Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Doin' the Do like the Downton Dowager at Highclere Castle with a Trip to Bombay Sapphire to Boot!




Last October while wondering what to get Sue for Christmas I suddenly remembered that she said she really would’ve loved to come along with us when I brought 4 of my little ones to Highclere Castle in July, you can catch up on that post HERE.

Each year in early December Highclere Castle host a Christmas fair so it would be the perfect present well that and it meant I would also have to tag along! As it was her Christmas gift I wanted it to be a five star luxury break but my budget simply wouldn’t stretch that far as I had trips to Frankfurt, Birmingham & Lapland all within a few weeks. I also wanted to throw in a surprise trip along the way for her so I set about researching the best & most budget friendly way to get there using my old reliable Skyscanner for flights, hotel and car hire deal sites.


Which airport is closest to Highclere Castle?







Of the five main London airports Heathrow would be the closest with a drive time of just under an hour. Taking everything into account especially my budget Gatwick worked out the best option for us with a drive time of just 30 minutes more than Heathrow and flights costing less than half the price. Using Skyscanner I found Ryanair flights departing early 7th December returning late 8th December for just €59.96 for both of us including taxes & charges. As Highclere Castle’s Christmas Fair was on the 7th & 8th December these flights were perfect for us.

Car Hire at Gatwick:





Sometimes it’s like looking into a field when trying to choose what rental company to go with. Do I pay the exorbitant fee for extra insurance on top of the insurance that comes with the car? Did it matter if the hire car kiosk was in the airport or a shuttle bus away? Did the fuel policy matter? Did mileage matter? See? It’s a minefield. I started looking at car hire comparison sites and quickly realised that I wanted an unlimited mileage policy, I also wanted a diesel car for better fuel economy and a mid size car not a tiny biscuit tin if we were to be driving long distances on motorways.

I hired a “Ford Focus or similar category C” car from Easirent.com via Arguscarhire.com for just €44.10. We had to get a shuttle bus from stop number 9 at Gatwick airport to their office located 15 minutes away at the back of the Crowne Plaza hotel. Just present your car hire voucher to the bus driver to avail of free transport. Their fuel policy is quarter to quarter, they were really good as the tank was just over half full in the car when we collected it but they put it down as empty. I didn’t pay anything extra for insurance, I just went with the basic insurance that was already included in the price I had pre-paid so they needed to pre-authorise £1,250.00 on my credit card and hold it for the duration of the rental. To save a few Euro I also brought my own GPS. Over the course of our trip we only put £20/€22.97 of fuel into our Citroen C4 Cactus.

Where to stay near Highclere Castle?


When looking at all the hotel deal sites for the area I wanted to stay I decided on the White Hart Hotel in Whitchurch, a fabulous small town in Hampshire. It’s a 15thcentury inn with a bar, restaurant & free WiFi, when Sue saw it she thought it was only about 80% haunty! 


I booked through ebookers.ie and paid €81.88 for one night B&B for both of us. There’s a free onsite car park but it’s rather small & was full when we got there so we parked a short distance up the road in another free car park and left the car there overnight. Our room was old as you would expect from a hotel of that era but it was clean and nicely decorated. Breakfast was delicious we both opted for scrambled eggs & bacon which set us up perfectly for a fun filled day.

Surprise Trip: BOMBAY SAPPHIRE DISTILLERY!





Sue has a grá for gin so when I realised that Bombay Sapphire Distillery was close by I couldn’t resist booking a tour. As our flight was delayed we missed our tour start time so we called in on our way past to see if we could possibly switch to the later tour at 3pm this was no problem at all. We set off on the ten minute drive to our hotel for a spot of lunch, no sooner had we arrived at the White Hart Inn when the owner said to the receptionist “ah there are our two ladies there” What?! 

The distillery had organised an earlier tour for us and wanted us to go back to them ASAP but they didn’t know where we were staying so they called all the local hotels. I was in a bit of a flap as I hadn’t had a chance to get sterling from an ATM and we hadn’t called a cab as I wanted a drink so I wouldn’t be driving. The hotel receptionist & owner were amazing they took our bags, gave us our room key and sterling cash AND had a cab outside all within about 3 minutes, now that’s service!




Our expert tour guide Carol was ready and waiting for us when we arrived back at Bombay Sapphire Distillery. We spent the following 2 hours being transported back in time firstly learning the history of the building, it’s a Grade II listed Georgian and Victorian mill. Then we discovered the history of gin making including a hands on (or nose on!) class about the botanicals that are used in the “vapour infusion” technique employed by Bombay Sapphire. 


You smell 22 different botanicals and using a personal aroma map you choose which ones you like, at the end of the tour you use this map to help you decide which of their many cocktails your taste buds would like. Genius, and it works so we had to stay and sample a few more, just to be sure of course! (I'm nothing if not thorough - Sue)    


Our tour was complimentary (our extended sampling wasn't), guided tours start at £25/€28.71pp while self guided tours using a nifty interactive map are £15/€17.23pp.

Highclere Castle Christmas Fair:

Illegal photos are thirsty work - Sue


Image result for signature cherrysue Highclere Castle is located a short 10 minute drive from the White Hart Inn. I had pre-booked our tickets online as they sell out in a matter of days thanks to the popularity of Downton Abbey. Tickets cost £20/€22.97pp which give you access to the Castle and grounds, to view the bedrooms it’s an additional £3/€3.45pp cash payment on the day which is donated to the Thames Valley Air Ambulance. There’s also an additional charge of £5/€5.74pp to view the Egyptian Exhibition in the cellars both are well worth viewing. There’s ample free onsite parking.

Bringing a little piece of Downton home


The fair was beautiful with many stalls selling exquisite items at eye watering prices but there were lots of stalls selling moderately priced goods, thankfully most of the vendors accepted card payments. I bought fabulous decorations for my travel Christmas tree, staff on the estate use fallen branches to create the most wonderful ornaments and coasters so we brought a little bit of Highclere Castle home with us.

Where to eat/drink in Whitchurch:



As we were spending the night in Whitchurch we decided to take a walk around the town to see what the options were for dinner. We enjoyed a wonderful meal in The Kings Arms, traditional pies with all the trimmings including beers for less than £20/€22.97 for both of us. There are a few lovely pubs dotted about the town so we had a mini pub crawl to try them all out. It’s a gorgeous town and would make for a perfect romantic getaway.

Is there anything else to do in the area?



We popped into Oakley Hall a five star hotel for some peppermint tea while we decided what to do with our afternoon before we headed back to the airport. Upon learning that Stonehenge was just 20 minutes away we hopped into the car to visit as it’s somewhere I’d always wanted to visit & I’m glad we did. We paid£16.50/€18.95pp to visit the prehistoric monument including entrance to the exhibition and visitor centre. That day there was an extra Stone (me!) found at Stonehenge. 

What has two thumbs & puts the Stone in Stonehenge? 



Tell us, would you take a trip to Downton 

knowing now you can do it for sheckles? 
Image result for signature cherrysue
*** Disclaimer: As advised above we received a free guided tour of Bombay Sapphire Distillery, we covered all other costs ourselves as detailed in the post. As usual all thoughts are my own, I was not asked to write this review. As ever neither free entrance nor payment would ever sway my opinion. ***
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