Highclere and Other Things of Interest

Hi all! Off we go to Highclere, to find Downton Abbey! But first, an update on our cups . . . almost here! Sweet  MUSICA for YOU!

Our cups came in from London this morning! They’re in LA! All they have to do is get through customs (they have to wait in line), and our Studio is only four hours by truck up the coast! Shouldn’t be long now!! They’re on the way!

And something else: The other day I remembered that I had designed a bluebird wrapping paper for Spoonflower. I even had a roll in my closet. Really nice thick gift wrap. Which means that the bluebird gifts I ordered for my girlfriends are going to be wrapped in bluebird paper!

Which made me leap out of my chair to go design some Santa paper!

And some leafy fall paper for the Autumn cups! Those last two designs, Santa and fall leaves, should show up on the Spoonflower website within the next two weeks. And btw, these designs are not only gift wrap, but they’re also on fabric and wallpaper too! Spoonflower is amazing! And GUESS WHAT European Girlfriends? Spoonflower is available worldwide! AND, more breaking news, last week I found a UK retailer called Nursery Thyme who will carry our mugs exclusively in her store in Devizes, Wiltshire, and on line …. you can get your cups starting this very day (it’s Carole’s first order from us, she didn’t take a whole lot of them), so if you’d like to have one, now would be a good time to do it) without paying the crazy shipping from USA. Your cups go directly from the factory in Staffordshire to her store in Wiltshire! We are the world! Which is saying something considering our cups are only sold in eight small but wonderful stores in America, one in England, and here in our online store!

So what else . . . well you know I’m writing about Downton Abbey and Highclere today, as promised, but I thought I’d show you the Easter Lily blooming in my garden in July. They’re actually a midsummer flower, forced for Easter display. It’s high summer on the Island and hot hot hot!  

Even the wild turkeys need a bath . . . (other people get flittering wrens and finches around their birdbaths, and we get this) ~ we’ve actually adopted this one I think.

As my Twitter Girlfriends know, I brought some cat mint in for Jack . . . and he L O V E D it!

Soon after this glassy stare, he became comatose, curled onto my desk, and didn’t move for three hours. 😻

Hydrangea. Used to be daylilies were most visible “Island flowers” but I think now it’s hydrangea. They go so good with picket fences and black and white kitties.

I picked these wildflowers on the dirt road on our way out to the water this morning, on our walk. There are two small secrets hiding in that bouquet.

I got out my wildflower books to find the names of our found flowers … but the secrets are there on the right. Oh yes. The trees in our woods are already “reconsidering their leaves.” 🍂 And I heard cicadas singing loudly, first time this year, while hanging clothes on the line the other day . . . so time, she is passing . . .🍁

So here we go Girlfriends. Our day at Highclere Castle was better than I even imagined!

We stayed here the night before . . . and had a delicious dinner in the pub . . . before we squished our fat selves into the smallest . . .

teensiest room imaginable. I Think maybe a Model T might have lived here at one time. Or perhaps a horse. I’m taking this photo from the stall door. We were fine, and glad we only booked one night!

But of course I loved the William Morris wallpaper.

And breakfast was wonderful… I mean who could resist “Dippy Eggs and Soldiers” on the menu? I had to see what it was. I thought some sort of kid’s food.  Well, there it is, “Soldiers” are strips of toast about 1/2″ wide. One more in the long line of proof-positives that the Brits are an adorable people. 🇬🇧

So, fortified with many soldiers, off we go to hunt down Highclere Castle…. Hill and dale, map man and Sat Nav guiding our way.

Round the bend we go on the wrong side of the road . . . because all the way to heaven, is heaven. 💞

Yes! Castle closed! But don’t worry! When we got our tickets, we discovered that the castle was closed ~ due to the lateness of the season ~ it was already October.  I took a moment to have a melt down, but then discovered they were offering a special event to celebrate the 300th birthday of Lancelot Brown … the famous 18th century landscape architect, better known as Capablity Brown, the man who designed the gardens for Highclere (and lots of other places). We learned on the Highclere website that for a little extra money, a “limited number of guests” could have an exclusive Castle and Garden tour that included a short lecture on the life of Mr. Brown, and a welcome from the Countess of Carnarvon. So we said, of course, sign us up!

I thought you might like to see other landscapes designed by Capability Brown, this one is near our friend Siobhan’s house. He designed over 170 parks in his lifetime, surrounding the finest country houses and estates in England, and many of them still exist … He always included water, long inspiring views, trees as focal points, follies, bridges, swans and lambs.

This one is at Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill spent much of his childhood. You can go to these places and walk miles and miles through some of the prettiest countryside there is. We took pictures on that bridge.

And this one, some of you may remember, where we had our BYO Picnic Basket Party last year, near the grass bridge at Stourhead in Wiltshire. After touring lots of English gardens, you actually begin to recognize those designed by Capability Brown:  the clues are water, bridge, follies, and trees . . . often viewed through tears in your eyes.

Our picnic was almost like Downty, sans servants. BUT, we win because our food was real!

I had the diary I kept on our last visit to help me tell this story, sloppily written as it is, it was a huge help in reminding me what happened! Oh Downty, how we miss thee!

So down the long long driveway we went . . . lambs on all sides of us . . .

Camera at the ready, braking for pheasants . . . we would brake for peasants too, but nary a one to be found . . .

Here’s our first glimpse! MUSICA. Rather recognizable don’t you think?  I always try to imagine myself in a horse and buggy when I come up on these houses . . .

Almost there! Note size of amazing tree on right!

Oh my goodness . . . it’s deja vu all over again.

Just like on TV!

We parked . . .

I tried to take a picture with Petey ~ this was as good as it got. I was in too much of a hurry and he refused to hold still!

Joe was much more steady than me!

So yes, you just walk through the gates and up the path to the front door! Amazing, just sitting there for centuries, and now anyone can go there!

Most surreal thing in the world!  Halloooo, anybody home?

We were met at the front door . . . in the entrance Hall, and taken to my very favorite room from the TV show, the dining room! We entered through that door in the back corner, but it didn’t look like this ~ the dining table wasn’t there. So I didn’t recognize it.

Here’s the layout of the downstairs . . . The dining room was filled with chairs for our group, there was a podium up front ~ I didn’t even realize I was in my favorite room! I was expecting that long dining table!  The large gorgeous oil painting we saw in every show, Charles I on horseback, was behind us, I was too delirious to see it! Later on, during the tour, I asked our guide, “Where’s the dining room?” She looked at me funny and told me I’d been sitting in it for a half hour. I had to go back!

And it all came clear. Here’s a  fun website that gives inside info about the filming at the dining table…

I believe this is the front hall, front door on the right, and that door in the right corner led to the dining room. They didn’t allow cameras inside, so I’m a bit mixed up …  had to get these photos from Google. Remember the gallery upstairs? Scene of the crimes? Dragging of the body? Birthing of the baby? Skulking around by Thomas, rude intrusion by smug Miss Bunting? We were able to go there too, and into all the bedrooms. It was truly wonderful.

The bedrooms are all around this gallery. In some ways, considering how big it is, it’s really a very cozy house.

Another of my favorite rooms (but I think now they all are!) and  even more beautiful than I expected, more gold and carved ceilings, luscious velvet and brocade-covered down cushions with petit point chairs and pillows, rich carpets and trimmed draperies, oil paintings of family in gilt frames, silk wall coverings, sparkling chandeliers and lovely marble fireplaces.

THIS is my favorite room. It’s the Morning Room, where the ladies go for their morning coffee and tea.  We were able to ask lots of questions about the paintings and photos and learned so much about the colorful history and architecture of Highclere Castle and the fascinating people who lived there. The Countess spoke to us before the lecture and couldn’t have been sweeter or more normal. She would probably make a very good Girlfriend! Tea at her house would be fun, and I have no doubt it would morph into Twine!

So off we go ~ after a seeing the house, we enjoyed a grand tour of the grounds around the house.

See the little white dots? They’re lambs of course! The long view, very Capability Brown!

One of the Highclere follies, and little pet gravestones leaning …

Our tour guide was telling me that all this brown weedy stuff around us was wildflowers … late in the season, and no longer in bloom.

I can only imagine what this must look like in the spring when it’s all in bloom!


One video is worth a hundred photos.

This way, my sweet!

Again, late fall is not prime garden time, but I loved the paths and the big balls of mistletoe in the far trees.

You always want to follow the curved path and see where it goes.

Very old, formal garden ~ that path in the way back leads back to the Castle.

Lots of pink roses between the hedges.

The last of the season … and undulating lawn . . .

Of course, every self-respecting Castle must have a greenhouse!

Quiet now, all put to bed for winter.

On our way back to the Castle, this bust of Capability Brown, surveying his creation, amongst the birds and falling leaves.

And back to the castle . . . (It’s like there’s a movie star standing just behind my shoulder and I’m pretending not to notice!)

I was right where Robert walked with darling dog, Isis. I loved this opening, the music, and that big sweet lab. Go HERE to see how the Downton characters do with American accents ~ too funny! But now, finally! It’s time for the real reason we came! Gift Shop! Tea!

So ’round to the back of the building we went . . . see Downton peeping over the top? 

Here we are at the courtyard. Isn’t it pretty, this brick building? I would be perfectly happy to live here!

I don’t know what was in this building, but I loved it that when they built these places there was no building department telling them OH no, you can’t do it like this! See what we would miss?

So off to the tea room we went!

All organized for us . . .

The tearoom’s painted-brick walls were covered with scenes from Downton Abbey.

Lots of cute things in the gift shop, everything from Highclere Stationery and key chains, to Downton Abbey feather boas and tea things, but these hats were my favorites!!!

Then back outside for more pictures. They let us stay on our own for as long as we wanted. It was delightful.

We have this Castle photographed backwards and forwards.

And here we are . . . saying goodbye . . .

Just as pretty leaving as it was coming in …. they send you out a different way. Look at that tree straight ahead … 

Magic!So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! What else? I’ve been painting like crazy and loving it! Painting because I want to, not because I have to!  Here’s a little preview for my Girlfriends. . . Believe it or not, this is for the 2019 calendar! Taking my own sweet time, and painting new things . . . pretty heaven around here.

While I was rifling through my diaries today, this piece of paper came flittering out. I had it all figured out in 2010! I do like God to be happy with me!

Thought I would leave you with roses! Though I forget the name of this one right now …

This is Just Joey! Smells wonderful! It’s that time of year!

Bye All!  Until we meet again . . . Blessings! ❌⭕️

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521 Responses to Highclere and Other Things of Interest

  1. Debbie Boerger says:

    Dear Sue. I’m torn between emotions today. Very happy about the picnic, but just a wee bit disappointed at having to cancel our reservation at Carrie’s in Oxford. The picnic is slap dab in the middle of our week. I’m rearranging our route and hoping that we can find another week that will work for Carrie. Don’t think we’ll be going out to Cumbria again, as that’s a long way for us in our few weeks in Jolly Olde.

    I know you will write in such a way that I’ll feel as though I’d actually been there with you. I did go to BP’s home a number of years ago, and we spent almost a week in the Lake District in Fall of 2015. Tom usually goes along with any trip I plan. Spending time in Oxford is the first time he ever made a special request, so I must respect his wishes. He’s my Sweet Babooo.

    Much love,
    Debbie in Maine

    • sbranch says:

      Oh nooooo, Debbie. I’m so sorry, I didn’t know! We LOVED Oxford … another “must see!” xoxo

  2. Stephanie Burnett says:

    “I still live in the glow of it.” And that glow gathers us all in its warmth. Thank you for the gift of your blog, Susan Branch! I’m still dreaming of the day I return to Scotland and see all the Border Collies you wrote about.

  3. Bonnie Brown says:

    I Love,LOVE,LOVE reading your wonderful “letters!” Like you wrote just to me! Thank you for your infectious exuberance for life. God bless you and give you a long life, so you can share it with all of us!

  4. Rosie Homiller says:

    Wish I could attend next year’s picnic, but it is just not to be. I will have to visit through your wonderful pictures and descriptions.
    I collected David Winter Cottages for many years. Every time I watch a British film or tv show, I can point to the screen and say “I have a cottage just like that.” Beatrix Potter is one of my favorites.

    Please enter me in the drawing for the Beatrix Potter book.

  5. Jane Fideler says:

    I love seeing this all through your eyes!!💗

  6. Kathy says:

    Hello Susan,
    I can’t for your next English adventure and the fact that you will take us along for the ride. So excited.

  7. Diana Parsons says:

    Oh my, what a fantastic website. Could spend hours on it (oops I think I did)! Would love to try to win one of the Beatrix Potter books, so will leave my name here. I just finished your 3 “Diary” volumes, laughed, cried and loved. In fact loved so much that I found your wholesale avenue and ordered your books for the small, but delightful bookshop that my daughter and I own in Douglas, Michigan, called Cabbages and Kings. Google us sometime and let me know what you think. You and I are of the same “vintage”, and it’s a very fine one. You are an inspiration to women of all ages. Thank you for doing what you do.

    • sbranch says:

      Totally darling Diana, I Googled you and I’m honored to have my books in your store! Thank you! (By the way, there are about 8 small stores in the USA, and one in England, who are carrying my new cups and calendars … if you’re interested, contact [email protected]/~susanbs3/susanbranch/ … it’s all like this, word of mouth ~ I love the small independent stores where you find so many special things.) Someday, maybe I can come and do a signing in your store someday!

  8. My daughter who works for a Library had put a hold for me for ” A Fine Romance” I just love it! My sister-in -law Claudia introduced me to your web site and I will thank her forever.!I hope you keep on writing forever. Linda B.

  9. Nanette R Hill says:

    Hi Susan, Is there a Beatrix Potter Rose that you know of? What a wonderful Highclere visit, I have a similar visit on my “Bucket List”. Also the Lake District.

  10. Belle says:

    Please sign me up! I love Beatrix Potter! I am a preschool teacher and I teach a authors
    Study on her. I would love to use the little journal book.
    Thank you so much, I love your blog!

  11. Gerry Anderson says:

    Well, I’m not a “girlfriend”, but I love your books! My wife got me started on reading them, and I have to say, you have my heart now. I live in God’s Country here in Northern CA., in Grass Valley. Our local heritage is Cornwall miners, who worked our hard rock gold mines, so there is a lot of English influence in this area. It would be lovely to be able to attend a BYOB picnic, but, much like you, I don’t fly unless it is a real emergency!
    Thank you for being a part of our lives, and we look forward to you next adventures.

    • sbranch says:

      Nice to meet you Gerry! We do have honorary Girlfriends, if you’re interested! Thank you for writing and saying hello!

  12. Arnett Peccini says:

    My daughter gave me last Christmas a membership in the BP Society. I wanted to go to the conference in CT but had Lyme disease so could not. A couple of months ago I bought for a very small sum in an antique store a book of the life of BP. It was funded by the Ford Motor Co., and was written in cooperation with The National Trust. It is a gem with many of Beatrix’s drawings and many photographs, especially of the Lake District.

  13. A wonderful tour – your happiness shines through! Cynics may ask where these big old piles be without series like ‘Downton’, but if it helps preserve ’em for others to enjoy, then that has to be a Good Thing. We’re lucky to have them. I hadn’t realised that eggy soldiers were uniquely British – well I never! 🙂

  14. Georgie says:

    Oh Susan! Count me in too! How I remember when you first posted of your visit! I followed along, devouring every word! Such JOY!!!

    Enjoy your time with your dear family this week. Will they be staying for the lanterns and the beautiful firework? Sigh… how I remember my visit a few years back. It was Magical!

    Georgie from NJ

  15. Tracy Jones says:

    Hi Sue!,
    How did I miss this blog post????? I just read it and I have to say it’s by far, one of my favorite posts you’ve done. You really made Downton Abbey come alive for me! Your photos are just beautiful – thank you so much for sharing!

  16. Zudie Zink says:

    I am so thankful you share all your experiences in the detail you do, it is (almost) like being there. I have learned so much from you and your travels!
    Thank you!

  17. Michelle Alexander says:

    Dear Susan,
    Love your sharing all of this with us, it’s like we are there! Thanks so much!!

  18. Laurie A. says:

    Hi Susan! Left a comment earlier but don’t see it. Love the books and the tour. Also am wondering about some cabins in Colorado where you and your family stayed? You mentioned them in your blog. Could I get the name? Thank you!

    • sbranch says:

      I wrote you back and gave you the link for them … try Googling Croll Cabins at Vallecito Lake, outside of Durango.

      • Laurie A. says:

        Thank you Susan! I tend to stay close to home so I enjoy traveling with you through your writings. Travel on!

  19. Mari Elizabeth Webb says:

    I cannot wait to virtually travel to England with you again. You make us all feel like we are right there with you. Enjoy the upcoming visit with your family. One of my students will be travelling to Martha’s Vineyard later this month and I told her to say hello if she should see you! 🙂

    P.S. My husband and I are hooked on “A place to call home”…we are about to start the third season. Thanks for the recommendation.

  20. Deborah Ferguson says:

    Hello Susan, it has been a long time since I posted anything and I have to ask you one thing. On the quick guide to Beatrix Potters time line, it say’s she met her Husband in 1908, but in the movie I thought she met him when he showed her the property in 1905. I’ am not an expert at all! I only just watched the movie a month ago for the first time.
    P.S. I have your first 3 mug’s and just love them. Waiting for 3 of the Santa Mug’s to arrive this month, I must order 1 more today. He is the most PERFECT looking Santa ever!!

    • sbranch says:

      According to Linda Lear’s biography, when Beatrix bought Hill Top, her father’s lawyers acted as her agent ~ and it didn’t go well, so in 1908, when she began buying farms in the Lake District, she found local representation from the Heelis firm. The movie also showed her meeting William as a child. But there is really no evidence of that. Movies tell stories and have to consolidate and make interesting details due to time and story. We don’t even know if Beatrix and Norman ever kissed! But we like to think so! New mugs coming very very soon … they were delivered to the Studio two days ago!!! 😁

  21. Alice says:

    Great post on Beatrix and your travels! Always a bright spot in my day when I get to travel along with you and even enjoy it a second time! Thanks Susan!

  22. Joyce Marty says:

    Checking in on your wonderful blog

  23. LINDA S> LORENZ says:

    Hi! Susan! My middle name is SUSAN! I came apon your book quite by happy accident since my 84 yr old mom was picking up your book for her bookclub and I just was just looking at the front cover of it and was SO Happy to flip thru the pages and see your artwork, and your stories which are so ENCHANTING!!!!
    I have been a huge fan of Mary Engelbright art, and get her yearly calendars!
    But have never seen artwork infused amongst a story so wonderfully! You are amazing!! OH! the book was Marthas Vineyard the second of your trilogy of books and I plan on getting the other two at the library!! with tons of love! Linda S.

  24. Trish Elliott says:

    Susan my dear, I certainly enjoy your blog and I feel like I was right there with you. Thank you for sharing! I have been a follower of yours for years and so enjoy your calendars and books.I must admit, I love traveling with you thru your blog, it is a grand adventure! Love your white picket fence garden your husband built to you. I enjoyed all your information on Beatrix I would love to win book, so will live my name with you. Her drawings have been in my life since childhood and I never tire of them. Thank you so much for your blog, I going to order your cups for Christmas gifts for my nieces, so I best get that done.

    Take care and give your beautiful cat, Jack a kiss from me he is very handsome and very photogenic.

    • sbranch says:

      I will do that for you Trish, he is right next to me, asleep on my art table, I will sneak up on him for a neck kiss!

  25. Carolyn Rector says:

    Thank you for your lovely blog! Love to visit for a pick-me-up and for all the wonderful information about books and authors. Thanks for reminding me of this journal book about Beatrix Potter. I have a vague memory of gifting it to my sister You have an amazing memory and I love how you honor your father and mother in your website and in your books. Your books make great gifts, too.

    • sbranch says:

      I couldn’t honor them enough. They gave me the most important gift of a happy childhood. Joy of life! Thank you Carolyn!

  26. Barb Urbank(from Ohio) says:

    Oh, what a wonderful visit you had at Highclere, so great you managed to be in that special tour group for I would have been devastated to have come so far and not been able to see inside the castle. Beautiful grounds, all the flowers and landscaping alone is worth it. You have some beautiful roses, I especially like the Just Joey one. I currently don’t have any roses growing here, but am thinking about getting some. If the Just Joey grows and winters well on Martha’s vineyard, I think it would be okay in Ohio. I miss Downton too, but I have the whole series on DVD to watch whenever I wish, so I can go there again. I think one of your mugs, the Nature one plus a wall calendar for 2018 is on it’s way to me now. It will be followed by the Santa and Autumn one before long, I’m sure. Getting anxious for them!

    • sbranch says:

      Hope you got it Barb … I’m still waiting for mine, but today is Monday, so fingers are crossed for the UPS truck to pull up outside my window!

  27. Nancy Ross says:

    I just ordered two of your new cups – Isle of Dreams and the Bluebird … one is for me and the other for my cousin who introduced me to your wonderful world many years ago and I’m a big fan! I have a number of the figurines of Beatrix Potter’s and also some of her little books so the journal you’ve shown in the latest blog is something very special indeed. Thank you for sharing your many talents with all of us. Big hugs from California ~~

    • sbranch says:

      Same to you Nancy … I’m doing the same thing with the cups, gifting them to nearest and dearest. Good surprises! xoxo

  28. Trahlyta Miller says:

    I’ve always loved your books! I’ve especially enjoyed your recent ones about your travels, romance, and history. I gave them to many friends and even my sister, who doesn’t really enjoy reading, loved your books! Thank you for your twitter reminder because this is a contest I would enjoy winning. Last summer, I visited my former student, Luisa Smithson Todd, in England and she took me to Near Sawrey for the weekend. It was like a dream come true as the places in Beatrix Potter’s little books came to life before my eyes! I had given her your book and she knew I especially liked reading about your visit. We stayed in a b & b in Windermere & that’s a town to visit too! Adorable shops & tea rooms! Love your blogs & most of all, I must admit that I love being a “Re-Sister” with you in our current, grim political abyss! Keep tweeting & retweeting please!! 📚❤️🇬🇧

  29. Maureen Wheeler says:

    Love ❤️ it all ! You know how to brighten our days ! Xo

  30. Donna says:

    Beatrix Potter…what an inspiration for us all! And you, too, for being such an encourager!
    We went to England in 1999…long to go back! Love your book…made me feel like I was there!


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