Last night found me watching the second episode of Downton Abbey. How could I resist a Julian Fellowes production with Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter and Brendan Coyle? But the real draw for me is the array of houses and gardens I get to vicariously visit.
That means that when the first episode premiered I instantly recognized the majestic Cedar of Lebanon trees outside the fictional abbey — and knew the stand-in for Downton was Highclere Castle. The trees were planted from seeds brought back from Lebanon in the 18th Century and are unmistakable.
Other gardeners and Anglophiles may have recognized Highclere as the embodiment of Mistlethwaite Manor in the 1987 Hallmark Hall of Fame television version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic story, "The Secret Garden." I loved that particular version of the story and have written about it in an earlier post.
Highclere's ancient trees and turreted exterior have made it a popular location for many productions over the lat twenty years, including "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," assorted Jeeves and Wooster episodes, and "Eyes Wide Shut." But if you want to see Highclere looking moody, brooding and Gothic watch the scenes where Mary Lennox arrives at a snow-dusted Mistlethwaite at night. That imposing front door and layered balconies are terrifying in the dark.
Alas, the real castle is in a serious state of disrepair verging on disaster according to this article.
Late news: Apparently on Saturday ITV and Carnival Films announced a special Christmas 2011 production of Downton Abbey. It is designed to continue where the second series, an eight-part run scheduled for autumn 2011, ends. Be warned, however, that here in the U.S. we are just now watching the first season. When season two or this Christmas special will appear here is anyone's guess.