McDownton! It's the TV event of Christmas… and we've been given a sneak preview – by the Scottish aristocrats whose stately home bagged a starring role

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UPDATED:

22:33 GMT, 8 December 2012

It is 8 o’clock on Christmas Day and the family is in a festive slump in front of the television, waiting for a highlight of the day – the Downton Abbey Special.

On screen, however, the action is set in high summer and the plotlines are dramatic, with naughty new girl, Lady Rose, taking centre stage as she is packed off to Scotland.

In a series of exclusive pictures, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the manicured lawns of Downton have been swapped for the granite walls of Inveraray Castle.

Highland fling: The Duke and Duchess of Argyll and their children at home at Inveraray Castle in the Scottish Highlands

Highland fling: The Duke and Duchess of Argyll and their children at home at Inveraray Castle in the Scottish Highlands

Old fashioned fun: The men do a spot of shooting in Scotland including Lord Grantham, Matthew and Nield (Kenneth Bryans)

The shooting party: Matthew Crawley and Lord Grantham indulge their passion for shooting while visiting Duneagle Castle, home of Dowager Countess's cousin, the Marquess of Flintshire

The tug-of-war: While the Crawley's are away, Tom Branson and Downton's staff must uphold the Abbey's honour at Thirsk Country Fair's tug-of-war

The tug-of-war: While the Crawley's are away, Tom Branson and Downton's staff must uphold the Abbey's honour at Thirsk Country Fair's tug-of-war

The Crawley family and staff follow
the example set by the doughty Dowager Countess, played by Dame Maggie
Smith, who decides they should visit her cousin, the Marquess of
Flintshire, while keeping an eye on Lady Rose.

The
castle is the real-life home of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, who
have offered us an intriguing glimpse into the film-making process and
give their thoughts on having the crew and stars as guests for several
weeks over the summer.

And
they provide some tantalising details about the difference in the way
the fictional Lord Grantham and his clan are portrayed and the more
simple way their family lives in the stately pile today.

The vamp maid: Swedish actress MyAnna Buring, 28, vampire Tanya in The Twilight Saga, is headstrong new maid, Edna. She soon sets her sights on Lady Sybil's widower, former chauffeur Tom Branson

The vamp maid: Swedish actress MyAnna Buring, 28, vampire Tanya in The Twilight Saga, is headstrong new maid, Edna. She soon sets her sights on Lady Sybil's widower, former chauffeur Tom Branson

The
Duke and Duchess, themselves big Downton fans, were thrilled when
Inveraray, set between the seashore of Loch Fyne and the Grampians in
the Highland mountains, was chosen as the backdrop for the popular
programme.

‘The series
makers wanted somewhere rugged, a Scottish castle with rolling water and
hills,’ says Eleanor, the Duchess of Argyll, who lives in the
17-bedroom castle with her husband, Torquhil, the 13th duke.

‘We
were avid fans – although we had to wait to get to see the first
season. Scottish TV didn’t think we would want to watch it, but there
was an outcry here.’ Once the castle was chosen, the Argylls were caught
up in a whirlwind of cast and crew meetings.

‘It
was like getting through to the finals,’ says Eleanor, 39. ‘At first,
there were just two or three location teams. But at the last site visit,
we had about 40 people: artistic directors, lighting people, props
people, directors . . .

‘It meant that when the cast arrived on set, everyone knew what was going on.’

While
the story line is shrouded in secrecy, what we do know is that Lady
Edith’s married admirer, the newspaper editor Michael Gregson, turns out
to be holidaying near to Duneagle Castle.

His
continued dalliance with Lady Edith causes a row between Matthew
Crawley and his wife Lady Mary, who disagree about his intentions
towards her. ‘In some scenes we see Cora [Oscar-nominated Elizabeth
McGovern] waltzing in a tiara at the ghillies ball,’ says Eleanor.
‘Matthew Crawley has also been seen wrestling with a fishing rod and
shooting a rifle in the grounds.’

Before filming, the Argylls were invited to lunch with the actors at Ealing Studios, where the servants’ quarters are filmed.

‘They
were charming,’ says Eleanor. ‘Especially Rob James-Collier, the actor
who plays conniving footman Thomas, which rather threw us. I told him I
had wanted to hate him.’

Love for Edith There is a suggestion of a new romance for Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael)

Love for Edith There is a suggestion of a new romance for Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) with married admirer, newspaper editor Michael Gregson, who just happens to be holidaying nearby

The feuding families: The Marquess of Flintshire and wife Susan welcome the Crawleys to Duneagle, believing they will be allies in their battle to control their wayward daughter

The feuding families: The Marquess of Flintshire and wife Susan welcome the Crawleys to Duneagle, believing they will be allies in their battle to control their wayward daughter

Keen to know what to expect, Eleanor had gone to watch Downton being filmed at Highclere, home of the Earl of Carnarvon.

‘Lady
Carnarvon was very helpful. I wanted to see what happens when the cast
and crew are in your house. The stuff you need to protect. She told me,
“It’s the little things. Like there will be lots of people using your
water supply and electricity.” Things I hadn’t thought of.

‘I
had never been on a film set before. We sat on those red sofas as they
filmed in the drawing room. I hadn’t realised every scene has to be
filmed from about 17 different angles. I met Cora and Lord Grantham
[Hugh Bonne-ville], who were delightful.’

To
the Argylls’ deep disappointment, the weeks chosen for filming clashed
with their annual two-week stay on the island of Tiree in the Inner
Hebrides. So the couple had to make do with daily updates from Alastair
Bruce, Downton’s historical adviser and an old friend of the Argylls who
is also a Queen’s Herald, a former Scots Guards officer and an equerry
to Prince Edward.

Looking for a catch: Duneagle Castle is a step up from Downton - with deer stalking and fishing on the doorstep

Looking for a catch: Duneagle Castle is a step up from Downton – with deer stalking and fishing on the doorstep

North of the border: Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville, third from left) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens, second from right) as the family visit their Scottish cousins at Duneagle Castle

North of the border: Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville, third from left) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens, second from right) as the family visit their Scottish cousins at Duneagle Castle

‘Alastair
phoned us daily to let us know what was happening. It was all a great
secret, but some of the guests staying with us became very suspicious.
One would crouch outside the door with his ear to the keyhole, hoping to
overhear the plot.

‘I
didn’t know what to do, so eventually I told him Wallander was being
filmed at the castle. I told him the makers thought the mountains and
the loch at Inveraray looked better than Norway. He spent hours on the
internet trawling Scotland and Wallander.’

While
the cast were in town, they socialised at the pubs. Brendan Coyle, who
plays valet John Bates and has Scottish ancestors, was so enamoured of
Inveraray, he had two kilts made up in the redshanks at the local
kilt-makers.

Torquhil, 44,
who is head of his clan and owns 60,000 acres of land in Scotland, had
to give permission for the Flintshires and Granthams to use the
bluey-grey Campbell tartan. And a local piper, who played at Eleanor and
Torquhil’s wedding, was also featured in some scenes.

Family tension: Tom Branson (centre played by Allen Leech) and servant Jimmy Kent (right played by Ed Speleers) play tug of war as tensions build up between the two tribes

Family tension: Tom Branson (centre played by Allen Leech) and servant Jimmy Kent (right played by Ed Speleers) play tug of war as tensions build up between the two tribes

Fair: It is understood that there may also be some romance for downtrodden cook Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) with another villager known as Tufton (John Henshaw)

Rumoured romance: It is understood that there may also be some romance for downtrodden cook Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol) with another villager known as Tufton (John Henshaw)

For
viewers, Downton Abbey is an escapist fantasy – a heady world of
magnificent ‘upstairs’ frocks, dreary ‘downstairs’ drudgery and, for the
Crawleys, a cossetted life in which their every whim is catered for by
their put-upon staff. For Eleanor and Torquhil and their three children,
Archie, Marquess of Lorne, eight, Lord Rory, six, and Lady Charlotte,
four, the reality of aristocratic life in the 21st Century is vastly
different from the gilded idyll portrayed by Downton creator Julian
Fellowes.

‘The big
difference between then and now is staff,’ said Torquhil, who is brand
manager for Chivas Regal Whisky when he isn’t managing the estate. ‘My
grandmother had 30 people living in the castle and we used to have a
huge team of gardeners. The kitchen garden would provide for the castle,
but now we buy from the supermarket. And we have lots of machinery to
do the work. We run it on a skeleton staff and I am chef most of the
time.

‘Torquhil is a much better cook than I am,’ explains Eleanor. ‘He lived in Hong Kong so he can do sushi and amazing curries.

Scottish break: New faces Shrimpie Flintshire (Peter Egan) and Susan Flintshire appear in what is the home of Lady Rose (Lily James), who was sent home in the last episode of series three after her dalliance with a married man

Scottish break: New faces Shrimpie Flintshire (Peter Egan) and Susan Flintshire (Phoebe Nicholls) appear in what is the home of Lady Rose (Lily James), who was sent home in the last episode of series three after her dalliance with a married man

Happy arrival: Lord Grantham and Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) arrive at the Scottish castle in the ITV1 show expected to be one of the most popular on Christmas Day with an estimated audience of 10 million

Happy arrival: Lord Grantham and Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) arrive at the Scottish castle in the ITV1 show expected to be one of the most popular on Christmas Day with an estimated audience of 10 million

‘There
probably are people who still have masses of staff like in Downton
Abbey, but let’s face it, they are not British.’ While the vacuum
cleaner, food processor and washing machine have, it seems, taken the
place of kitchen staff Daisy and Mrs Patmore, the Argylls do have a
nanny and a couple who do ‘everything from the security to the dusting.

‘But
I clean the chandeliers myself,’ Eleanor admits. ‘I make our beds. I
make the children’s beds. And Torquhil certainly doesn’t have a valet to
put his coat on for him. Mind you, he doesn’t have to dress in white
tie every night. He mows the lawn too. When the children get up in the
morning, we have Shreddies in the kitchen,’ she adds, ‘which is also
where the children do their homework.

‘Torquhil’s
mother [The Dowager Duchess, Iona] had a cook so she used the dining
room more, but Torquhil’s grandmother used the Mrs Patmore-type kitchen
in the basement, which we now show to tourists.

‘These
days, we only use the State Dining Room for Christmas Day or when we
have a corporate event. Normally, we use a smaller dining room.’
Today, corporate events and tourism are the lifeblood of a house such as
Inveraray.

Away from the Abbey: The Granthams, including Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), do not live at Downton Abbey twelve months of the year but go to London for the summer season and away on holidays

Away from the Abbey: The Granthams, including Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), do not live at Downton Abbey twelve months of the year but go to London for the summer season and away on holidays

Tourist spot: Lady Cora and Lady Edith arrive at the castle which was filmed at Inveraray Castle on Loch Fyne in Argyll  an area already hugely popular with tourists because of the idyllic landscape

Tourist spot: Lady Cora and Lady Edith arrive at the castle which was filmed at Inveraray Castle on Loch Fyne in Argyll an area already hugely popular with tourists because of the idyllic landscape

Some 75,000
visitors look round the castle each year and corporate clients pay to be
wined, dined and steeped in Clan Campbell grandeur, with Torquhil and
Eleanor, their hosts, dressed in their clan tartan.

Sadly,
however, there is no family tiara for Eleanor: ‘It was sold by
Torquhil’s grandfather to pay a gambling debt,’ she explains. The
biggest recent outlay for the Argylls was having central heating
installed a few years ago.

‘In
the past, each room would have a fire or two and that in itself
required a great deal of manpower,’ says Torquhil. ‘Instead of lighting
them, we just put on more jerseys.’

They’ve
also just put in 12 bathrooms. ‘Before that there were only four and
only enough water for one hot bath. You had to run like mad to grab
it,’ says Eleanor. The Crawleys would certainly have understood.

lInveraray Castle (inveraray-castle.com) is open to the public between April 1 and October 31.

The Crawley family and much loved servants are leaving Downton Abbey behind and heading to the Highlands for a break

Scottish getaway: The Crawley family and much loved servants are leaving Downton Abbey behind and heading to the Highlands for a break

Gone fishing: Matthew enjoys some fishing while away on the Christmas Day special which last year pulled in 8 million and was beaten by EastEnders on the day

Gone fishing: Matthew enjoys some fishing while away on the Christmas Day special which last year pulled in 8 million and was beaten by EastEnders on the day

'Mice will play': Back at Downton Abbey, the arrival of a country carnival in the village means many sneak off to enjoy the fun of the fair including Thomas (Rob James-Collier)

'Mice will play': Back at Downton Abbey, the arrival of a country carnival in the village means many sneak off to enjoy the fun of the fair including Thomas (Rob James-Collier)

Scottish setting: Lord Grantham and Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) on the Christmas Day special

Scottish setting: Lord Grantham and Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) on the Christmas Day special

Best loved servants: Bates (Brendan Coyle) and his wife Anna accompany the Granthams on their time away

Best loved servants: Bates (Brendan Coyle) and his wife Anna accompany the Granthams on their time away