Downton Abbey experience

Liz Coggins enjoys a Downton Abbey experience at one of Yorkshire’s stately homes.

Downton Abbey experience

I’ve always had a vivid imagination which has helped me to be successful in my chosen careers – but the moment I drove through Carlton Tower’s 18th century gates it went into overdrive.

Driving down the winding road through the estate’s vast expanse of parkland, dotted with centuries old oak trees, the dying rays of the afternoon sunshine created an atmosphere that can only be described as surreal. Then ,there it was literally before my very eyes, the impressive and majestic Victorian Gothic country manor that is Carlton Towers.

Suddenly the hustle bustle of my hectic morning of the supermarket, hairdresser, collecting dry-cleaning and hitting last minute deadlines paled into oblivion. Momentarily I became someone else – an Edwardian, 20’s, 30’s or early 50’s socialite, aristocrat or a member of the ‘county set’ I couldn’t really decide. But whatever era I deigned to step out of I felt I was on my way to country house sojourn! You see that’s the effect Carlton Towers has on you from the moment you enter those gates.

Making my way across the gravel courtyard, I could just imagine the impressive curved stone stairway being lined with maids, footmen and valets with an archetypal Carson at the head of the stairs, chauffeurs carrying Globetrotter suitcases, maids scurrying with piles of towels and gentlemen in tweed attire returning from the shoot .

Now its no secret that, with my travel writing hat on, I’ve stay in palaces, castles, chateaux, mansion houses and stately home hotels world wide but somehow I got the feeling that this place, in my own home county, was going to be different and how right I was.

Making my way through the heavy oak doors I was greeted by, well not a liveried footman, but a smart young gentleman who escorted me to my room. Making my way up the stairs passed family photographs and pictures and the odd comfy chair – I knew why this place was different – it really was someone’s home and I was a guest here and that’s exactly how the house’s owners want it to be.

Carlton Towers dates back centuries and belonged to the ancestors of the Duke of Norfolk and is now the family home of the brother of the current Duke and his wife, Lord and Lady Gerald Fitzalan Howard. And it’s a family home in every sense of the word right from wellington’s in the hall, two gorgeous black Labradors and a cute Jack Russell with attitude to the flat screen TV, dog bowls, sloganed coffee mugs and lap top in their personal living quarters.

Carlton Towers was inherited by Gerald (both he and his wife Emma like their guests call them by their first names ) and he can remember coming up to Carlton Towers with his father, The Duke and the family in the Christmas and Summer holidays. Indeed he and Emma were married at Carlton Towers ,which came to life over 22 years ago with over 350 guests attending for their nuptials.

In 1991 Gerald and Emma made the momentous decision to leave London and create a family home for themselves and their new baby son.

“No one had lived in Carlton for nearly 20 years although it was used for family visits during the holidays”, says Gerald who vividly remembers the freezing night they arrived in the middle of a power cut. “It was so cold and bleak and we had this one month old baby. We both just looked at the place and remembered the family motto ‘It will be better’” recalls Gerald.

Emma quickly got to work on the house creating a kitchen and then a nursery in-between bringing up her son and two daughters. Over the last 20 years Emma has designed 16 luxurious bedrooms, recently creating The Baroness Tower – a two storey suite.

“We like people to feel they are in a private home. And this is what it is, because unlike some stately homes, where the owners live in self contained flats on the upper floors above their guests, we actually live in all the rooms where are guests mingle and we love it”, says Emma

After a delightful afternoon tea with Emma and Gerald and my other guests I decided a visit to Lusso, the health and beauty spa at Carlton, wouldn’t go amiss. Tucked away in a very tranquil setting it’s the perfect place to revive your spirits and relax your mind and gives a quick perk up to tired bodies and faces, and works wonders on tired hands and feet plus a plethora of other treatments.

After a reviving treatment at Lusso I decided to retire to my room to get ready for the night ahead. My bedroom was named Florence and had the most enchanting yellow décor giving a warm and cosy feel. Tastefully furnished with antiques, there were fresh flowers and a plethora of books and magazines to keep one occupied And bliss of bliss to make you really feel like a guest in this mansion, there

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