I rolled down the car window as we approached the guard’s booth. He leaned in, delivering a heady whiff of Marlboro man. “If you don’t have tickets, you’re out of luck. We’re sold out today.”
I assured him that we did indeed have tickets. “If you want to make some money,” he offered, “you can probably sell them for twice what you paid.” He pointed up the hill to the visitor’s center and returned to his perch.
Such is the popularity of the PBS period drama, Downton Abbey. America’s dowager countesses (aka the AARP crowd) are willing to pay scalper’s prices for entry to the current costume exhibit at Winterthur (the Dupont’s former summer “home”). I had purchased 2 earlier in the week for the 3-5 p.m. time slot; had I known, I’d have bought more.
Our stop in Delaware was part of a daylong “shopseeing” trip, perfect for you and your mom, sister, daughter, or bestest girlfriend. Approximately 10 miles from Winterthur is Terrain, a luxury garden/home decor shop. Check out their achingly beautiful website to get a sense of why I expected to drool.
The day started miserably; it was raining pitchers of fish, but by the time my daughter and I arrived in Glen Mills, PA, it was simply overcast and chill. Terrain consists of a series of rustic outbuildings. We headed to the main shop, pausing briefly to read the charming stories associated with the bins of unique pumpkins. A corps of extremely talented decorators must work round the clock to maintain the fairytale quality of the showroom. My immediate reaction to everything was “I want this!” and the smell from the well-curated collection of candles, lotions and soaps was delicious. We browsed, sniffed, oohed and aahed, and finally purchased some hot beverages from the store’s cafe and settled into Adirondack chairs circling a blazing fire pit in the yard. Then it was off to Wilmington.
Winterthur is a meticulously maintained museum estate featuring a 175-room home set in a 1,000-acre preserve. We couldn’t get the full gee whiz effect of the exterior of the house, since scaffolding covered most of it. The renovation is expected to be complete in December. General admission tickets for the Downton costume exhibit include admission to the house and grounds; however, timed house tours, lasting 45 minutes, should be reserved separately. We were content wandering around the exhibit, marveling over the simple beauty of costumer Caroline McCall’s dreamy creations (she has 7 weeks to prep all of the costumes for a season). We also spent a bit of time hollering at each other like Mrs. Patmore and Daisy. And I was nearly brought to tears by the projected video of Matthew’s proposal to Mary.
We then took a walkabout the grounds, declining a return trip to the visitor’s center via the complimentary tram. The gardens must be stunning in the spring, but in the fall you can really appreciate the specimen trees; they don’t have to compete with the azaleas for your attention. There is a delightful children’s garden at the north end of the preserve. Charming elements include a treehouse topped with a witches’ cap, a giant bird’s nest with huge eggs and a field of mushrooms that mist from time to time. Don’t miss it if you have a tyke in tow. Fun fact: we kept stumbling upon mushroom references throughout the day. Finally, at dinner, we discovered that the Brandywine Valley is the self-proclaimed mushroom capital of the world, producing over a million a week!
The Downton exhibit runs through January 4. Ticket prices are $20 for adults, $5 for children (2-11), seniors and students are $18. On certain days, afternoon tea is available in the visitor’s center, if you think your manners are up to snuff.
“I do think a woman’s place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.” – The Dowager Countess