See the England of Favorite PBS Shows

Deborah Gilbert | June 27, 2018

When WLIW first advertised its To The Manor Born Tour to England, of course I wanted to go, but even so, I hesitated a bit. I am glad I didn’t hesitate long, because the tour sold out and there was a waiting list!

For fans of the fabulous British programming brought to us by PBS, visiting England can feel like deja vu all over again. Who better to lead us through the gorgeous English countryside, to the very real locations of historical dramas (and comedies) than WLIW? Transcendent Travel expertly guided the trip and WLIW Vice President Diane Masciale joined us, too.

Most of us on the tour had never met before but we had so much in common! While we didn’t all watch all the same shows, we shared a love for British telly and culture, as well as a love of public television. It was just a lovely group. My recommendation? If WLIW offers another trip, go! Or follow in our footsteps on your own. Here are trip highlights for a tour of England.

1. Highclere Castle: Downton, Down Home

The WLIW To the Manor Born luncheon at Highclere Castle.

The WLIW To the Manor Born luncheon at Highclere Castle. Photo courtesy Transcendent Travel.

Highclere Castle, family seat of the allegedly fictional Crawley family, is the spiritual home of the biggest PBS juggernaut to ever to grace our screens: Downton Abbey. Downton Abbey: The Exhibit, is terrific to see on its U.S. tour, but as Marvin and Tammy sang, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.”

We traveled to the estate with our coach, but the journey is an easy train ride from London’s King’s Cross to Newbury. You too can stand in the spot where Matthew danced with Mary, or where Mary sat and stewed over how to destroy her sister Edith’s life. You can write a letter to the Turkish Embassy, go upstairs to take off your hat, or just take a selfie in front of the iconic gothic revival exterior.

Most of the To the Manor Tour group outside Highclere Castle.

Highclere Castle is not open to the public every day, so check the website for availability. Even if they say tickets are sold out on a particular day, take a chance on it, love: Get on the train and show up at the opening hour; it’s likely you’ll get in (think about all the no-shows at performances in New York City).

Better yet, sign up for WLIW’s weekly newsletter to hear about future tours first, all while keeping up on current British programming!

You can have a vicarious wander through the kitchens and parlors and grounds of Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle) anytime with WLIW21 Passport. Read my entire report on the perks of a private tour at Highclere Castle and see more photos, here.

2. Windsor Castle, Home to Royalty

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.

Just 16 days after the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, we were at Windsor Castle. The Royal Standard was flying high above the castle and I have watched enough programs about it (and all the royal castles) on PBS to know that meant Her Majesty was in residence.

I was hoping I’d just happen run into Madge, but no such luck. In conversation with locals, I had heard that Prince William and Kate Middleton (Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) are often seen out and about; Wills has even been spotted at Sainsbury’s (a short walk from the palace) picking up the odd pint of milk. Windsor isn’t just a castle; it’s a fortress and a town, and ultimately a community. No matter how many documentaries you watch, you’ll still see and learn new things by being there in-person. I was blown away by all the little details I saw, from stone masonry to Queen Mary’s dollhouse. When you visit, make sure you walk around the outside and down The Long Walk, toward the castle to take in, the famous vista.

See our photos from Windsor and read my journal of the day, which includes tips on seeing St. George’s Chapel (scene of royal weddings).

3. Baking in Bath

Richard Bertinet baking class at the Bertinet Kitchen in Bath

Richard Bertinet baking class at the Bertinet Kitchen in Bath. Photo: Deborah Gilbert

When I got home from my trip and people asked where we went, I ran down the list and when I got to Bath, so many people said, “Oh, I love Bath!” They had been there and never spilled the beans about how great the city is! I won’t keep it a secret: The city of Bath – where the entire city is landmarked – is absolutely beautiful with Georgian architecture. Even if there weren’t so many special activities there, you could just walk those streets and even getting lost in that architectural time capsule would be a joy. Fans of The Great British Baking Show will be tickled to know Bath is the home town of Mary Berry! Take a class where she once taught at Bertinet Kitchen, where we learned how to bake several treats from the master himself, Richard Betinent. Schedule your visit during one of their immersive bread baking classes. This is an experience you can take home with you and share with your friends and family for years to come. I’m curious how many members of tour are now baking at home. I know I did, and so did WLIW Vice President Diane Masciale. Look at her results, below! Read more about attractions in beautiful Bath (and find recipes there), and see our photo gallery.

WLIW Vice President Diane Masciale baked this at home using a tip from the tour class: weigh, don't measure, ingredients.

WLIW Vice President Diane Masciale baked this at home using a tip from the tour class: weigh, don’t measure, ingredients. Photo: Diane Masciale

4. The Doctor is In: Doc Martin’s Port Isaac

A view of the narrow inlet of Port Isaac.

Possibly the most surprising stop on our tour was Cornwall’s Port Isaac, maybe because I wasn’t a Doc Martin maven. Though after wandering the fishing village’s pedestrian-only streets and watching Season 5 episodes on the bus with the group, I know there is more Doc Martin in my future (it’s airing on sister station THIRTEEN Saturday nights at 8pm this summer). I’ll have an easy time catching up since we took a Doc Martin-theme walking tour, led by a local guide who also appeared in the series. Port Isaac is charming in itself and would be a great retreat for an artist or writer – you can even rent Fern Cottage, “home” to Doc Martin’s surgery (though I think it would be best to do that in the off-season, when the tourists aren’t gathered outside the door).

Follow our day in Port Isaac via my blog or our photo gallery of its hilly streets and harbor.

5. Nature Up Close: Falconry

Diane Masciale (left) and tour participants try their hand at falconry. Photo: Deborah Gilbert

We got up close and personal with different kind of majesty in England: wildlife. We took part in a falconry demonstration out on the lawn of our storied lodging, the thousand-year-old Boringdon Hall! Dartmoor Hawking normally hosts visitors at its lovely home location in Devon, but handler Martin, Rosie the American bald eagle, Merlin the owl, and the hawks Dawn and Dave came to us by special arrangement. You don’t have to travel all the way to the West Country to get up close and personal with nature, because you’ve got… NATURE, brought to you every week by WLIW! Our bit of nature had the bonus of a post-falconry demonstration treat of authentic clotted cream, but NATURE on PBS stands on its own, even without the dessert follow-up. NATURE’s Summer of Love highlights is full of adorable and fascinating videos and facts. Watch broadcasts at 8pm and 2pm weekdays this summer, or stream many episodes with WLIW21 Passport.

6. Agatha Christie’s Holiday Home: Home Sweet Scary Home

Greenway Estate Lounge chairs with a view of the Dart River.

Lounge chairs with a view of the Dart River. Photo: Deborah Gilbert

If you are going Greenway, the holiday home of the world-famous mystery writer Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976), give yourself a full day to explore the house and massive gardens. Christie’s writing desk, collections, closets still holding clothing and other personal objects make it seem as if the mastermind of crime novels who inspired the Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot Masterpiece series on PBS still resides here. A little café ensures there will be no death by starvation where Christie penned the demises of characters. If you’d like to stay longer, Greenway Estate, run by England’s National Trust, also offers lodging. The grounds hold three guest cottages, and a spacious apartment is within the house itself! It’s a lovely place to lounge in lawn chairs (or in the murder mystery-inspiring boat house) and watch the lazy drift of the River Dart. I’m not sure if guests can borrow books from the library, but the shop sells Agatha Christie’s numerous best-sellers, including And Then Were None, set off the coast of Devon, which is on the top 100 list of The Great American Read (a new PBS series: watch the first episode).

7. Hampton Court Palace

Improv actors at Hampton Court Palace

Improv actors at Hampton Court Palace. Photo: Deborah Gilbert

All that glitters is not gold. As quite a few Tudor-era visitors to Henry VIII’s palaces found out, it was the shiny blade of King Hank’s henchmen that glittered! But that was then; now you can Henry VIII’s home free from the fear you’ll displease the King. People have been doing this since 1838, when Queen Victoria opened Hampton Court Palace to the public. Because it is run by the amazing people at the National Trust, you can stay there, INSIDE THE PALACE, at one of two apartments. You can walk the halls after the tourists go home and keep the ghosts company. Among them (reportedly) are two of Henry VIII’s six wives: serene Jane Seymour and agitated Catherine Parr. Before you visit, inform yourself about your royal holiday roommates by watching Secrets of the Six Wives and Wolf Hall – Masterpiece. Or learn about the the men who did the dirty work of the mysterious Elizabeth I in Queen Elizabeth’s Secret Agents.

What’s most special about this former home to many royals are the commoners (staff) who take on the roles of those who would served the palace during the Tudor days. They’ll converse with you and share a wealth of history and know-how, like how to prepare a meal Tudor-style. I share how royalty lived in my Hampton Court Palace blog; for more photos of art, architecture and the maze of the sprawling palace, see our photo gallery.

Hampton Court Palace

One of the many structures of Hampton Court Palace.

8. London Calling

Telephone booths in London

The famous phone booths of London.

Our tour ended in Covent Garden, London, and it was the perfect spot to begin or end this tour. If a siren call is pulling you toward the U.K., there’s no doubt that London is on your list of places to see, and Covent Garden is a central area to anchor yourself. When the characters on EastEnders speak of going “Up West,” Covent Garden, in the heart of the West End, is one of the spots they are talking about. And in the Covent Garden Market, which is a mix of high-end shops and down-market stalls, you will hear many a EastEnder Cockney accent.

Museums are free, and theater is shockingly affordable in London. Day Seats (what we call Rush Seats) start at 15 quid (that’s about $21!) and there are lots of them available. After parting with my #WLIWTravel compatriots, I stayed on in London for six days. I saw six shows – all great seats – for less than what one orchestra seat would cost on Broadway in New York City. Amazing!

London is a very walkable city, with beautiful vistas. When I am there I love to wander and see where the day takes me. Save one quintessential walk for Sunday, when the Mall leading to Buckingham Palace is closed to vehicular traffic, and you can have a leisurely stroll across Trafalgar Square and up the Mall. If London calls, go!

Anyone can experience jolly olde England this summer via WLIW’s great British programs, both premieres and rebroadcasts. While you are enjoying those, start saving your shekels for the next time WLIW takes a trip. You’ll be glad you did!

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As your home for the best British dramas and comedies, WLIW’s travel program takes you to the seaside villages, historic castles, and baking challenges you know so well on the To the Manor Born Tour. Follow along with our hashtag #WLIWTravel, check out our travel blog on wliw.org/travel and look for Facebook lives, daily photos and observations on WLIW’s Facebook page and via @WLIW21 on Twitter and Instagram. You can follow Deborah Gilbert on her Instagram at @GothamTomato and Twitter at @E20Launderette and WLIW Vice President Diane Masciale at @dianemasciale.

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