We’re currently enjoying seeing the celebrated Downton Abbey series, thanks to the loan of the boxed set of DVDs. I already knew the pile of stones that is the fictional Downton, is really Highclere Castle, a UK stately home I know reasonably well since Highclere village is where my grandmother and aunts lived. I’ve often walked the castle grounds, and toured the house – most memorably in the ’80s after renovations revealed a trove of Tut’s treasures hidden away in a secret cupboard, and later exhibited in the castle basement before being sent off to – presumably – the British Museum. It was a fascinating time.
But while I’m enjoying the Downton story, my disbelief often fails to be entirely suspended because the location simply doesn’t ring true.
Highclere is in Berkshire – a county of lush, rolling and very picturesque English countryside, and which if I’m honest is a bit claustrophobic for one who prefers the wild beauty and clean air of windswept craggy Yorkshire moors. Yet my native Yorkshire is where Downton is set. In the vicinity of Ripon to be precise, so the accents – and the chiselled stone buildings – are all North of England. It therefore jars to see Highclere Castle, which is built of the warm, mellowed red bricks common to the county, taken completely out of context for the purposes of television, and transported to the Yorkshire Dales. It makes me wonder how often this occurs when filming other drama series.
Certainly this series must have been logistically interesting in that respect. A lot of the filming of course was done at Highclere Castle, but then the film crews must have had to hightail it 200-plus miles up the MI for all those Yorkshire scenes at Ripon and Kirbymoorside – and maybe other areas as well where houses and buildings historically right for the period – are located.
Yorkshire has proved a popular location for a number of TV series – and I can remember when ‘Heartbeat’ first screened back in the ‘90s picking the location immediately as Goathland, a village also well-known to me from numerous holidays staying with a close friend and her family, in the cottage they owned there. It gave an extra dimension to my enjoyment spotting all the places that I knew so well, and that were the location for so many of the scenes.
And ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ was filmed a few miles away from where I grew up in West Yorkshire. It’s a show that put Holmfirth on the map, as it were, and it’s profited from the notoriety in all the years since becoming a thriving community that has attracted artists from across the spectrum, and that hosts a renowned arts festival every year.
Meanwhile back to Downton Abbey, where we’re currently somewhere in the middle of series three.