by Ferne Arfin 16 February 2020

In search of Downton Abbey or The right things to do in the wrong Downton

You’ve watched every single episode of Downton Abbey on television.  You’ve stood in line to be the first to see the Downton Abbey movie released in 2019. Now, visiting England, you’ve found Downton on Google maps and your SatNav or GPS device has led you there. But…oops…Where’s Downton Abbey?

The real village of Downton is in Wiltshire, about 6 miles south of Salisbury, on the edge of the New Forest. It has everything you’d want to see in a traditional English country village: a pub, a post office, a village church with a picturesque churchyard, quaint little cottages, even a grand house that once belonged to Admiral Nelson’s heirs. But…

…Oops…Where’s Downton Abbey?

There is something missing though…Downton Abbey.

As reported in the Guardian , misguided  tourists keep showing up in Downton, Wiltshire, led there by online maps and GPS devices.

They arrive only to discover they are nowhere near their target destination. Downton Abbey is filmed at Highclere Castle in Newbury, 42 miles away. And the village of Downton in the series is charmingly played by Bampton in Oxfordshire (more than 62 miles away) and Lacock Village  (a National Trust-owned village that has also featured in Harry Potter films, Pride and Prejudice and Wolfman).

The folks in Downton, Wiltshire are hospitable – if bemused by all the misplaced attention – but there’s really not much to do there.  You can:

  • raise a pint at the White Horse Inn, a no frills country pub that serves food.
  • explore Downton Moot, an 8 acre garden beside the River Avon, created in the 18th century in the remains of a 12th century Norman earthhwork castle. The moot, now run as a charity by village volunteers, is open every day from dawn to dusk and is free to visit. Concerts and performances are sometimes held in the summer in its natural amphiteheatre.
  • attend the Downton Cuckoo Fair, an old fashioned  village fete, on the Early May bank holiday (May 2 in 2020). About 300 stalls, sell food and crafts. Take a spin on a fun fair ride and enjoy entertainment. Highlights are the Morris Dancers and the traditional Maypole dances, pictured above.

Down the Road a Piece

If your Downton Abbey aspirations are disappointed by some awkward map reading, don’t despair. Some very fine attractions, just a few miles from Downton, Wilts, make a trip to this area well worthwhile. Here are just a few:

  • Salisbury Cathedral– This English Gothic cathedral has Britain’s tallest spire – 404 feet tall, and one of the oldest working clocks in the world. Climb the tower to the base of the spire or take a guided tour of the ancient building, begun in 1220AD. Visit at 5:30 daily or 4:30 on Sunday and listen to the cathedral’s boy and girl choristers sing Evensong.
  • The Magna Carta– Salisbury Cathedral’s 13th century Chapter House is home to the best preserved of the four existing copies of this important document, the foundation of our systems of justice and representative government. An interactive exhibit opened in 2015 in honor of the Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary. Expert guides explain how the document came about and what it has meant to global history.
  • Stonehenge– The ancient monument and World Heritage site on Salisbury Plain was made-over a few years ago, restoring its landscape to something close to the original, prehistoric state. Gone is the road that ran almost on top of it as well as the unattractive Portacabin cafes, restrooms and shop. A new visitor center, a mile and a half away, sits beautifully in the landscape. Electric vehicles ferry visitors to within an easy walk to the stones. It’s only about 18 miles from Downton and if you are anywhere in the vicinity this is a must.  
  • The Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum–  This small, important museum has some brilliant collections. In the Wessex Gallery, see objects from the Amesbury Archer burial, at 4,000 years old, the earliest Beaker Burial ever found in Britain. It includes the largest single collection of archery equipment ever found from this period and the earliest datable copper and gold objects found Britain. Other items in the museum collections include Anglo Saxon and Roman objects; the  Monckton Deverill Gold Torc;  a beautiful, prehistoric gold neck ornament dating from 1,300 to 1,000 BC; a rare 6,000 year old jadeite axehead that made its way to Britain from the Italian Alps, and a collection of Roman pots and pans – the Kingston Deverill Hoard. Part of the kit of a Roman Soldier, they look like they would be right at home in a modern kitchen.
1 reply
  1. Kathryn Burrington
    Kathryn Burrington says:

    I’ve some wonderful memories of visiting Lacock, Bath and Avebury from when I was a little girl. I’ve been back to Bath many times since but not Lacock or Avebury. A return visit is overdue and I might just pop by Downton on the way. I’d also love to visit Highclere Castle one day but first I really must see the film!! Can’t actually believe that I haven’t seen it already.


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