Planning travel in Old England with television and the Internet

Photos by Gary Anderson/Special to the Town Crier
The charming English village of Burton Bradstock, left, features camera-ready backdrops like the Three Horseshoes inn, above, and the parish church, below.

OK, we admit it – we’re great fans of the British TV programs shown here in the United States.

One aspect of these BBC America and PBS shows we enjoy seeing is the locales. Many stories take place in historical country homes and quaint little villages with thatched-roof cottages clustered around a pub, a small store and an ancient church. We’ve been regular visitors to England over the years, so we know that the villages are not stage sets; they are real and are occupied by residents who take great pride in maintaining their traditions.

When we made plans with another couple to attend a classic-car event in southern England last September, we decided to spend an extra week visiting a friend and colleague who lives in Burton Bradstock, a village in Dorset approximately a four-hour drive southwest of Heathrow Airport.

Our friend told us that “Broadchurch,” which we’d recently seen on BBC America, had been filmed in and around his village and on the beach just to the south.

Learning from a TV special about great homes of England that the popular PBS series “Downton Abbey” had been filmed at Highclere Castle, not far from his village, we added that to our itinerary to make this an English television theme trip.

A charming village

One reason that Burton Bradstock is so charming is because it isn’t on anyone’s must-see list – no tourist buses clogging the village square or crowds to contend with. Yet we had no trouble getting Internet information about the village and environs to make our sightseeing plans.

What is there to do in a village like Burton Bradstock? Relax, mostly. Over the course of the week we walked every street in the village, admiring the thatched-roof stone cottages and speaking with neighbors tending their still-blooming gardens that displayed a spectrum of colors to contrast with the ochre-hued stonework. In the parish church that had its first rector in 1295, we photographed the interior and spent time reading the ancient inscriptions on tombstones that had been moved to the perimeter of the churchyard.

We spent a day on the beach where American GIs practiced climbing the cliffs in preparation for D-Day, and where 60 years later much of the “Broadchurch” action was filmed. There was the handiwork of plein-air artists to admire, and a steep footpath to hike past the World War II pillbox overlooking the English Channel. A pleasant canvas-roofed cafe on the beach, open during the warm months and known for its fresh-baked pastries and breads, provided tasty breakfasts and lunches.

Every pub and restaurant we visited during the week seemed to have an enthusiastic, talented young chef in the kitchen, as well as a cheerful young woman or man pulling the taps at the traditional bar. Our favorite pub was The Anchor in the center of Burton Bradstock, only two blocks from our friend’s home. We visited The Anchor twice, as much for the welcoming atmosphere as for its excellent food, and would have enjoyed staying in their guest rooms if we hadn’t already had accommodations.

‘Downton Abbey’ sites

Visiting the Highclere Castle website, we learned that the estate would be closing in October to allow filming of the next season of “Downton Abbey,” so we were pleased to be able to book our tour for the last day of our visit.

Our two-hour drive took us along two-lane country byways across the Salisbury Plain to Newbury, and our GPS directed us to the turn-off across the one-lane stone bridge leading to the castle. Like so many historic English estates, Highclere has been home to titled families for many generations and is currently home to the eighth Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, who are closely involved in the castle’s day-to-day operations.

We spent the morning exploring the extensive gardens, enjoyed lunch in a large, tented outdoor cafeteria and then toured the castle’s ground floor and upstairs rooms, all of which appear just as they do in the television drama.

The castle’s cellars contain a recently opened exhibit featuring many real and reproduced artifacts from the tomb of the Egyptian boy pharaoh, Tutankhamen, unearthed in 1922 by the fifth Earl of Carnarvon and his archaeological colleague, Howard Carter.

Enjoying our last meal of the week in a charming crossroads pub, we all agreed that our extra week in England, easily planned with the aid of the Internet, had been one our most relaxing vacations in memory.

You can enjoy the same type of make-it-your-own vacation. The village of Burton Bradstock has its own website, Highclere Castle information and tour bookings are available at Bed-and-breakfasts, guest houses and country inns as well as local restaurants and other attractions are easy to find on the Internet, and there’s a wealth of other travel information.

There are many other castles, estates, cathedrals and villages and towns in the region waiting to be explored, and they’re all just a keystroke away.

Gary and Genie Anderson are longtime Los Altos residents.

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