Follow the To The Manor Born Tour

Deborah Gilbert | May 29, 2018

While watching WLIW in January, I saw an intriguing promotion running between shows. The station was teaming up with a travel tour company, Transcendent Travel, to create a guided tour of Jolly Old England – but this was not just any tour. To the Manor Born was designed for those of us who love the fabulous British programming on WLIW. Now, I’d bet money that a significant chunk of British tourism is generated by the shows we see on PBS. I was instantly tempted to sign up, but had to give it some thought.

To Travel or Stay Home? That Was the Question.

If you’ve read my blogs, previews and show recaps on The British Telly Dish, especially my Downton Abbey Dish reports about my first flight to London and exploring London, you know that I am what is (generously) referred to as a “nervous flyer.” Actually, terrified beyond all reason would be more accurate than nervous. Don’t tell me it’s crazy to be afraid of flying, because I know it is the people who are not afraid to fly who are the crazy ones.

For this reason, a lot of thought and neurotic internal debate went into deciding whether to join the To the Manor tour. On the plus side, this would be a great opportunity to see the beautiful British countryside, which I haven’t seen on previous trips to London because I cannot drive on the opposite side of the road. But the part of the tour that sold me and convinced me to get on an airplane? The treat of visiting the Downton Abbey mothership, Highclere Castle, on a day it is closed to tourists, for a private tour! I knew that if I didn’t go along on this WLIW trip, I’d be sitting at home that week kicking myself, wondering about all the fun being had without me. So I bit the bullet and signed up. I’m going!

But the fact is, this isn’t just about Highclere Castle; the schedule for this entire trip is amazing! I’ll be reporting on it for WLIW, each step of the way.

Diane Masciale, Vice President of WLIW.

Diane Masciale, Vice President of WLIW.

Ready, Set, Go!

To get oriented for the journey, tour participants met at WLIW’s Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center. WLIW Vice President Diane Masciale – who is traveling with us – greeted us and the leader of the tour, Andrew Lannerd, gave us the run down of the fabulous itinerary. Andrew also mentioned that he was one of the lucky ones with a golden ticket to The Wedding – yes, THAT wedding – Harry and Meghan’s, so on top of everything else, we all look forward to hearing first-hand nuggets that weren’t on the news! To catch up on all that happened at St. George’s Chapel and in Windsor and learn the why’s and wherefore’s, stream the five episodes and highlights of the wedding on The Royal Wedding Watch.

What Do I Want to See?

Windsor Castle, a residence of the royal family in the UK.

Windsor Castle, a residence of the royal family in the UK. On its grounds is St. George’s Chapel, site of royal weddings.

As an Anglophile, what am I looking forward to? Everything! For starters, on Day #1, we visit Windsor Castle (Hello!), a royal residence, and have some free time to wander. Queen Victoria’s dog Dash is supposedly buried on the grounds, and I plan to search for his little headstone (his death was part of Victoria on Masterpiece, Season 2.) That quest may sound odd, but what I discovered on my first trip to London, when I had a scavenger hunt-type list, was that those kinds of searches led to unexpected discoveries and fun adventures – so I’ll do the same on this trip.

I’d also like to walk the route of the royal wedding carriages, up the narrow streets of Windsor and down the Long Walk toward the castle to get that view. Maybe I’ll even wave to the adoring throng as I go!

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle, where much of Downton Abbey was filmed. It is the residence of George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon, and Lady Carnarvon.

On Day #2, the big draw: Highclere Castle! I visited Highclere Castle on my first trip to England and loved it, though I will admit I was disappointed that the footmen and housemaids were not lined up out front to welcome me. I thought this was, no doubt, a momentary lapse on their part, the slip in standards that Mr. Carson warned us about. When I got inside, the dining room, the red couches in the library, and the bedrooms were all roped off, to protect them from the random tushies of the hoi polloi, I suppose. Harumpf! On this trip there will be no hoi polloi: our little gang of 30 will be the only ones at Highclere Castle during our visit – how cool is THAT? We will even have a luncheon in the State Dining Room. Yes, I will finally be able to sit at that big table, site of so many disastrous Crawley dinner parties, and be waited upon. One feels one should brush up on Violet’s put downs and prepare to accuse someone at the table of an indiscretion. Perhaps that would be too early in the trip to ruffle anyone’s feathers.

A view of the narrow inlet of Port Isaac.

We will also be visiting Port Isaac, home to Doc Martin (Season 7 airs on WLIW sister station THIRTEEN, Saturdays at 9pm), and Cornwall, home to Poldark. I’m expecting this to be another highlight. Before this trip is over I want to stand on those gorgeous Cornwall cliffs with my curly red hair seductively blowing in the wind as I stare thoughtfully into the distance. Note to self: Practice staring thoughtfully into the distance and remember to pack a curly red wig.

Also on the itinerary: Hampton Court Palace, home to King Henry VIII and his unfortunate wives (more on that with Secrets of the Six Wives), and the summer home of Agatha Christie (who spent a life writing about guys just like Henry). In the city of Bath, we’ll take part in a cooking experience a la The Great British Baking Show. In between all these big stops are numerous smaller locales. From a lifetime of watching mysteries on WLIW, I think we all know not to let the thatch roof charm of these places fool us; quaint villages can be a hotbed of secret perversions and murderous treachery. We shall be on guard at all times. And there will be time to investigate, as there is free time in the schedule most days.

The tour concludes in London’s tony Covent Garden, an area that was a slum during the reign of Queen Victoria (Victorian Slum House showed how the more unfortunate lived). The Covent Garden district houses the offices of The Lady, the preferred magazine for advertising for maids and caretakers.

My Bootheels are Ready to Be Wandering

The trip is less that a week away and in my packing panic, my carry-on bag is beginning to look like a clown car.

I will fly to London a day in advance of the To the Manor tour, and stay on in London for five days after the WLIW tour is over. I’ll wander around, take photographs, meet up with friends and see some sights I haven’t seen yet. High on my list: Brick Lane Market in the East End,; a production of the Broadway musical 42nd Street up on the boards in the West End – along with The Shard viewing platform, so I can see London from above; and a chippy (fish and chips eatery) named Oliver that is gluten free one day a week. I am also determined to track down the definitive recipe for the Violet Bakery’s Lemon Elderflower royal wedding cake so I can bake one myself!

Follow The Tour

Be with the intrepid WLIW travelers in spirit! You can follow our adventures right here on WLIW’s website and on its social media accounts. We will be posting photos and observations daily on WLIW’s Facebook page and via @WLIW21 on Twitter and Instagram. You can follow me on my Instagram at @GothamTomato and Twitter at @E20Launderette. Follow WLIW Vice President Diane Masciale at @dianemasciale.

Our daily updates will have the hashtag #WLIWTravel, so search that to join us virtually. Maybe we’ll even inspire you to come along on the next trip!