The curved narrow driveway twisted its way past lush meadows, gradually climbing towards the distant house with its Gothic towers and famous façade, which many have come to recognise as ‘Downton Abbey,’ on their television screens.
The children pressed their faces against the coach windows and peered excitedly as we drew closer. One entrance to Highclere leads to a narrow sloping corridor through which the house maids and footmen would have scurried as they answered calls from some of the sixty seven rooms in the magnificent house, designed by Sir Charles Barry, in 1838. The bell system can still be seen today as a reminder of the ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ life portrayed in ‘Downton.’
We were here to explore ‘History’ and many of our pupils asked intelligent, thought provoking questions of our guides who were delighted to answer. Indeed, they declared that it was great having older pupils to speak to, as many younger children usually visit.
The story of Howard Carter never fails to intrigue. Here in the basement of the ‘castle’ we gazed at a sarcophagus, three and a half thousand years old, sophisticated and fascinating. The Ancient Egyptians were very small people in stature, as we discovered when Maya lay down alongside the photo of the ‘mummy.’ Spectacular jewellery encrusted with semi-precious stones and the deep blue of lapis lazuli caused us all to gasp as we viewed the display cabinets full of antiquities.
It took Howard Carter twenty two years to discover the tomb of Tutankhamun but, creeping into a replica shrine, the children viewed the anteroom, peering in through narrow ‘letter boxes’ to view the treasures, holding their ‘candles’ into the darkness to fix their eyes on every item the Pharaoh would have ever required in the afterlife.
Dressing up as an Ancient Egyptian and tracing the symbols and hieroglyphs was fun! We all enjoyed seeing everyone transformed. Look out for photos in the exercise books!
And then the opportunity to explore the breathtakingly beautiful White Garden, the Monk’s Garden and the Secret Garden, walled and hidden, where once monks and abbots cultivated vegetables and herbs, in the time long ago when the land once belonged to Winchester Abbey.
So much history and not just of Ancient Egypt. You could spend one day alone, just researching one era along the time line. It was magical and as we said ‘goodbye’ to Highclere, watching the sun begin to set on this perfect Autumn Day, the children, burst into song, faces wreathed in smiles and simply happy to have experienced such a very special day.