A Moorland Holiday is the final episode of the fifth season of the joint UK-US produced period drama, Downton Abbey. This episode focused on the family's trip to the Moorlands for the grouse shoot and their annual Christmas party which sees Tom and Sybbie Branson going to America, temporarily.
This episode would introduce two very important characters in the final series. Matthew Goode would make his first appearance as Henry Talbot who would eventually marry Lady Mary Crowley; and Harry Haden-Patton would also debut as Herbert "Bertie" Pelham, the estate agent turned eventual marquess of Hexham.
September and December 1924. Lord and Lady Sinderby invite the Granthams to Brancaster Castle, the country estate they have hired for driven grouse shooting, this is the first time they see Lady Rose Aldridge and the Sinderbys since her marriage to their son, Atticus. However, Lord Sinderby's snobbish butler Stowell (Alun Armstrong) resents serving Tom (due to him being a former servant himself and was not too unusual) and ignores him. This aggravates everyone.
He is also rude to the other servants, who conspire to take revenge. When an irate Lord Sinderby insults Stowell and then Thomas at the dinner table (by calling the latter a stupid fool), Thomas learns a dangerous secret from a tipsy Stowell and arranges for his lordship's mistress and illegitimate child to arrive.
A resourceful Rose, with the aid of Robert and Mary, defuses the potentially scandalous situation, earning her father-in-law's gratitude and respect. Rose then reproofs Stowell and extracts a promise from him to treat Tom with respect. Robert states to Lord Sinderby, "She'll love you forever, if you let her. That's who she is."
Meanwhile, the other servants are busy doing a wholesale cleaning of the house, while the family is gone.
The scheming Denker looks at a pot which served Chicken Broth. She realizes that she cannot cook it. An attempt by Daisy Mason to teach her to cook it fails, so, in a kind gesture, Daisy makes a batch for her. However, the spiteful Spratt dumps it out, knowing what kind of scheming Denker is capable of. She is forced to make it herself, and it turns out horridly, but Violet lies and says that she could not do it justice.
Charles Carson and Mrs Hughes search for a house as an investment together, (taking a cue from the cook, Mrs. Beryl Patmore, who had bought herself a property in the town of Haughton-le-Skerne;) but Mrs Hughes reveals she has no money and cannot retire: she must pay for her mentally disabled younger sister Becky's care, which is why she can never retire from her job, and would have to work until her death.
Carson reveals he has bought a property in both their names. He then proposes marriage to Mrs Hughes, and she accepts.
Isobel declines Lord Merton's earlier marriage proposal, not wanting to come between him and his sons. He confronts her about a letter she had received from Larry, and that caused them to fall out. Larry had written that he was not going to change his mind about his objecting to Isobel marrying his father. He still felt that Isobel, who was nothing more than a middle-class woman, had no business being married to his father.
The sale of the Della'Francesca painting (the Sotheby's auction was attended by Robert's sister, Lady Rosamund Painswick) yields some more, much needed money for the house, and as such, Carson takes advantage of it and hires a second footman. which is good for the staff. That someone is Andy Parker, the temporary footman they had in London for Rose's wedding, much to Thomas's delight.
The Earl of Grantham learns he has a stomach ulcer (and not angina, as had been first feared). He agrees to stop drinking, and the family monitors his diet, so that he will be able to drink at the family's annual Christmas party.
Robert learns from Lady Edith that Marigold is his granddaughter and agrees to continue the charade that she has been adopted by Edith. Tom, meanwhile, guesses the truth about Marigold and agrees to keep it a secret from the oblivious Mary. He gently tells his sister in-law that in Ireland, there were many different Marigolds. In fact, he had a cousin named Nuala that had raised a daughter as her sister.
To absolve Anna, Bates writes a letter confessing to having attempted to kill Mr Green, and disappears, apparently to Ireland. Molesley and Baxter take a photo of Bates to different pubs in York, and find the one where he had lunch on the day in question, proving he was not in London when Green was killed. In the first scene, Mary goes to see Anna.
The witness who identified Anna becomes uncertain, enough for the verdict to become totally unsafe. To the joy of everyone, especially Lady Mary, she is released on bail just in time for Christmas!
The Abbey's annual Christmas party is held for the Downton household, servants and the rest of the village. It also serves as a goodbye party for Tom, who has found work as a writer in America (and also working with a cousin in Farm Machinery) and will be taking his daughter Sybbie Branson with him.
Before the party begins, Tom is looking around the nursery imprinting the picture into his mind for when he misses Downton. Edith comes in putting a stocking on Marigold's bed; Tom had done the same for Sybbie; and then Mary comes in and does the same for George.
It was then that Tom suggests thinking about Sybil (Mary and Edith's late youngest sister). Mary says a heart-felt prayer letting Sybil their wishes for the happiest of Christmases. Robert once again asks Tom if Sybbie cannot stay with them until he is settled. Tom again refuses, but he tells him that "I love how you love her (Sybbie)."
During a break in the singing, Violet confesses to Isobel that she and Prince Kuragan had attempted to run away together, but the Princess stopped her, dragging Violet out of the carriage, and had her sent back to her husband. Violet was so indebted to her for pulling her from the abyss of scandal, which explains why she was helping him find his wife.
Robert talks with Tom and tells him that he will be sorely missed. During the time, he reveals that he has really grown quite fond of him, and that Sybil would have been amazed that he had fit in so wonderfully. He then asks Sybbie what Marigold should call him. She happily suggests "Donk". Robert, bowing to family pressure, joyfully accedes to the name, "Donk", and affectionately tells Sybbie that when Marigold calls him Donk, he will remember Sybbie.
He then gives a wonderful speech hailing Tom for what he had done for Downton, he then calls for a round of applause for him. Everyone applauds, even Violet and Isobel.
At the end, while everyone was singing, John Bates, who had been in Ireland, after falsely confessing to Green's murder, came in and surprised Anna, and the two stole to the backstairs and had a tender reunion, just the two of them.
Brancaster Castle was shown for the first time here, and it would play a major role in the final series of the show's run, as the agent, Bertie, would later become the new Marquess of Hexham, and would live there, with his mother. Bertie would marry Edith in the final episode and she and Marigold would move there.