Tour of the Downton Abbey Set

How one sleepy Cotswold village became a TV sensation

Our 7-day cycling tour takes us through many little villages and towns and after a day or two cycling down lazy lanes, past cosy cottages it is wonderfully easy to relax into the Cotswolds’ bubble, as well as the location of the hit TV show Downton Abbey. These towns encourage a feeling of stepping back through time; of having wandered into a place where you ride by carriage not car, on cobblestones and past thatched roofs. This is exactly what the Downton filmmakers were trying to capture by using Bampton, which you can see and learn more about on our Downton cycling and walking tours.

If, like me, you have spent far too much time over the last few years glued to your tv every week, captivated by Sybil’s romance, laughing at Violet Crawley’s hilarious put-downs, or dreaming of Matthew, then you are no stranger to the Downton Abbey phenomenon.  The TV show is the country’s most successful period drama, said to cost over 1 million pounds per episode (around 1.3 million dollars!). It had over 8 million viewers in the UK alone and is shown in over 100 countries around the world.

So for those in need of reminding (or for those who have had their heads buried in the sand for a couple of years), Downton Abbey is set in a fictional Yorkshire in the early twentieth century. The drama traces the lives, loves and losses of the Crawley family and their serving staff through tumultuous times. In the heart of the countryside, with winding lanes and quaint cottages, the village of Bampton forms the perfect backdrop to such a show. Situated in Oxfordshire, most of the outdoor scenes are filmed in Bampton: Mary and Matthew were married in its 12th century church, St Mary of the Virgin, itself built on the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon church; the local pub in the show is the local pub in real life; and Maggie Smith’s fabulous character – Lady Crawley – lives in a house just next to the church. So there is plenty to see here for Downton Abbey fans! We even provide the option of visiting Highclere Castle which is the real-life ‘Downton Abbey’, for those who wish to visit the main filming site.

There is no shortage of film-set locations to visit on this Active England tour day. Our days tour sets off from the historic market town of Burford and begins with a leisurely cycle ride through the rolling Cotswold countryside, down Windrush Valley – famous for the views along its lazy riverbed and for its ‘nature watch’ wildlife, especially around Springtime when the BBC film ‘Spring Watch’ here. We loop round to cycle directly into the Downton village of Bampton for a tour and exploration, before continuing on to the city of Oxford. Our Oxford walking tour includes many a film-set site, including Harry Potter as well as visiting the hangouts of some of the university’s famous alumni, such as Tolken and C.S. Lewis.