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Episode 3.09, also known as A Journey to the Highlands, is the ninth episode, Christmas special, and final episode of the third season of Downton Abbey, and the twenty-fifth episode overall.

This episode is set in September[1] 1921.[2]


The Crawley family visits Lady Rose MacClare and her parents, Hugh MacClare, Marquess of Flintshire and Susan MacClare, Marchioness of Flintshire, for a summer break at Duneagle Castle in The Highlands of Scotland, leaving most of their servants back at home. Personal servants John Bates, Anna BatesJoseph Molesley, and Sarah O'Brien also make the trip. Tom Branson remains at Downton after not being invited, which he doesn't mind.

Lady Edith Crawley is surprised to learn that Michael Gregson is in Scotland. Lady Mary Crawley and Matthew Crawley disagree about Gregson's motives. Tensions soon rise between the Crawleys and their hosts. There will be deer stalking, fly fishing, shooting trips, and a "spectacular" Ghillies' Ball.

Miss O'Brien discovers a kindred spirit below stairs in the form of her opposite number, Susan MacClare’s lady’s maid Wilkins.

The staff back at Downton look forward to the approaching Thirsk Country Fair, in which Branson, Thomas, Alfred, and Jimmy get involved in a tug o' war[3]. Charles Carson struggles to keep them concentrating on work. A new housemaid, Edna, joins the staff and will stir things up, setting her sights on Tom[4][5]. Beryl Patmore becomes involved in a romance with a villager, Tufton. Mary goes into labor and gives birth to a healthy baby boy. After seeing the baby, Matthew drives back to Downton. He swerves to miss a truck, crashes, and dies.

Detailed plot summary[]

The episode starts with the title One year later. It's September 1921 and all the staff are preparing for the family to leave for their regular holiday to Duneagle - Bates is asked by Ivy if they go to Duneagle every year and he says that they didn't go last year due to Lady Sybil's death or during the war but that otherwise, "it's the high spot of his Lordship's calendar."

Lady Mary is heavily pregnant and Matthew worries about her going on the holiday with the family. She reassures him that she'll be fine.

Edith hears from her editor, Michael Gregson, who tells her he has just realized that he'll be in Scotland at the same time and near Duneagle. Lady Mary sarcastically replies "what a coincidence," clearly meaning that she thinks it isn't a coincidence at all. Cora says that they can maybe "ask him over" as she and Robert would like to meet him. Robert doesn't look quite as keen. Cora tells Tom Branson that she's sorry he won't be with them but he doesn't seem to mind saying, "Why should they ask me? I don't know them at all."

In the servants' hall, some of the servants are hoping for some time off, with Alfred Nugent asking, "So will we have a bit of a break while they're away, Mr. Carson?" Jimmy Kent agrees with him, suggesting an outing. Mr. Carson replies that there is plenty of work to be done and Mrs. Hughes informs the maids that they will also have plenty of cleaning to do. Mrs. Hughes asks Mr. Carson if he couldn't let them have a bit of fun and he replies that they can if they get their work done.

The new maid Edna cleans the bedrooms and finds a picture of Sybil; picking it up, she looks at it. Mrs. Hughes interrupts and Edna asks Mrs. Hughes questions about Tom Branson and his late wife, Sybil; Mrs. Hughes doesn't seem to approve of all her questions, and readjusts the picture of Sybil that Edna had moved, smiling nostalgically - Sybil is still remembered. When Edna says that she thinks Lady Sybil "could have done better," Mrs. Hughes replies that Sybil didn't think she could have done better, which is all that matters - Edna is walking a very fine line between over-stepping her place and offending the memory of Sybil. Later, Edna boldly speaks to Tom and he asks her name.

Isobel and Dr Clarkson take tea and she invites him to dine with her the following evening.

At Duneagle Castle, Rose seems very glad to see her relatives arrive and it is soon clear that there is tension between Susan and Hugh - who takes every chance he can get to take a jab at Susan - and that Susan is being very strict with Rose; it's only a matter of time before tensions finally snap, though whether Rose and Susan snap before Susan and Hugh is not answerable yet.

At Downton, Joss Tufton delivers an order, having taken over a shop that used to deliver to them, and he flirts with Mrs. Patmore, complimenting her cooking.

At Duneagle, the servants are dining, and upon hearing that Anna is referred to as Anna rather than Bates so as to stop any confusion between her and her husband, Sarah O'Brien says that, "It isn't right. I do so hate to see a Lady's Maid downgraded." She means that a Lady's Maid should be referred to by her last name rather than first, this signifying her higher position. Miss Wilkins, Lady Susan's Lady's Maid agrees, saying that, "We would think alike wouldn't we? It's a treat to have a kindred spirit come to stay; it really is."

Upstairs at the family dinner plans are made for the week, with the men having shooting practice the next day and the women taking a picnic lunch by the loch the day after tomorrow. Lady Rose says that the Ghillies ball on Friday is "always good fun" and her mother Susan sharply replies "as long as it's not too much fun," perhaps referencing Rose's wild actions in London a year prior. Lady Edith asks if she can telephone Michael and is asked to invite him to dinner.

Isobel Crawley and Tom Branson take dinner together and she tells him that he's made the difficult transition to his new position very well. She also tells him that as manager of the estate he has a position now and is entitled to use it to talk to whoever he wishes.

Mary tells Anna that she was feeling a bit shaken up by the train but asks her not to tell Matthew - she says she doesn't want to spoil his last treat before fatherhood. Anna is nervous about the Ghillies ball, saying she feels very English and Mary says that she loves it and would dance if she wasn't pregnant.

The next day Matthew practices shooting and Hugh tells Robert that Rose isn't "anxious for her mother's company," implying that there is tension between the two of them, as well as between Hugh and Susan. Hugh also tells Robert about his foreign posting, saying that a change is as good as a rest. Susan also talks to Violet about their planned move abroad, but doesn't seem to be looking forward to it at all - Violet claims it will be like a week with her mother-in-law. Edith says that Michael is coming to dinner and Mary questions his motives for being in the highlands. She implies that he has only come to see Edith and her family, whilst Edith says that he is on a sketching and fishing holiday.

At Downton, Edna goes to the local pub at lunch time, having heard that Tom Branson was planning to be there and talks to him there, asking why he doesn't join them for dinner in the servants hall rather than dining alone.

At Thirsk, Thomas, Jimmy and Alfred are visiting Joss Tufton's shop to return some ginger for Mrs. Patmore and Joss mentions Thirsk Fair where he has a stall with some of the other suppliers. He says the fair has "food, games, Morris dancers." Alfred asks if they'd be able to get the time off and Thomas says he doesn't see why not. Jimmy says that he will come "if there's a crowd of us, but not otherwise," making it clear he doesn't want to be alone with Thomas. Joss Tufton gives them a note to take to Mrs. Patmore. Back at Downton, Mrs. Hughes is asking if the servants can get time off to go to the fair and Mrs. Patmore also asks for time off to go. Mr. Carson is not pleased, not wanting to allow everyone to go, saying, "Must I be undermined at every turn?" Mrs. Patmore suggests to Mrs. Hughes that they all go, saying "it'll be fun."

At Duneagle, Michael Gregson arrives for dinner. Matthew remarks to Mary that he looks "perfectly normal" and Mary replies that he would bring the correct clothes as he obviously came, "with the express purpose of dining at Duneagle." Michael meets Edith's family whilst Susan and her daughter, Rose, are not getting along, which is noticed by Violet and Cora. Cora says that is difficult with a young daughter, obviously thinking of Sybil and she is visibly upset as she remembers her. Violet, never normally one to do something so un-English as to show emotion, tries to comfort her daughter-in-law saying, "We all miss her, every single day." It seems to work.

At Downton, Tom is dining with his daughter and Edna asks if he would like her to take Miss Sybil up to the nursery, asking Tom, "Are you ashamed of who you are, or who you were? Is that why you won't take your dinner with us?" Tom replies that it is not but he is visibly shaken by her question.

John and Anna Bates are taking a walk outside Duneagle Castle and make plans to take a picnic out the next day, bumping into Lady Rose after they do so. They see her smoking and she asks them not to tell her mother, looking upset. She apologizes, saying that, "My mother has been unusually abysmal this evening." John says that his "whole childhood would seem impossible to you" but that he survived and so will she. Susan appears, calling Rose inside; Bates gives her a mint to disguise the smoke, and she retreats after her mother.

Dr. Clarkson and Isobel Crawley have had dinner together. Dr. Clarkson says he enjoyed it and hopes they can do it again soon, saying that it is good to able to talk to someone who understands his work as a doctor, which Isobel can do, seeing as she used to be a doctor's wife.

Michael tells Edith that Matthew has asked him to go stalking with him the next day and she asks him why he is really there. Michael says he wanted to meet her family and wanted them to like him and be on his side. Edith says that won't change anything and that she "can't see a happy ending" for them. Matthew and Mary discuss Michael, and Mary says that Susan has invited him to the Ghillies ball. She is still suspicious of him but Matthew says not to dislike him before she gets to know him.

Mrs. Hughes asks Mr. Carson to come to the fair but he declines saying that the servants won't enjoy themselves if he goes as he's their "leader," saying they'll be looking over their shoulders at him all day. He tells Mrs. Hughes not to envy him or his role as "uneasy lies the head that wears the crown" (a quote from Shakespeare's Henry IV).

At Duneagle, the men go off for the day's stalking, Robert saying that he is worried about Mary going off on the picnic.

At Downton, the servants discuss the fair, Thomas jokingly offering to buy everyone a bottle of pop. Jimmy makes it clear that he wouldn't accept such an offer, formally saying, "Thank you Mr. Barrow, but I can buy my own pop." Mrs. Patmore shows Mrs. Hughes a fancy blouse she has bought to go to the fair, as Joss Tufton has asked her to go with him. Mrs. Hughes says there is only one reason a man asks a respectable woman out - he is in search of a wife.

Robert and Hugh talk about Hugh and Susan's marriage, Hugh saying they "don't like each other." At the ladies' picnic there is obvious friction between Susan and Lady Rose; it's obvious to everyone with a brain that it's only a matter of time before one of them finally cracks.

Later Susan asks Sarah O'Brien for advice on her hair and Wilkins is obviously unhappy at the attention she gives Sarah.

At dinner that evening, Violet asks Hugh if he and Susan are taking Rose with them to India. Hugh says that he doesn't think they should but that Susan refuses to discuss it. Violet also thinks that taking Rose with them is a bad idea and that Susan will "have to think again."

The next day Lady Rose teaches Anna to dance for the Ghillies ball, Rose having wanted to repay Anna for her kindness to her when she was upset.

At Downton, Jimmy and Alfred are cleaning the silver and Alfred asks Jimmy to "take it easy with Mr. Barrow today at the fair and not 'spoil' things." Jimmy replies that "You're a fine one to talk. Who rang the police in the first place?" Alfred tells Jimmy that Thomas won't ever hear a bad word said about him.

Mrs. Hughes tells Tom Branson that he doesn't have to drive them all to the fair as he's part of the family now. She says that if someone is trying to make him feel awkward about his new position that "they're in the wrong, not you."

At the fair Jimmy, Alfred, Thomas and Tom plan to take part in a tug of war competition that offers cash prizes, with Jimmy making a little dig at Thomas saying, "Isn't it a bit rough for Mr. Barrow?" But Thomas says that he "can manage." Edna takes Tom's arm and says she will come to cheer him on. Mrs. Patmore meets Joss Tufton at his stall with Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Hughes notices Joss slapping his female assistant, Lucy, on the behind, which is unnoticed my Mrs. Patmore. Joss compliments Mrs. Patmore and says that he "loves to be in love, any time, anywhere."

Before the tug of war match Jimmy makes a side bet on the Downton team, and at the last minute asking Joss Tufton to join the team – Joss is a large man and with his help the Downton team win the tug of war. Watched by Mrs. Hughes, Joss flirts with two female spectators and says that "if you want a bit of spice in your life come to Tufton."

At Duneagle, Michael and Matthew are fishing and he tells Matthew about his wife, who is in an insane asylum whilst he is unable to get a divorce. Matthew does not approve of his love for Edith, saying that "We're not in a novel by Walter Scott." Matthew says that Michael's position is sad, but that he won't allow Edith to "slide into a world of scandal." He says that Michael should use the Ghillies ball to say a proper goodbye to Edith.

At the fair, Jimmy is flashing his winnings from the bet around, buying drinks for people, getting very drunk, and paying for Daisy to have a go on one of the games, which she wins. Mrs. Hughes speaks to Alfred, who says that he sees his future as being with food - preparing it, and whilst they are talking she sees Joss Tufton kissing a young girl.

Whilst Jimmy is walking alone he is cornered by two men who intend to rob and beat him. Thomas steps in and asks them to leave Jimmy alone, getting robbed and beaten in his place. Thomas tells Jimmy to run and Jimmy does, leaving Thomas to his fate.

Dr. Clarkson and Isobel Crawley are also at the fair, and Dr. Clarkson is getting courage up to ask Isobel to marry him, asking if she has ever thought of marrying again. She subtly tells him that she is happy with the way things are, trying to spare his feelings from asking and her having to refuse him. Jimmy then runs up and tells Dr. Clarkson he has to come quickly for Thomas.

At Duneagle for the Ghillies ball, Rose appears at the top of the stairs; she is in a very revealing dress, and finally, things crack between her and Susan - and Hugh as well. Susan and Rose argue once again, with Susan telling Rose that she "looks like a slut" in her dress; she asks Violet, who is too shocked at the word "slut" to agree. Violet doesn't, and says that in her teenage years she wore "the bustle, the crinoline and the leg of mutton sleeve". It is obvious that Violet is on Rose's side in this argument, and that Rose reminds Violet of her younger self. On Hugh's orders, Rose takes Violet through to the ballroom and Violet tries to put Rose at her ease by telling her about the first Ghillies ball she ever attended, in Ballmoral in 1860 when she hadn't long been married; she claims that she was nervous, and the men were as stiff as pins. Susan and Hugh argue about Rose, with Hugh shouting at Susan to "stop making everyone so unhappy all the bloody time!" Hugh then storms off, leaving Susan to regain her composure; it's the true end of their marriage and nothing can repair it now.

Back at the fair, the servants, with Dr Clarkson and Isobel Crawley, are brought by Jimmy to a badly beaten Thomas, who has blood on his face and is slumped on the ground. When Mrs. Hughes asks what happened, Thomas doesn't tell them that he was saving Jimmy, instead just saying that he got into a fight and that the men took "every penny I had".

Back at Downton, Mr Carson is hovering in the corridor outside Miss Sybil's room. When he hears her crying, goes in and picks her up and comforts her, speaking fondly to her. Later Mrs. Hughes returns and sees Mr. Carson with baby Sybil. Carson is smiling and says he was thinking of Lady Sybil at her age, and Mrs. Hughes says, "all we can do for her now is cherish her bairn and it's lovely to see you doing just that." Mr. Carson replies that "there is no need to get sentimental", though it is clear he doesn't mean it; the memory of Lady Sybil is worth sentimentality.

At the Ghillies Ball there is dancing and Miss Wilkins fetches Sarah O'Brien a drink, spiking it with strong whiskey because of her jealousy at Susan paying attention to Sarah. Sarah realizes what she has done and doesn't drink it - Mr. Molesley drinks it instead. Sarah says to Miss Wlkins that she is glad that Wilkins has done that, as it means she doesn't have to show any loyalty towards her. After saying this she goes over to speak to Lady Susan. Robert privately speaks to Hugh and asks if his marriage was always "this bad." Hugh says that it wasn't always as bad but after James - their son - left, and after Annabelle - their other daughter - got married, they realized "how little we had in common." Hugh says that Susan is perhaps so hard on Rose because she reminds her of him "back when I had something to live for." Hugh also reveals that Duneagle has to go, as all the money is gone. He says he wishes he had modernized as Robert has. Hugh says that he and Susan will be all right, but wonders aloud what they are going to do about Rose.

The Ghillies Ball begins. Rose, thrilled, drags Anna onto the dance floor, where Anna reveals her recently acquired dancing skills, taking part in the dancing, much to the surprise of Mary and John Bates. Mary says she is "marvelous" and John agrees, smiling as he watches her dance.

Mrs. Patmore tells Mrs. Hughes that Joss Tufton has told her that he loves her and can't live without her. Mrs. Hughes has to tell Mrs. Patmore about all the flirting she saw Joss doing at the fair and she says how sorry she is. Mrs. Patmore says that it was the cooking he was after, and not her. She confesses that she is relieved as she was wondering how she could get away and they end up laughing together about the situation.

Michael Gregson says his goodbyes to Edith and that it is their last evening together. Edith disagrees, saying that she is now sure of her feelings for him and that it is "absolutely not their last evening." Upon leaving Duneagle, Matthew asks Edith if she made it clear to Michael what has to happen - meaning that they can't see each other anymore. Edith replies that they both know what happens next - meaning the exact opposite.

Mary dances and begins to feel tired at the party and tells Matthew that she is returning to Downton early. She makes Matthew promise to stay as she doesn't want to break up the party early. At Downton, they prepare for Mary and Anna's early return, and Edna is asked to make up Mary's room. Edna asks if she has to, as she has made plans to meet Tom Branson for lunch in the village. Edna has finally crossed the line in her actions - very much like Lady Sybil's - and she is offending the memory of Lady Sybil, something which neither Mrs. Hughes or Mr. Carson will take. The two agree that she has to be fired, but Mrs. Hughes says that it may not be Tom's fault.

Mrs. Hughes tells Tom that Edna has to go and he says that he didn't encourage her. She agrees but says that he also didn't discourage her. Tom asks Mrs. Hughes to give her a good reference and Mrs. Hughes agrees, although she doesn't think Edna is cut out to be a housemaid. Mrs. Hughes also says to Tom that "you let Edna make you ashamed of your new life." She says Lady Sybil would be very proud of him and he cries, saying he "can't bear to be without her." Mrs Hughes comforts him as he finally reveals what he's been holding in for a year.

Later Edna says to Mrs. Hughes that she doesn't think she has done anything wrong and that she is as good as Tom. Mrs. Hughes doesn't disagree but says "there are rules to this way of life, Edna, and if you're not prepared to live by them, then it's not the right life for you."

Cora and Susan speak about Rose, Susan saying that she finds herself worrying about Rose "before she even opens her eyes" in the morning. Susan says that Hugh wants Rose to stay at Downton whilst they are in India and Cora says that she would never agree to that against Susan's wishes. Susan thanks her for the support but says that she "wonders now if he isn't right and that we need a rest from one another." She asks Cora to "speak well of me to her," and Cora promises to do so.

Upon getting off the train at Downton, Lady Mary goes straight to the hospital and asks for a message to be sent to Matthew. She has gone into labour early. The rest of the family immediately leave Duneagle, Hugh asking to be sent news as soon as they know it and thanking them for taking in Lady Rose. Lady Susan says that they will make firm plans as soon as they know when they're leaving. Hugh says he wants Rose to know that family can be a loving thing, and that if you don't learn love early, it's hard to learn later on in life. Lady Rose kisses Robert goodbye, thanking both him and Cora and saying that "I'll see you at Downton very soon."

At Downton, Mr. Carson is very worried, especially since Lady Sybil died in childbirth. Lady Mary is in hospital in labour and asks Isobel to phone Carson, as she knows he will be worried.

Jimmy goes to see Thomas, alone in his room, saying he wants to see there wasn't much harm done. Thomas has minor cuts and scratches on his hands and arms, cuts and bruises on his face, and is obviously still in some pain as he moves on his bed. Jimmy says that he feels bad that he ran off and that Thomas was "very brave." Thomas reveals that he was following Jimmy, as he "had to keep an eye out" when he had seen Jimmy was drunk. When Jimmy asks why, Thomas says that "you know why." Although Jimmy looks a little uncomfortable at hearing this, rather than become angry or leave, he picks up a chair and sits a little closer to Thomas' bed than he had been standing before. Jimmy replies softly that, "I can never give you what you want." Thomas says he understands and doesn't "ask for it" but that he would like it if they could be friends. Jimmy says he can manage that "if that's all." Jimmy still looks a little uncertain but Thomas looks very happy on hearing this.

Mary safely gives birth and Mr. Carson very happily reports to Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore that both mother and child are fine. He did, however, forget to ask the sex of the baby. In the hospital, Matthew arrives and is ecstatically happy to see his newborn son saying that he "feels like I swallowed a box of fireworks." Mary says that they have done their duty and "Downton is safe" - meaning that Downton now has a male heir. They tell each other how much they love each other, with Mary saying that she always wants to be "your Mary Crawley for all eternity." Matthew says to Mary that "I fall more in love with you with every day that passes."

At Downton everyone is talking about how happy they are to have Mary and Matthew's baby boy safely born. Robert says that everything is going so well and he "wonders what I have done to deserve it." Violet - having seen many hardships in her life - agrees, but says that, "we don't always get our just desserts." At the same time as this is happening, Matthew is driving back to Downton. He is not paying due care and attention to the road and has to swerve to miss a truck. His car overturns and crashes into a tree and Matthew dies. The last we see, he is lying motionless, with his eyes open and blood running from a head wound.

In the hospital, Mary is happily sitting up in bed with her baby and Anna is fussing round her, as they wait for her family to arrive. Mary says to Anna that she must tell Matthew to wait his turn as "he has seen the baby and they haven't."

Both are blissfully unaware of Matthew's fate.

Cast list[]


  1., A racy new maid, another shock for Lady Edith and simmering tension between Matthew and Lady Mary. Hold on to your hats as Downton decamps to Scotland By Nicole Lampert, PUBLISHED: 17:31 EST, 21 December 2012 | UPDATED: 17:59 EST, 21 December 2012; excerpt: "The show is set in September..."
  2. Episode 3.01 states that it is "Spring 1920"; as the previous reference says that the 2012 Christmas Special is set in September, and the title screen says "one year later" we can be reasonably certain that the Episode is set in September 1921.
  3., Doonton Abbey: TV's beloved upper class clan swap their English manor house for spectacular Scottish castle after filming Christmas Day special in the Highlands By Liz Thomas, PUBLISHED: 19:01 EST, 7 December 2012 | UPDATED: 20:06 EST, 7 December 2012
  4. RadioTimes, Downton Abbey Christmas Special - preview pictures and predictions by Ellie Walker-Arnott 12:01 AM, 08 December 2012
  5. The Scotsman, Downton heads north in reminder of Scotland’s fashionable holidaying past By STEPHEN MCGINTY, Published on Saturday 8 December 2012 00:00

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