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Highclere Castle: Why you should visit

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Highclere Castle in Berkshire has become famous in recent years as home to the fictitious Earl of Grantham and his family in ‘Downton Abbey’. In reality, though, it is the estate of Lord and Lady Carnarvon but it has just as rich a history as its on-screen counterpart.

The Estate

The site was first mentioned in the Domesday Book and was originally a medieval palace of the Bishop of Winchester. The Carnarvons have lived at Highclere since 1679 but the castle building we see today did not emerge until Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament, remodelled it in 1842. The house is set in 1,000 acres of parkland including formal gardens, woodland, and several follies. The parkland was designed by one of the most celebrated landscape gardeners of the 18th century, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. In October of this year, Highclere is opening the grounds for a special exclusive celebration of the 300th anniversary of Capability Brown’s birth.

At the turn of the 21st century, the house was in a state of disrepair with necessary renovations estimated to cost around £12 million. Because of the popularity of Downton Abbey, Highclere has seen a huge upsurge in visitor numbers and Lord and Lady Carnarvon are now in a position where the repairs are being carried out.

Egyptian Connections                        

Highclere Castle was home to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, a colleague of archaeologist Howard Carter. It was the two men who discovered the Tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Lord Carnarvon died soon after the discovery and much has been made of the rumour that there was a curse upon those who disturbed the tomb of the Boy King.

At Highclere, there is an Egyptian Exhibition which houses a collection of the antiquities collected by the 5th Earl and reproductions of many of the items found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Visiting Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle is open between July and September for tours of the house and gardens and there are also various special events held throughout the year, such as a vintage tea party and Christmas fair.

You can travel to Highclere by train, alighting at Newbury and then getting a taxi to the house. By car, you can approach by the M4 and the A34 and then follow the brown tourist signs which will bring you to the correct entrance. If you want to experience the magnificence of Highclere by air why not charter a helicopter and see the full extent of the parkland from above?

Private Functions

Highclere Castle also offers private functions and the beautiful setting makes it the perfect backdrop for an engagement, wedding or anniversary celebration. Smaller parties of 30 people right up to 140 guests can be catered for and the bride can even descend from the first floor Gallery, down the sweeping Oak Staircase into the heart of the castle the Saloon, where civil marriage ceremonies are licensed to be held.

If you don’t want to visit the Castle when it is open to the public, private tours can also be arranged when you can take in the house, parkland, and even the Egyptian exhibition, too.

Continuing Appeal

Downton Abbey has now completed its run but the popularity of Highclere Castle shows no signs of abating. People travel from around the world to visit the castle and it seems likely that they will continue to do so. Part of the appeal of Highclere is that it has so much to offer in its own right. It took a television series to bring it to the public’s attention but it will be the allure of the house and grounds that will keep them coming back for more in years to come.

London Fashion Week

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London Fashion Week is a highlight of the industry’s calendar and takes place twice a year, in February and September, heralding the season’s new arrivals. It is one of the top four fashion showcases worldwide, alongside: Milan, New York, and Paris and some even consider London the fashion capital of the world. There is certainly plenty of innovation at London Fashion Week both on the catwalk and in the digital technology which is used to showcase the collections.

History of the Event

London Fashion Week first took place in 1984 and it is organised by the British Fashion Council. In September 2016 the principal sponsor is Sunglass Hut and no doubt many of their designs will appear on the catwalk during the week. London Fashion Week itself is a trade event but on the Saturday and Sunday which follows, known as London Fashion Weekend and held at the same venue, it’s open to the public.

The press, buyers, and celebrities flock to the shows and it is estimated that orders received because of it, reach anything up to £100 million. This year the event started on Thursday 15th September and ran through until the following Tuesday. In previous years it has been held against the backdrop of Somerset House and The Natural History Museum, however, in 2016 the main venue was the Brewer Street Car Park in Soho. This might seem like quite an unorthodox location choice but it is central to main retail centres such as Bond Street and Oxford Street.

Get Involved Next Year

London Fashion Week is usually an invite-only event however many designers are now encouraging the public to get more involved. Some will give away tickets to their catwalk shows and last season the shows were transmitted on large screens across the UK so that people could watch live.

However, these opportunities are limited so if you want to attend then head to the London Fashion Weekend. If fashion is your passion, you won’t be disappointed with the talks taking place. Accessories designer Sophia Webster and the creative director of Agent Provocateur, Sarah Shotton both made an appearance in 2016. For those wanting to start a career in fashion, there are panel events where the main topic of discussion will be ways to enter the industry. It’s also possible to save money over this public weekend if you are in the market for ready-to-wear pieces, as one hundred and fifty brands will have their ranges on display at discounted prices.

The majority of London Fashion Week’s shows are usually covered by mainstream media and you can see many of them on TV or read about them in magazines and newspapers. However, social media has made it even easier to feel as though you are there, with live streaming taking place and many of the designs making it on to Instagram and the websites of fashion bloggers.

Heading to the Venues

If you are intending to head to London Fashion Week, you could arrive by train, car or taxi, however, to make it a unique event why not arrive by helicopter. If you book a chartered flight you can take in the sights of the capital before landing and not have to worry about a glass or two of champagne during the day.

Whether you are a committed follower of fashion or whether you just enjoy the spectacle of the amazing shows put on by many of the world’s leading designers, London Fashion Week has a great deal to offer. As we move into the new season, make sure you don’t miss out on any of the highlights coming up from Topshop Unique through to Temperley London.

The Proms: what you need to know

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The BBC Proms were founded in 1895 and they are now in their 122nd season. Organised over eight weeks in the summer, around 70 concerts are held at the Royal Albert and Cadogan Halls, and, in addition, there are Proms in the Park and several educational events for children are held around the UK, too.

The Proms feature a wide range of classical music, opera, and even jazz, and they aim to be, above all else, inclusive – aiming to get more people involved in creating and listening to music. Many people’s experience of the Proms will be the Last Night celebrations which take place on the second Saturday in September and is broadcast on BBC radio and television. This concert, however, is not wholly representative of the other events as it takes a much lighter tone and features a range of well-known classical pieces followed by a round of patriotic British songs and arrangements.

History of the Proms

The idea for the original Proms back in the late 19th century was that of impresario Robert Newman. Newman offered Sir Henry Wood a position as the conductor of the first Proms season and it is his name which is most closely associated with the event.

Newman and Wood offered tickets at low prices to make music accessible to as many people as possible. Wood particularly worked to find new talented performers and to introduce them to a wider audience. During the Proms held in the first part of the 20th century, he featured many of the leading composers of the day including Ravel, Debussy, Richard Strauss, Vaughan Williams and Rakhmaninov.

The Royal Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall is probably best known for hosting the Proms and this year is no exception. During August and September, there is a range of classical concerts on offer, including appearances by The National Jazz Youth Orchestra of Scotland and The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and as well, on August 8th, there is a Proms Extra featuring a Session with Jamie Cullum.

There are still tickets available for many events so head over and choose your favourites. One thing to remember is that tickets for the Proms cannot be resold and are non-transferrable.

Proms in the Park

The Proms in the Park bring the season to a close and form part of the Last Night celebrations. In London, the festivities in the Royal Albert Hall extend outwards to Hyde Park, and this year the event there is hosted by Michael Ball. There are also events going on in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and as the finale approaches, giant screens transmit events from the Royal Albert Hall, so that everyone can sing along. If you aren’t able to make it to London these events are equally as entertaining.

Getting to the Royal Albert Hall

If you are arriving by car or taxi the easiest place to be dropped off is at Door 1, next to the building’s south entrance. If you are driving, the Royal Albert Hall is offering parking spaces at Imperial College, about 5 minutes’ walk away, for evening shows and weekend matinees. However, parking is not available for weekday matinee performances. Book your space and pay the £10.20 fee in advance.

If you want to get there by public transport the nearest National Rail station is London Victoria and the closest tube stations are South Kensington and High Street Kensington.

Alternatively, see West London from the air before arriving in style by booking a chartered helicopter flight. This is a unique way to arrive and will make a special event of any performance.

Whether you are a keen music fan or would just like to experience what the Proms offers it is definitely worth visiting. Many people find that once they have attended one performance, they are fans for life and come back year after year. Maybe that will be your experience too.


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