I have a guilty secret and it involves the words ‘Downton’ and ‘Abbey’. Probably as a curator of a modern art gallery I should spurn the various class-ridden melodramas involving the Grantham family and their servants, but I was given the DVD box set for Christmas a couple of years ago and found it was perfect for unchallenging ‘down-time’. Not having a television, I am hopelessly behind and had all the major deaths and plot twists spoilt for me by others. But in comparison with one of my aunts who apparently cried through an entire episode involving Lady Mary’s recent bereavement, I would say I am relatively disengaged (except for eagerly awaiting the arch and cutting quips from the dowager Countess), and yet I must admit being inspired to visit the ‘real’ Downton Abbey recently when I was nearby in Berkshire. I put it down to those enticing wide-panned shots of the Earl heading up the gravel path towards the house followed by his trusty Labrador, which made me wonder what Highclere Castle looked like from any another angle. I obviously wasn’t the only person either. The field in front of the house was un-picturesquely full of cars belonging to hordes of (presumably) Downton viewers; there was an overflow café and a busy gift shop where one could buy the Countess of Carnarvon’s latest book on the ‘Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey’ or its follow-up about Lady Catherine, and a bar of ‘aristocratic chocolate.’ I don’t blame them for making the most of it: Highclere is rather lovely, and what is more has some beautiful follies in the grounds that sadly hardly ever feature as backdrops in the drama. But actually I think it’s fair to say that Julian Fellowes’ inspirations were largely drawn from elsewhere. Earlier this summer I was fortunate to be the guest of the Compton family at Newby Hall in North Yorkshire. Like the fictional Downton Abbey it is near to Ripon (where the character Matthew Crawley was originally working as a solicitor) and surrounded by real-life places such as Thirsk, Easingwold and Kirbymoorside which all feature in the drama. And in a case of art imitating life, Newby Hall was home to Lord & Lady Grantham, albeit in the nineteenth-century when the 3rd Lord Grantham inherited the house. Indeed, the bedroom in which we stayed is known as ‘Lady Grantham’s Bedroom’ - after her portrait over the fireplace. I’m not ashamed to admit that as ‘real’ Downton experiences go, sleeping in a bedroom with the real Lady Grantham for company (albeit hanging on the wall) can’t be beaten.