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Highclere, a.k.a. Downton Abbey, to offer accommodations on grounds

You can stay on the grounds of "Downton Abbey" (Highclere Castle) in the newly restored London Lodge

You can visit Britain's Highclere Castle, the stand-in for the popular “Downton Abbey" of PBS fame, of course, but soon you will be able to stay on the grounds in newly restored buildings called London Lodge.

Restoration included repairing a roof that had given way some decades ago, requiring a thorough drying of interiors, according to the Countess of Carnarvon.

The castle and grounds have been in the family of her husband, the Eighth Earl of Carnarvon, for centuries.

A gateway, north of the estate, was built in 1793 by the First Earl to celebrate his entry into the peerage. Around 1840, two buildings, connected by a short footpath, were added, and these are what have been transformed into London Lodge.

They were constructed quickly and, as a result, “They weren’t awfully well built,” the countess said. Coupled with water damage and overgrowth courtesy of Mother Nature, the redo took about 2½ years to complete.

Like any remodeling project, this one took longer than expected because the extent of the damage was unclear at the start. The countess didn't say how much was spent to get the lodges into shape, but, she said, “If I had a budget I’ve exceeded it tenfold. This was surprisingly dangerous to our pockets.

“It’s fascinating when you do restore. You have to go back to understand how someone else built it, how they did it and what its purpose was and what you want its new life and new purpose to be.”

Its new purpose is as a cozy respite on the grounds of what is one of the most recognizable places in the world, thanks to the popularity of the series, which follows the lives of the fictional Earl and Countess of Grantham and their family members and those who serve them. The fifth season, already broadcast in Britain, starts Jan. 4 in the U.S.

The living area, done in sea-foam greens, roses and warm neutrals, has a sofa that invites you to sink into it as you sit in front of a fire (Chesney's wood burner) and have some tea.

“Rather charming prints of owls and birds and what’s in nature” -- the countess' description -- adorn the walls, which is fitting given its country setting outside of Newbury, about 60 miles west of London. You’ll find a TV and Wi-Fi here too.

The kitchen has a stove, a small table and a refrigerator, which will be stocked with items, including Champagne, “which is always necessary,” she said with a laugh. Of course there is a kettle.

Across a path the color scheme continues in the sleeping quarters, where the bed, a chair and a selection of books and magazine invite quiet. The bath adjoins.

The result is a secluded but not isolated retreat. The weekend guest can explore nearby Newbury or simply enjoy the setting by strolling the park-like grounds.

“Whenever I drive in the park gates — it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been here — I always feel I am going into a world apart,” the countess said. “Something has dropped away from me. It is a different world.”

She hopes the London Lodge will replicate the experience she strives to create for her houseguests.

“When friends come and stay here,” she said, “I want them to sleep well and I want them to eat well and have a good walk.”

The London Lodge will be available beginning Valentine’s Day and on select weekends.

Rates begin at 350 pounds, about $550 a night. For information on booking, email londonlodge@highclerecastle.co.uk.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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