Today was the first full and proper day of my “inspircation” to the UK and Ireland, which is just a fun way to describe the types of trips my wife Marcie and I like to take: a little bit of vacation combined with a whole lot of inspirational fuel for our art.
This trip was originally spawned because my mom had the dream of travelling to England to visit the street in Devonport where her father was born. My mom has never been to England, and since it didn’t look like it was going to happen on her own volition, Marcie and I decided we better plan the trip and take her. Dreams should be realized, after all!
During the planning stage, we realized that our trip would grow in length and ambition, and it’s turned into a bit of a literary tour.
We arrived yesterday, picked up our rental car and headed south from Heathrow. It’s not my first time driving in England, but it was a pretty stressful start to our trip. This was mostly because we couldn’t find our B&B nestled away in the countryside and I had both my mom and Marcie giving me contradictory directions. Add to this driving on the opposite side of the road (I only bollocksed this up once, and thank goodness it was on a country lane), and using a manual gear shift, and not having a sat-nav . . . well, let’s just say that at once point I thought we would end up sleeping in the car.
Eventually, we arrived and, today, work up much refreshed. We set out to visit Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey), with a plan to go to the real-life Watership Down, the location of one of my all-time favourite books.
But first, Highclere. As we made our way up the winding road, the site came into sudden view and my mom cried out, “Look, the castle!” in the same enthusiastic voice as my niece. Which pleased me greatly—because it meant my mom had discovered her child-like wonder.
We had arranged to meet some of my mom’s cousins in the castle’s car park, and as luck would have it, they pulled up right behind us. We had never met before, but my mom recognized them from photos. And off we went, all together to the castle.
This was a dream come true for Marcie, as she is a big fan of Downton Abbey.
We explored a bit of the grounds before going into the castle itself. I loved the giant tree on the path leading up to the house. Its roots reminded me of dragon toes.
As most of my friends know, I am a collector of doors and all things door-related. So I loved the door ornament that greeted us as we entered the castle . . .
I will say, it was quite surreal to trek through all these rooms that seemed so familiar.
We couldn’t take photos inside the castle, though I managed to sneak one . . .
In any case, it doesn’t really matter. If you’ve seen the show, you know what all these spaces look like. We particularly enjoyed all the details—especially my mom. She’s a hands-on type of gal, and at one point decided to see how the shutters worked in the library. Her cousin looked at in her horror as she opened and closed them. The security guard came to tell her off. I couldn’t help to imagine the reaction old Carson would have had if he had caught her at it! I think we would have all been surely tossed out, in that case.
I will say that I found the Egyptian exhibit in the cellars of the castle to be quite exciting. Highclere Castle is home to Lord Carnarvon, and it was his great-grandfather who famously sponsored Howard Carter’s expedition and dig in the Valley of the Kings. So, naturally, there is a strong connection between Highclere and Tutankhamun. There are many original artifacts on display at the house, and also many faithful reproductions (the mummy looked hauntingly real).
I visited Egypt myself in 1997, including the Valley of the Kings, so this experience made me feel like I had come full-circle.
Unfortunately, by the time we exited the castle, the weather had turned quite inclement. It was no time to be visiting the site of Watership Down; instead, we holed up in the local pub with our relatives. To be honest, I’m not sure as we’ll even get to Watership Down tomorrow, as we’re off on the next leg of our visit, with a booking at Stonehenge in the morning. So, I may just have to content myself with knowing that I was in the general region of the rabbits’ famous journey.
So, tomorrow is a new day, and hopefully one that is more dry.
In the meantime, here are some photos from our inn at St. Mary Bourne, including, amongst other things, an old and mysterious door. (It kind of reminds me of the door in The Secret Garden.)