Viking River Cruise's "Downton Abbey Extension" includes extra PBS favorites as part of the tour.
If you watch enough of PBS' Masterpiece, the sponsorship adverts before and after the program start to lodge in your head. Say the word "Viking River Cruises" and the classic music starts playing and the gentle voice suggesting one might like to pull an Agatha Christie and take a slow boat down the river and tour the world cues up. But if there's any show the company is associated with more, it's Downton Abbey.
Viking's sponsorship of Masterpiece wasn't connected to Downton when it started, they just coincidentally began the partnership right around the time the show broke big on this side of the pond. But with TV based tourism hotter than ever this decade, it was only logical for the company to announce an extended partnership with Highclere Castle, home of the show, and create an overland “Oxford & Highclere Castle” extension (as it's officially called) which can be added on to certain trips.
I recently got to experience the Downton extension, which begins in London. The three-day tour starts off housing you near St. James Park, where Buckingham Palace is just a short walk away. For fans of The Crown, Victoria, and Downton, this is a must-see tour. None of the shows are filmed *in* Buckingham mind you, there's a building not far down the Mall which houses the recreations of the rooms for The Crown's current filming. But the experience of walking up the grand staircase where Rose once nervously tread for her debutante coming out, the chance to be in the throne room when Elizabeth and Philip's chairs sit, and touring around the rooms -- many of which were refurbished and decorated by Victoria and Albert -- is a triple show joy.
But the real unexpected moments came when the trip transferred the group to Oxford. Though Downton Abbey portrays a village as being only a few miles from the estate, in truth, the Cotswolds village of Brampton where they film is leagues away from Highclere. Instead, the tour lodges you at Oxford. We stayed at The Old Parsonage Hotel in North Oxford. That meant our tour took us across the street to the nearest college for a visit, which turned out to be Somerville College, where Dorothy Sayers went to school, and upon which Shrewsbury College in Gaudy Night was based.
Heading down to the City center (a few minute's walk) takes one not just past The Eagle & Child where JRR Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to drink and trade fantasy story ideas, but also The Randolph, where Colin Dexter wrote Morse novels at the pub (and where the original series shot Morse drinking)and the King's Arms, which is where Endeavour drinks today. The last night, we also went to a local restaurant which turned out to be right along the canal where Endeavour Season 5 filmed scenes this past season.
The Downton tour of inside Highclere Castle is fantastic for fans to go on, giving you access to the library, the drawing room, and the bedrooms upstairs. But once again, it's the unexpected bits, such as the tour of the gardens, the walk out to the nearest Folly and the Egyptian exhibit downstairs which are utterly delightful. And Lady Carnarvon sometimes pops in to say hi.
Highclere Castle is now closed to visitors with the tourist season ended and filming for the rest of the autumn season on the grounds. But with the Downton Abbey movie expected to arrive sometime next year, if you're thinking of taking a tour, check out one that includes this extension. For a PBS geek, it's worth it.