our way to Cogges. It’s bitterly cold by this point in time, so we make this our last stop. Cogges is where Downton’s Yew Tree Farm is located, so it has played an important role in many of the series, but most importantly, it’s where Lady Edith’s illegitimate daughter, Marigold, is raised by the farmer, Mr. Drew.

We walk past the gated farm and over to St. Mary’s, an old parish church that also dates back to the 11th Century. We tour the grounds and then make our way back to the entrance. What’s lovely about Cogges is that it’s strictly pedestrian. Despite the day drawing to an end and the temperatures plummeting, families are out walking and riding their bikes to and from the main road.

Downton's Yew Tree Farm, Cogges

Downton’s Yew Tree Farm, Cogges

We end our self guided tour here, skipping Shilton, and missing The Red Lion public house, which is where Mr. Bates went to work in series two. I imagine there will be an opportunity to see Shilton on a return trip to this area at some point in the future… the return trip that will include the actual visit to Highclere. But for having to resort to plan b, the day turned out to be a good dose of both Downton and the idyllic English countryside.



Here are some useful links to help you plan your own “Downton Day:”

A brief guide to Downton Abbey filming locations:

Highclere Castle:

The Swan Inn: