The following itinerary describes a range of castles, country houses, museums and performances which we plan to include. Many are accessible to the public, but others require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight schedules and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & evening meals indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=evening meal.
Cambridge - 4 nights
Day 1: Tuesday 5 June, London Heathrow – Cambridge
- Arrive Heathrow Airport and transfer to Cambridge
- Short Orientation Walking tour of Cambridge
- Pepys Library, Magdalene College
- Light Evening Meal at the Varsity Restaurant
Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight are scheduled to arrive into Heathrow Airport in the early morning. Upon arrival we transfer by private coach north to the university city of Cambridge. Those taking alternative flights should meet the group at the Heathrow Airport Arrivals Hall – please contact ASA to arrange a suitable meeting time.
Even before the famous university was founded, the River Cam, a strategic watercourse for communication, trade and conquest, shaped the city’s history. The Romans built a camp called Durolpons on a hill here to control both the river and the Via Devons that connected Colchester with Lincoln and other northern garrisons. When the Romans departed in 425 AD the town, like all other Roman cities in Britain, went into decline. Bede, in the late 7th century, records that monks from Ely went to the ruined settlement and found a marble coffin that they used for the burial of St. Etheldreda, foundress of their monastery. The settlement enjoyed a trickle of commerce in the Saxon period, in which the bridge over the Cam was first recorded by name, Grantebrycge. The Vikings revived Cambridge’s economic fortunes in the 9th century and the centre of town shifted from Castle Hill on the left river bank to what is now known as Quayside on the right bank. The Saxons reclaimed the city for a short time in the 11th century and built St. Benet’s church in 1025. Two years after the Battle of Hastings, in 1068, William the Conqueror built a stronghold on Castle Hill. During the Norman period, the river was called the Granta and the town became Grentabrige or Cantebrigge (Grantbridge). The city’s famous Round Church is from this period. The city was known as Cambridge before the Granta’s name changed to the Cam. Cambridge University was founded in 1209, and its oldest surviving college, Peterhouse, in 1259. King’s College Chapel was commenced in 1446 by Henry VI and finished in 1555 under Henry VIII. The well-respected Cambridge University Press was founded in 1534. The river made medieval Cambridge a centre of trade because trade routes between London, the Midlands and Europe met at the bridge over the Cam. Interestingly, in the United Kingdom a ‘city’ must have a cathedral. Although a prosperous commercial centre and despite its renowned university, Cambridge was only officially named a city in 1954, because it has no cathedral.
After settling into our hotel, the Hilton Cambridge City Centre, we will take in the atmosphere of this wonderful centre of learning with a gentle riverside stroll along the backs of the colleges to view the famous, as well as the lesser known, colleges and their gardens. We visit the Pepys Library at Magdalene, gifted by the great diarist Samuel Pepys. His eyewitness account of life in the London of Charles II includes a famous account of the Great Fire of 1666. Pepys believed the Library of an educated man need hold no more than 3000 books and once he had arrived at that number any addition meant a book had to be discarded! One book to survive his occasional culls is a manuscript translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses used by William Caxton. Our specially-arranged visit with Pepys Librarian, Dr Jane Hughes, includes an introduction to Samuel Pepys as a collector, information on the library building and furniture, and a chance to see and hear about a range of items from the collection.
In the evening we shall have a light, 2-course meal at a local restaurant. (Overnight Cambridge) D
Day 2: Wednesday 6 June, Cambridge
- Walking tour of the University of Cambridge, including King’s College, St. John’s College, Trinity College & the Wren Library
- The Fitzwilliam Museum
- Welcome Dinner at the Oak Bistro
Cambridge and its university are inseparable and our walking tour will reveal how the ‘town and gown’ have co-existed since the 13th century. College quadrangles, chapels and halls dominate the city centre around the market square, constituting a treasure trove of architectural styles. This morning a local guide will give us a tour of the various colleges of this lovely university town. We shall conclude our tour at the library at Trinity College which was started by Sir Christopher Wren. In this superb building is a statue of Byron (who broke every rule in the college books when he was a student there) and manuscripts by Milton, Tennyson and Thackeray.
In the heart of Cambridge we will visit the Fitzwilliam Museum to explore the collections of art and antiquities of Greece, Rome, Egypt, Near and Far East, all bequeathed by Viscount Fitzwilliam. The museum was established in 1816. Of special interest is the Fitzwilliam’s extensive collection of applied arts of all periods, most notably, ceramics and armour.
This evening we shall meet up again for our Welcome Dinner at Cambridge’s Oak Bistro. (Overnight Cambridge) BD
Day 3: Thursday 7 June, Cambridge – Grantchester – Cambridge
- Kettle’s Yard (subject to reopening in 2018)
- Grantchester through the eyes of Rupert Brooke
- Orchard Tea Garden
- Punt from Grantchester back to Cambridge
Today we visit Kettle’s Yard, a most unusual collection created by Jim Ede, once a curator at the Tate Gallery. This is more than just an art collection. The building and the way in which the artworks and other objects are displayed are unique. In many ways Kettle’s Yard retains the characteristics of a real home where you we can sit in the chairs and read the books. Key 20th-century artists represented here include Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis and David Jones, with sculptures by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Brancusi, Joan Miró and Gaudier-Brzeska. Ede, who lived here with his wife Helen for sixteen years, set out to engage students with: “a living place where works of art could be enjoyed …where people could be unhampered by the great austerity of the museum or public art gallery”.
Next, we board our coach and drive to Grantchester for lunch. After lunchtime at leisure we will take a literary walk focused on Rupert Brooke, a quintessentially English poet, who died from an infected lip on the Gallipoli campaign during WWI and is buried on the island of Scyros in the Mediterranean. Brooke’s famous poem, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, speaks of the town and asks:
“Stands the clock at ten to three
And is there honey still for tea?“
We will indeed take tea in the Orchard Tea Garden and explore the significance of the poet’s lines and the world of which he speaks. To complete our classic Cambridge summer’s day we will board punts to be conveyed back to Cambridge in true undergraduate style under the care of Scudamore’s Punting Company. (Overnight Cambridge) B
Day 4: Friday 8 June, Cambridge – Wicken Fen – Ely – Anglesey Abbey – Cambridge
- Guided walking tour of Wicken Fen
- Ely Cathedral
- Anglesey Abbey, Gardens & House
This morning we begin to explore the country of Hereward the Wake, the Saxon champion who successfully resisted the Norman armies in the marshland terrain around Ely. The Fens isolated this region until they were drained and tamed by Dutch engineers in the 17th century. Wicken Fen is the last remnant of the Fens of East Anglia, which at their greatest extent covered 2500 square miles. This reserve comprising six hundred acres is an artificially preserved wetland, managed by the National Trust since 1899. Our guided tour of Wicken Fen will reveal much of the natural and cultural history of this rich area and the technologies that have sustained it. It is particularly beautiful in June because of the large number of wildflowers that bloom at this time.
We next visit the Isle of Ely where St. Etheldreda, Queen of Northumbria, founded an abbey in 673 AD. Abbot Simon, who owed his appointment to William the Conqueror, begun construction of the great Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity here in 1081. Ely Cathedral rose like a giant ship in the middle of the dense marshes of the Fenlands and attracted many pilgrims who came to visit Etheldreda’s tomb. Our tour of the cathedral will take in the west front with its impressive Galilee porch, the great nave and the octagonal crossing with its distinctive lantern, the work of Alan of Walsingham and William Hurley dating from 1340. We shall also visit the Lady Chapel and enjoy the architectural delights of Cathedral Close and the surrounding town, where Oliver Cromwell was born.
We complete the day by travelling to Anglesey Abbey. The chief glory of this 12th-century converted priory is its gardens and grounds. This important National Trust property is grand in scale but its spacious lawns, pools, flowers, shrubs and statuary are all brought together in a scheme that unites formality with charm. We will also explore the interior of the house in which Lord Fairhaven, son of an American Railway magnate, used great ingenuity in displaying his collections. His eclectic taste in art ranged from paintings by Antonio Canova and Claude Lorraine to those of John Constable. (Overnight Cambridge) B
King's Lynn - 5 nights
Day 5: Saturday 9 June, Cambridge – Hemingford Grey – Wisbech – King’s Lynn
- The Manor, Hemingford Grey
- Peckover House, Wisbech
On this, our last day in Cambridgeshire, we visit an astonishing house, not so much for its acknowledged beauty but for its great age, extraordinary atmosphere, and important literary associations. The Manor at Hemingford Grey is one of the oldest continuously lived-in houses in England, or even Europe, for it is built around a 12th-century Norman hall. It has several original windows, a doorway and an extremely rare surviving Norman fireplace. It is also, however, a shrine to Lucy Boston, who grew up in it, and wrote about it in Green Knowe and Memory in a House. Her son Peter, who illustrated her books, depicted many of the objects in the house and the garden. The attic, for example, contains toys used by the fictional children, so you will have the feeling of walking into the literary world Lucy Boston created.
The house has a moat and beyond is a four-acre garden that borders the Great Ouse river and is famous for its collection of over two hundred old roses. It also features fascinating topiary, and an important collection of irises, many of which have won the prestigious Dykes medal. One of the special characteristics of the garden is the element of surprise it creates by use of hidden corners that one comes upon unexpectedly.
After lunch we drive a short distance through this rich fruit and flower growing area to Wisbech, a thriving river port that was once a centre of the English wool trade. Strong Dutch trade connections are reflected in the styles of gables displayed by the houses along the North Brink, the fashionable bank of the River Nene. Here, among the dignified mansions, we visit one of the town’s finest Georgian town houses. It belonged to the Peckovers, a wealthy merchant family, having been purchased by John Peckover in 1794. Its interior presents a familiar Georgian ordered restraint with one delicious surprise – Rococo plasterwork that delights with its ornament and vivid decoration. Steps lead down to an extensive garden that we will take time to explore. From the garden you can look back at the house’s three storeys of brick symmetry. After visiting this lovely house we drive on to King’s Lynn and settle into our hotel, where dinner is ordered. (Overnight King’s Lynn) BD
Day 6: Sunday 10 June, King’s Lynn – Castle Rising – Sandringham Estate – Houghton Hall – King’s Lynn
- Castle Rising
- Sandringham Estate
- Houghton Hall and Walled Gardens
Castle Rising is now a small, interesting inland village but was once a seaport. When the sea receded Kings Lynn supplanted it as the main port in the region. It is, however, the location of one of the grandest surviving Norman castles anywhere and we shall visit this as part of a day dedicated thematically to the dwellings of royalty and aristocrats. Although much is lost, its original scale can be gauged from the huge earth works. The keep (c.1140), one of the largest and most ornate in England, remains to tell the story of its builder William d’Albini who married Henry I’s widow and became the Earl of Sussex. To the east of the keep, a small square gatehouse is set in the bank near a fragment of the castle’s 14th-century brick curtain wall. A rectangular enclosure, strongly banked and ditched, guards the gatehouse and to the west there is a smaller flanking enclosure. Also in the inner enclosure are the foundations of an 11th-century Norman chapel that is thought to be older than the castle itself. The remains of this chapel were uncovered in the 19th century. The castle passed to the Howard family in 1544 and it remains in their hands today, the current owner being a descendant of William d’Albini II.
From the battlements of Castle Rising we will be able to look out across the lands of the Royal estates of Sandringham, to a living monarch’s favourite home. Queen Victoria purchased Sandringham for Edward VII in 1861. The prince, who had just married Alexandra, wanted a secluded place for his projected family, where they could enjoy country pursuits. Sandringham has been a favourite of four generations of the Royal family who continue to use it as a retreat whilst farming its land. The gardens and parklands of Sandringham are extensive. The house itself is large but not at all grand or pretentious. We shall visit the gardens and the house, exploring the rooms used by the Windsor family and their guests, especially at Christmas.
We depart from Sandringham, driving along the narrow country roads of the estate lined with huge drifts of rhododendrons that flourish here, to another of Norfolk’s palaces. Houghton Hall was designed by Colen Campbell and completed in 1735 for Sir Robert Walpole, England’s first Prime Minister. It is one of the country’s great houses and everything about it is of the best quality. Only Holkham, which we visit later in the tour, rivals its Palladian grandeur. The interiors were entrusted to William Kent and their decorative style is matched by the house’s collection of art that adorns the staterooms. There are still wonderful pictures here, although all too many of them were sold to Catherine the Great of Russia to pay the debts of Walpole’s eccentric grandson. Room after room is filled with furniture that Kent designed for the house; the Green Velvet Bedchamber possesses the most sumptuous state bed in the country. We will also walk through the park and explore the walled garden. (Overnight King’s Lynn) B
Day 7: Monday 11 June, King’s Lynn – Oxburgh Hall – King’s Lynn
- Guided walking tour of King’s Lynn: including the St. George’s Guildhall, Docklands area & Custom House
- Oxburgh Hall, Garden & Estate
We begin today by meeting a local historian and ex-mayor of King’s Lynn, Dr Paul Richards, who will give us a rather different perspective on life in King’s Lynn, which has a character all its own. This ancient town was one of the most important seaports during the Middle Ages. The maze of streets and lanes, many of which retain their original character, wraps around the quay. It includes Hanseatic warehouses, which reflect stylistically the influence of the Dutch and Lowland States that traded here. The Hanseatic League developed as an important free association of trading cities around the Baltic and North Sea coasts. It was dedicated to protecting members’ shipping from pirates and guarding members’ privileges and interests. Although not a political entity in its own right, the League often defended its interests successfully against monarchs. Some other Hanseatic cities were Lübeck, Hamburg, Bruges, Bergen and Novgorod. We will begin the day by visiting St. George’s Guildhall, which was built in the 15th century. It was converted to a theatre where Shakespeare is said to have performed. Our guided walking tour will take us through the streets of King’s Lynn to reveal its buildings, people and their stories.
Our afternoon visit is to a most remarkable house and garden. Edmund Bedingfield built Oxburgh Hall in 1482, when the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of the Roses were over and England was entering a period of relative tranquillity, so that it was no longer necessary for residences to be fortified. Although this house did not function in the same way as a castle, its owners had to negotiate the tortuous politics of the Tudor court, and it therefore incorporates symbolic elements of marshall architecture. Oxburgh looks quite tremendous as we approach its twin-towered Gatehouse and seven storeys of brick walls rising to battlements. A moat surrounds this most dramatic manor house. The associated walled garden, on the other hand, is delightful, with a parterre, long herbaceous borders, and a 19th-century kitchen garden. (Overnight King’s Lynn) B
Day 8: Tuesday 12 June, King’s Lynn – Castle Acre – Felbrigg Hall – King’s Lynn
- Castle Acre Priory & Herb Garden
- Felbrigg Hall, Garden & Park
Aptly named, Castle Acre village lies within the outer bailey of an 11th-century castle built by William de Warenne, son-in-law of William the Conqueror, of which only earthworks remain. More impressive is the ruin of the Cluniac priory (founded 1090) that we have come to visit. The Cluniac love of decoration is everywhere reflected in the extensive ruins of Castle Acre Priory, whose great 12th-century church directly imitated that of the vast Burgundian mother-house, Cluny. Its beautiful west end, standing almost to its full height, is articulated and enlivened by tiered ranks of intersecting round arches. This forms an attractive group with the late medieval porch, part timber-frame and part flint-chequer, and the extremely well preserved prior’s lodging. A mansion in itself, this includes a first-floor chapel that retains traces of wall paintings, and a private chamber with two fine oriel windows. The original size of the abbey can be gauged from its remaining walls. Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, which brought about its destruction; the Roman Church was a major landowner, holding a third of the country’s land, roughly the same acreage as the king and his aristocracy, and until Henry’s reign it answered only to the popes. We will walk in the beautifully recreated medieval herb garden, which displays medicinal, culinary and decorative plants used by the religious communities living in these great monasteries, centres of learning and healing, that were scattered throughout East Anglia. Lunchtime at leisure will be in the village.
Felbrigg Hall is set on a ridge in lush parkland planted with oak, beech and chestnut. It has a wonderful walled garden, an orangery dating from 1704, and an orchard with rare old varieties such as Norfolk Beefing and Wyken Pippin. This 17th-century house belonged to Squire Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, and both he and the house are of substantial character. Although it dates back to the 1400s, it is a place in which to experience 17th-century life and culture. Fine architecture and a consummate choice of materials were brought together in a building program that lasted a hundred years and beyond. The Windham family, who owned Felbrigg for generations, bequeathed a set of pictures acquired by William Windham on his ‘Grand Tour’, and there is much else in the interior to interest us, such as the library and wood carving by Grinling Gibbons and Nollekens. (Overnight King’s Lynn) B
Day 9: Wednesday 13 June, King’s Lynn – Sheringham Park – Holkham Hall – King’s Lynn
- Sheringham Park
- Holkham Hall & Estate
Today we set off for the north coast of Norfolk to encounter two supreme moments in architectural, landscape and naval history. The first of our coastal experiences for the day comes at Sheringham Park – a masterwork of Norfolk landscaper Humphry Repton. As you walk along the snaking drive you suddenly come upon a prospect to the coast and house. This panorama is breathtaking and together with its plantings of trees and rhododendrons amounts to a quite remarkable landscape.
We drive through north Norfolk byways, threading along picturesque roads to Holkham Hall, the Palladian masterpiece that was essentially designed by Thomas Coke, with advice from William Kent, whom he had met, along with Lord Burlington, in Rome during a six-year ‘Grand Tour.’ The estate, which is a huge working farm, is still owned by his descendents, who combine agriculture with an innovative approach to conservation. Houghton Hall and Holkham have always rivalled each other, as have other pairs of English stately homes. These two Palladian houses embody the great building boom of the 18th century. Thomas Coke, first Earl of Leicester (1697-1759), was consumed by the construction of Holkham. The restoration of the family’s fortunes and completion of the house, however, fell to the second Earl. Both men had numerous talents. They were innovative farmers, reformers and progressive thinkers (they were Whigs, whereas the Walpoles of Houghton were Tories). ‘Earls of Creation’ was scholar and writer James Lees Milne’s particularly apposite title for such men. We enter a landscape in which most aspects of the vast deer park (with a herd of Fallow Deer) are dominated by the great house, and everywhere vistas lead your eye to some delight: a temple, an arch, an obelisk or a serpentine lake. In 1762 Capability Brown was commissioned to make adjustments to the grounds, but these were minor. The park wall and shelterbelt were 19th-century additions, as were the formal Victorian parterres beside the house, designed by W.A. Nesfield in 1854. The breathtaking but tasteful boldness of the park is matched by the drama of the house’s interior. The family collection of old masters epitomises the taste of an 18th-century nobleman. A visit will be a rich visual feast with few equals elsewhere within England. (Overnight King’s Lynn) BL
Norwich - 5 nights
Day 10: Thursday 14 June, King’s Lynn – Cley-next-the-Sea – Wells-next-the-Sea – Walsingham – Norwich
- Wells & Walsingham Light Railway
- Guided tour of Walsingham Abbey & Village
- Dinner at Roger Hickman’s Restaurant
This morning we take a short coach tour of the picturesque coastline of Cley-next-the-Sea. We then drive to the tiny fishing port of Wells-next-the-Sea whose charming quay is a mile from coast at high tide. Next we embark on a pilgrimage to Walsingham Abbey, the great medieval Shrine of Our Lady. Our journey will be by a reconstructed train of the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway. A reconstruction of a historic narrow-gauge tank engine will pull our 19th-century carriages gently through the chalk and flinty downs to the market town of Little Walsingham, first settled in 1061. Our tour will take in the history of this place of pilgrimage, including the Abbey grounds, priory, Georgian courthouse and prison from which some inmates were sent to Australia!
We then continue to Norwich. After checking in to our hotel we shall go Roger Hickman’s Restaurant for dinner. (Overnight Norwich) BD
Day 11: Friday 15 June, Norwich – Mannington – Blickling Hall – Norwich
- Mannington Hall & Gardens
- Blickling Hall & Gardens
This is a day devoted to visiting grand country houses with gardens to match. We commence with the garden surrounding the 15th-century Mannington Hall, a three-storey moated manor house constructed in local flint stone, owned by the Walpole family since 1740. June is Mannington’s ‘Month of Roses’ and roses feature throughout, especially in the Heritage Rose Garden, whose important collection of historic species reflects changing tastes in gardens and roses. There are lakes, follies and woodland walks to explore and morning tea in the ‘Rose Teahouse’.
Travelling on through the quiet roads of central Norfolk, we come to Blickling Hall, which is flanked by massive trimmed yew hedges. The house is a Jacobean masterpiece in red brick. Here we shall take a tour of the grounds that include glorious formal gardens with parterres, a fountain and extraordinary topiary. Beyond is a park with a lake and a summerhouse that takes the form of a Tuscan temple. The park offers fine vistas through its magnificent stands of trees. The current house, which we shall explore at the end of the afternoon, was built in 1620 by Sir Henry Hobart; the Hobarts later became Earls of Buckingham. Blickling, however, has a longer history. A precursor of the present house was owned by Geoffrey Boleyn, grandfather of Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded by order of her husband Henry VIII; local legend has it that on the anniversary of her execution her ghost rides up to the hall in a carriage drawn by headless horses guided by a headless coachman! (Overnight Norwich) B
Day 12: Saturday 16 June, Norwich
- Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
- Norwich Cathedral
“The finest provincial city in England,” declared John Julius Norwich, leading British architectural historian and writer. The unique city of Norwich lies on two rivers, and has kept its labyrinthine medieval plan, encompassing thirty-two medieval churches and a dazzling colourful market. Norwich gave its name to a famous school of painters, and the city has six museums, including the only ‘museum of mustard’ in the country! Norwich is, moreover, one of the best-preserved cities in Britain. Fortified by the Saxons in the 9th century, it became a prosperous market town when Flemish settlers came here in the 12th century, and was the second most important city of England until the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.
We begin our day at the Norwich Museum and Gallery, which is housed in a dramatic location, the keep of a Norman castle (1160) occupying a high mound in the very heart of the city. In the Gallery we will be introduced to work of the Norwich School of watercolour artists, including John Sell Cotman, the Chromes, John Thirtle and George Vincent, who portrayed life in Norwich itself and in the surrounding countryside in the first half of the 19th century.
After lunchtime at leisure we shall have a guided tour of Norwich Cathedral, one of the most beautiful cathedrals of England, which was begun in the 11th century. This masterpiece in the Romanesque and late Gothic style has a dramatic stone spire, the second tallest in England after Salisbury. It also has many treasures such as the largest number of fine roof bosses anywhere in Christendom. At the end of the afternoon you will be given time to explore the quaint shops in the medieval streets of Elm Hill and Tombland, the old Saxon marketplace. (Overnight Norwich) B
Day 13: Sunday 17 June, Norwich – Lowestoft – Norwich
- Somerleyton Hall & Gardens, Lowestoft
Today we are off to the Suffolk coast for a visit to a working country estate near Lowestoft that has an Australian garden connection. Somerleyton Hall was originally a Jacobean manor but was remodelled in 1844 when it was transformed into a fine early Victorian hall in the Anglo-Italian style. The Crossley family who made these changes still resides here, operate its farm, and presents the history of the site with flourish, as you will see! W.A. Nesfield, the formal revivalist landscaper, remodelled the garden in the Victorian period. He laid out the great parterre and the balustraded terraces in the 1840s. The vast yew hedge maze also dates from this time, as do the walled garden and the fully functioning Victorian vegetable garden. George Brunning and his brother Charles, who migrated to Melbourne in 1853 where they set up and operated Brunnings Nurseries, both trained and worked as gardeners at Somerleyton Hall. Those who have a copy of the Australian Gardener published by Brunnings will know the impact this family has had on the Australian nursery trade and practical gardening. At Somerleyton we shall see where they learnt their trade. On arrival we will tour the house, then take lunch at the tearooms, after which one of the horticultural staff will take us on a garden tour. (Overnight Norwich) B
Day 14: Monday 18 June, Norwich – East Ruston – Wroxham – Norwich
- East Ruston Old Vicarage Gardens
- Boat Cruise of The Broads, Wroxham
Today we visit a garden created by two men over the past twenty-five years, begun after they acquired a run down Edwardian Vicarage with no garden. Today it features in 1001 Gardens to see before you die. Situated two kilometres from the sea, it has an absorbing, exotic atmosphere and features a series of gardens, including a Sunken Garden, Dutch Garden, Tropical Border, Mediterranean Garden and Walled Garden. Alan Gray and Graham Robeson created these gardens and Alan will guide us through them. They are a plants person’s paradise! A morning tea and delicious lunch will be included in this inimitable garden experience.
We then drive to Wroxham, where we board our boat to cruise the Broads and experience first hand the setting of Arthur Ransome’s children’s adventure stories Swallows and Amazons. We sail along the river Bure and into the network of lakes known as the Norfolk Broads. The Broads were regarded as natural elements until the 1960s when Dr Joyce Lambert proved that they were, in fact, artificial, having emerged through the flooding of early peat excavations. The Romans first exploited the rich peat beds of the area for fuel, and in the Middle Ages the local monasteries began to excavate the ‘turbaries’ (peat diggings) as a business, selling fuel to Norwich and Great Yarmouth. When sea levels rose the pits began to flood. Despite the construction of windpumps and dykes, the flooding continued and resulted in the today’s typical Broads, with their reed beds, grazing marshes and wet woodland. (Overnight Norwich) BL
Bury St Edmunds - 6 nights
Day 15: Tuesday 19 June, Norwich – Otley Hall – Bury St Edmunds
- Otley Hall and Gardens
- Walking tour of Bury St Edmunds, including St. Edmundbury Cathedral & Abbey Garden
- Tour & Evening Performance at the Theatre Royal (subject to performance schedules)
Today, after a short coach drive, we arrive at Otley Hall, a stunningly beautiful 16th-century house surrounded by a moat. This family home is set in ten acres of gardens in the tranquil Suffolk countryside near Ipswich. The house is recognised as one of the most perfect examples of unspoiled late medieval architecture in England. Unequalled in Suffolk are the Great Hall and Linenfold Parlour, both of which look out onto a rose garden. Our guide will show us a wealth of notable features, including a cross or screens passage, richly carved beams, superb Linenfold panelling, and 16th-century wall paintings celebrating the marriage of Robert Gosnold III to Ursula Naunton (1559). The building’s profile is inflected with lofty chimneys, and especially noteworthy are the herringbone brickwork and vineleaf pargetting.
Our guided tour continues into Otley Hall gardens that were placed sixth in a poll recently undertaken by The Independent of the ‘Top 50 Best British Gardens to Visit’. The garden came second in the ‘gardens with significant architecture’ category. In addition, there are historically accurate recreations here, designed by Sylvia Landsberg, author of The Medieval Garden. These include an orchard, a herb, and a knot garden. The ten acres of gardens at Otley Hall provide a feast for the senses with their exquisite blend of wild and cultivated terrain. Francis Inigo Thomas (1866-1950), for example, contributed interesting elements including an H-canal, nutteries, a croquet lawn, rose garden and a moat walk. Conservation is an important part of the gardeners’ program here. They have encouraged growth of wild flowers and hedges, and have taken particular care to preserve the habitats of native wildlife. We shall be treated here to a ploughman’s lunch.
After lunch we drive on to Bury St Edmunds where we will take a tour of the city that is rich in archaeological and historic treasures. Here in the 9th century St. Edmund became the last king of East Anglia. The Danes murdered him because of his Christian faith, and after his burial the town became a place of pilgrimage. For many years St. Edmund was the patron saint of England. We shall see the ruins of the great abbey built in his honour. It was here in 1214 that the Archbishop of Canterbury met with the Barons of England who swore that they would force King John to honour the dictates of the Magna Carta. The Abbey Gardens include an Old English rose garden, a water garden and a garden for the blind, where fragrance takes the place of sight.
If time permits, we shall visit Moyse’s Hall. Built around 1180, it houses a collection of artefacts from the Bronze Age, as well as Roman pottery and Anglo-Saxon jewellery.
We take a tour of the Theatre Royal, focusing on the early history and architecture of the Theatre Royal and on the provincial circuit theatre in East Anglia in the late eighteenth and early 19th century. The Theatre Royal was designed and built in 1819 by William Wilkins (1778-1839) who also designed the National Gallery, London. With many of its original features still intact, it is the best example of a Regency playhouse in the United Kingdom and one of the most beautiful, intimate and historic theatres in the world. Although the playhouse was only originally used for short seasons before it fell into decay, it was still able to boast the world premier of ‘Charlie’s Aunt’. Now beautifully restored, the theatre has initiated a special project to present often forgotten plays of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. We explore the whole building; auditorium, stage, and backstage. After time at leisure for dinner we shall attend a musical performance at the Theatre Royal (subject to performance schedules). (Overnight Bury St Edmunds) BL
Day 16: Wednesday 20 June, Bury St Edmunds – Framlingham Castle – Stowmarket – Sudbury – Bury St Edmunds
- Framlingham Castle
- Helmingham Hall Gardens, Stowmarket
- ‘Chestnuts’ private garden
Framlingham Castle, in Suffolk, is one of the most important and beautiful medieval castles in the British Isles. Bigod, second Earl of Norfolk, built it in about 1190 on the site of an earlier timber castle. Mary Tudor was one of its occupants. In the summer of 1553, with a large encampment of followers, she waited here for the results of the succession following the death of her brother, Edward VI. We shall visit the castle, climb onto its curtain wall, and walk along the ramparts through the thirteen towers that form its formidable defenses. The walls of the castle offer commanding views of the surrounding Suffolk countryside. We shall then have some time for lunch at leisure and take a quick look round the small market town of Framlingham.
We shall then drive for about thirty minutes along Suffolk roads to Helmingham Hall Gardens. It is hard to exaggerate the effect this beautiful park, with its red deer, and the spectacular moated hall constructed in mellow patterned red brick with its famous gardens, will have on you. The whole combines to give an extraordinary impression of beauty and tranquility. A classic parterre flanked by hybrid musk roses lies before a stunning walled kitchen garden with exquisite herbaceous borders and beds of vegetables interspersed by tunnels of sweet peas, runner beans and gourds. On the other side lies a herb and a knot garden behind which is a rose garden of unsurpassable beauty. The subtle colour combinations in all these are in immaculate taste. The influence of the well-known garden designer Xa Tollemache, is clearly visible; the parterre was redesigned in 1987 and the new rose garden to east of the coach house was created in 1982, together with the knot and herb garden. We may need a cup of tea in the Coach House to restore our equilibrium.
To complete the day we travel for a short distance to a small private garden, ‘Chestnuts’. The garden is very restful, with places to sit and relax and bring our day to a gentle moment of repose, before returning to our hotel in Bury St Edmunds. (Overnight Bury St Edmunds) B
Day 17: Thursday 21 June, Bury St Edmunds – Lavenham – Bury St Edmunds
- Guided tour of Lavenham, including the Guildhall of Corpus Christi
- Afternoon at leisure in Bury St Edmunds
This morning we visit the village of Lavenham, once a vibrant, prosperous Suffolk wool town. The legacy of its past wealth is reflected in the buildings that have survived. We shall visit the Guildhall of Corpus Christi, one of the finest surviving timer-framed buildings in Britain. The Guildhall was the economic hub of what was once the fourteenth richest town in England. Built around 1530, it was one of the last buildings to be erected before the cloth industry collapsed. Fascinating exhibitions here give you insights into local history and traditional farming practices, as well as the area’s medieval cloth industry. An interesting walled garden grows plants that produce traditional dye colours, which are bright even by today’s standards. Our guided walk around the village where so many Tudor timber framed buildings have miraculously survived will take in the vast parish church of St. Peter & St. Paul. Clothiers built this great church to celebrate the end of the Wars of the Roses in 1485. Quaint streets will lead us into enchanting medieval prospects, including the market place, the Old Wool Hall, Tudor shops and Woolstaplers. In the afternoon we return to Bury St Edmunds for time at leisure. (Overnight Bury St Edmunds) B
Day 18: Friday 22 June, Bury St Edmunds – Elmstead Market – Long Melford – Bury St Edmunds
- The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market
- Long Melford
- Melford Hall (optional visit)
Beth Chatto has become one of the great gardening writers of our time and enjoys an international reputation after winning ten gold medals at Chelsea Flower Show. She and her husband began establishing gardens at Elmstead Market in Essex during 1960 when the site was an overgrown wasteland between two farms. Faced with all kinds of difficult conditions Beth and Andrew Chatto set out to find homes for many of the plants they wished to grow. With dry and damp soil in both sun and shade, they were able to put into practice the underlying principles of what is now referred to as ‘ecological gardening’. We have booked a one-hour guided tour but also have reserved an hour of leisure time so you can wander and explore. Adjoining the gardens is the nursery providing those keen gardeners among us with the opportunity to check out plants that they might have seen growing in the gardens. There are over two thousand different types of plants, predominately herbaceous perennials, bulbs and a selection of shrubs and climbers. Although purchasing plants is not practical, we can talk to the knowledgeable nursery staff about their growing conditions and care. We will be at leisure to take lunch at the ‘Nursery Tearoom’.
To complete our day we travel to the charming village of Long Melford, where we will visit the fine church. From the village we will spy a dramatic skyline of tall chimneystacks and fanciful octagonal turrets belonging to Melford Hall (visit optional), one of the finest and most satisfying Elizabethan houses in the East of England. It stands beside the River Chad, at the northern end of a village noted for its wide village green that leads up to a great perpendicular style church. Melford Hall is a mellow red brick house largely of the 16th century. It incorporates part of a medieval building held by the Abbots of Bury St Edmunds. They had used it as a place for pleasure and relaxation from before 1065 until 1539. Melford Hall’s subsequent owner, Sir William Cordell, was a ‘new man’ of his time, and one of the most hospitable country gentlemen in Suffolk. He entertained Queen Elizabeth I at Melford Hall in 1578. (Overnight Bury St Edmunds) B
Day 19: Saturday 23 June, Bury St Edmunds – Ipswich – Flatford – East Bergholt – Dedham – Bury St Edmunds
- Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich
- Guided walk of Flatford (1½ hrs)
- Constable Country Walk from Flatford to East Bergholt (1½ hrs)
- Afternoon tea at the 16th-century ‘Essex Rose Tea Room’, Dedham
Today we make a short journey to the county town of Ipswich. You will discover something of Ipswich’s past when we visit the beautiful Christchurch Mansion. Our main purpose in coming here, however, is to see the biggest collection of paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable outside of London, along with collections of other artists inspired by the beautiful landscapes of East Anglia. There are also period rooms such as the sumptuous Georgian Saloon and the humbler Victorian wing with its displays of children’s toys and dolls houses.
We travel a little way to eat lunch at the tearoom in Flatford, site of the famous Flatford Mill, before our Constable Country Walk. John Constable (1776-1837) was born in Suffolk and is known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home, which he invested with an intensity of affection. “I should paint my own places best”, he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, “painting is but another word for feeling”. His most famous paintings include Dedham Vale (1802) and The Hay Wain (1821) the colourism and open brush stroke of which, when the painting was exhibited in Paris, were to have a revolutionary influence upon French artists such as Delacroix. Although his paintings are now among the most popular and valuable British paintings, he was never financially successful and did not become a member of the establishment until he was elected to the Royal Academy at the age of fifty-two. He sold more paintings in France than in England. Constable rebelled against the demand that artists compose from the imagination rather than depict nature with immediacy. He told Leslie, “When I sit down to make a sketch from nature, the first thing I try to do is to forget that I have ever seen a picture”. We begin our tour of Flatford from Bridge Cottage, before exploring the rest of this delightful town. The second leg of this walk takes us outside the village itself, as we make our way through the countryside to East Bergholt. Our tour of painting sites immediately around Flatford will include scenes made famous in The Hay Wain, Boatbuilding and Flatford Mill. Our guide will be armed with reproductions of the paintings, so you can make comparisons with the scenes today (remarkably similar). We have time for tea at the ‘Essex Rose Tearoom’ in Dedham before we return to our hotel at Bury St Edmunds. (Overnight Bury St Edmunds) BL
Day 20: Sunday 24 June, Bury St Edmunds – Saffron Walden – Audley End – Bury St Edmunds
- Market town of Saffron Walden
- Audley End House and Gardens
- Farewell Dinner
Today we venture into the county of Essex and begin by exploring the enigmatic sounding town of Saffron Waldon. In the medieval period Saffron Walden was primarily concerned with the wool trade. In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) came to be grown throughout the area. The precious saffron extracted from the flower’s stigmas was used in a variety of ways – in medicines, as a condiment, as a perfume, as an aphrodisiac, and as an expensive yellow dye. The town, originally known as Chipping Walden, thus took the name Saffron Walden. By the end of the 18th century brewing had replaced saffron as the main crop in the district; local malt and barley supplied more than thirty maltings and breweries here by the 1830s.
Our other purpose for travelling into Essex is to visit one of the great country house that monarchs and aristocrats alike have used for over four hundred years as a symbol of their wealth, status and power, as well as for their pleasure. This is Audley End, a fitting climax to our tour. Henry VIII gave Walden Abbey to Sir Thomas Audley, who transformed it into his mansion, Audley End. His grandson Thomas, first Earl of Suffolk, rebuilt this mansion between 1603 and 1614. The new Audley End was truly palatial in scale, but Suffolk fell from power after 1618. Charles II bought the house in 1668 and used it as a base for attending the Newmarket races. By the 1680s, Sir Christopher Wren was warning of the need for major repairs. The cost of these caused William III to return Audley End to the Suffolk family. When the Suffolk line died out in 1745, the Countess of Portsmouth bought the house for her nephew and heir, Sir John Griffin Whitwell, the fourth Baron Howard de Walden and first Baron Braybrooke.
Today, the house’s interior largely reflects the tastes of the third Baron Braybrooke, who inherited it in 1825. He installed his extensive picture collection here and filled the rooms with rich furnishings. The fourth Baron Braybrooke’s natural history collection also remains an appealing feature of the house. After nearly thirty years in store, a rare set of English tapestries by the Soho weaver Paul Saunders has been conserved and displayed in the Tapestry Room. They depict figures in a landscape with ruined buildings and were originally supplied to Audley End in 1767.
Audley’s park and the fine Victorian gardens are just as glorious as its interiors. An artificial lake, created with water from the River Cam, runs through delightful 18th century parkland. The Classical Temple of Concorde, built in 1790 in honour of George III, and the restored 19th century formal parterre garden, dominate views from the back of the house. We will see Robert Adam’s ornamental garden buildings, and the Elysian Garden cascade. If all this sumptuous living is too rich for you then a sobering visit to the historic kitchen and dry laundry might be to your taste. You will have time to lunch here in the Tea Room located in the Servants Hall. After lunch we shall visit the thriving organic walled 19th-century kitchen garden, with its box-edged paths, trained fruit and fifty-two metre long vine house – still as it was in its Victorian heyday. We then make our way back to our hotel at Bury St Edmunds for our farewell dinner. (Overnight Bury St Edmunds) BD
Day 21: Monday 25 June, Bury St Edmunds – Heathrow Airport
- Morning at leisure
- Departure transfer to Heathrow Airport
Today you may have a morning to read the papers or take a leisurely stroll around town, now that the tour program has come to an end. The coach will depart from our hotel around midday for those who wish to travel to London’s Heathrow Airport for flight connections. B