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.
York, Yorkshire - 6 nights
Day 1: Tuesday 6 June, Manchester Airport – Adel – York
- Arrive Manchester Airport and transfer to Leeds
- York Gate: Guided tour of gardens and afternoon tea
- Light (2-course) evening meal
Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight are scheduled to arrive into Manchester Airport around midday. Upon arrival we transfer by private coach to York, where we spend the next six nights. Those taking alternative flights should meet the group at the Manchester Airport Arrivals Hall – please contact ASA to arrange a suitable meeting time.
En route to York we visit the highly innovative ‘paradise’ garden of York Gate, a one-acre garden tucked away behind the ancient church in Adel, on the northern outskirts of Leeds. Created by the Spencer family during the second half of the 20th century, and in 1994 bequeathed to Perennial, the Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society (founded 1839), it is a garden of extraordinary style and craftsmanship, widely recognised as one of the most innovative small gardens of the period. The garden is divided by yew and beech hedges into a series of smaller gardens, each with its own theme and style. From the formality of the herb garden with its topiary, to the dell with its half-hidden pathways and stream, every area has an intimacy and charm of its own. Traditional materials are used with creativity and invention. From pretty paths to pergolas, detailing throughout is exquisite. Evergreens, clipped into strong architectural shapes, are used to spectacular effect throughout the garden.
Tonight we enjoy a light (2-course) evening meal at our hotel. (Overnight York) D
Day 2: Wednesday 7 June, York – Harewood – Harrogate – York
- Harewood House: Private tour, Thomas Chippendale and the Watercolours Collection
- Spa Town of Harrogate
- Evening Welcome Reception at Fairfax House (Exclusive private visit)
This morning we travel through West Yorkshire to Harewood House. There we embark on a private tour of one of England’s greatest country houses, boasting architecture by John Carr (1772) and Charles Barry (1843), magnificent interiors by Adam, furniture by Thomas Chippendale, and a park designed by ‘Capability’ Brown. A particular focus of our tour will be the highly regarded watercolour painting collection.
We next visit the old spa town of Harrogate. Prior to the discovery of its iron- and sulphur-rich waters, Harrogate comprised two minor villages (High Harrogate and Low Harrogate), situated close to the historic town of Knaresborough. Harrogate’s first mineral spring was discovered in 1571 by William Slingsby, who found that water from the Tewitt Well possessed similar properties to that of the springs of the Belgian town of Spa (which gave its name to spa towns). The medicinal properties of Harrogate’s waters were widely publicised by one Edmund Deane, whose book Spadacrene Anglica, or The English Spa Fountain, was published in 1626 and Harrogate consequently developed considerable fame as a spa town.
This evening we walk from our hotel to Fairfax House, one of the finest Georgian houses in England. Here we enjoy the ambience of the house with beverages and canapés in a private reception, then take an exclusive tour of the house. (Overnight York) B
Day 3: Thursday 8 June, York
- Walking Tour of York, including York Minster
- Afternoon at leisure
This morning we will take a walking tour of the historic centre of York. This vibrant city was founded by the Romans in 71AD. As Eboracum it was an important town in the Empire’s north and in 208 the entire Roman world was governed from here. After being virtually abandoned following the fall of the Roman Empire and the withdrawal of the army, the town saw a period of population by the Anglo Saxons. York was first invaded by the Viking army on 1 November 866 and a new era began. After a short period of invasion and conquest, the Vikings chose to settle in York (which they called Jorvik) rather than return to Scandinavia. Archaeological excavations have revealed a wealth of evidence of the successful metal-based industries that were developed here, as well as the city’s role in trade. By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, York was second only to London in size and prosperity.
The next chapter in the city’s history is Norman, when William the Conqueror marched on York intent on making this wealthy town part of his kingdom. He established a garrison here and built two castles to control access to the town from the River Ouse. There was considerable resistance to the Norman occupation of the town, with attempts to overthrow the new power. This was brutally suppressed in what is known as the ‘Harrying of the North’, when William extracted his vengeance on the population and many thousands died in a period of violence and famine, whilst the lively Viking city was systematically destroyed. The Normans rebuilt York and it is to this period a number of the city’s churches belong.
The medieval period was a Golden Age for York, when the town was a centre of trade and religion. However, following the War of the Roses and the defeat of Richard III to Henry Tudor, the city underwent another period of decline. The Reformation had a tremendous impact on York and its many churches and important religious houses which operated schools, hospitals, hospices and employed local citizens. The Dissolution of the Monasteries left a large hole in the finances of the city, and many religious buildings fell into disrepair. Elizabethan York saw a return to prosperity which continued until the Civil War, when the city was used as a Royalist stronghold and was besieged by the Parliamentarian army. Once again, the religious and business focus of the town allowed it to rise again to regional prominence, and the Industrial Revolution brought new business opportunities to the region.
The Georgian period coincided with a building boom and York now boasts many fine Georgian mansions. Our guide will point out the many layers of the city’s rich history that can be seen in the buildings, roads, walls and churches.
Our walking tour includes a visit to York Minster, one of England’s greatest cathedrals, which has a long, intricate history. The present building, which has the finest medieval stained glass in England, had a number of precursors. In 1069, for example, the Normans destroyed the Anglo-Saxon cathedral and so in 1080 its Archbishop, Thomas, began a new cathedral that was completed in 1100. In 1137 its east end was destroyed by fire. A new Romanesque choir was built in 1175, a south transept added in 1220, and the north transept completed in 1253. In 1394 the present choir was begun, and the foundations of the Lady Chapel laid in 1361. In 1338, the Great West Window was completed. The Great East Window followed in 1405, and the Minster, now completed, was consecrated in 1472. Meanwhile, the Minster’s original west towers had collapsed. The Minster became caught up in the Reformation – Thomas Wolsey was archbishop here – and in the Civil War, York remained a centre of Catholicism in England. 18th-century damage by fire and 19th-century restoration further modified this great building. Major restoration occurred again after another fire in 1984; in consequence York University has become one of England’s most important architectural conservation centres.
After the conclusion of our visit to York Minster the remainder of the day is free to explore York further, at leisure. (Overnight York) B
Day 4: Friday 9 June, York – Fountains Abbey – Newby Hall – York
- Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal: Tour of Cistercian Abbey & Georgian Water Garden
- Church of St Mary
- Church of Christ the Consoler
- Newby Hall & Gardens
Today we visit England’s largest ruined monastery, Fountains Abbey, situated in the beautiful Skell river valley, in which the 18th-century water garden of Studley Royal is also located. The view of the Abbey from the cliff above Studley Royal became a definitive instance of the ‘Picturesque': a ruined Gothic abbey, evoking an ancient, pious culture, seen from a ‘modern’ 18th-century site. Flanked by two vast lawns set against awe-inspiring cliff faces, with the Skell running under its buildings, the Abbey is a masterpiece of 12th-century building ingenuity. Our tour of the site will take in spaces like the cellarium in which the lay brothers ate and slept; it retains much of its sophisticated vaulting.
In 1132 Fountains was founded in its isolated valley by Thurston, Archbishop of York, for a community that wished to return to a strict form of Benedictine rule; isolation being an ideal of medieval monasticism. The valley was sheltered from the weather and had clean water, plentiful wood, and building stone of high quality. The Abbey subsequently came under reforming Cistercian rule. The Cistercians followed a rigorous daily regime, committed to long periods of silence and a subsistence diet. They wore habits of coarse un-dyed sheep’s wool that earned them the name ‘White Monks’. After Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries (1536-40), glass and lead from Fountains found their way to Ripon and York. Its buildings and parts of its estate were sold to Sir Richard Gresham, whose family subsequently sold them to Stephen Proctor, the builder of Fountains Hall. In 1767 the ruins were sold for £18,000 to William Aislabie, creator of Studley Royal.
The Aislabie family created Studley Royal Water Garden in a wild and well-wooded part of the valley. Its formal, geometric design and its extraordinary vistas constitute a very imaginative, free and individualistic interpretation of French formal garden tradition. Ground level views emphasise its sweeping horizontality, relieved by fabriques and the kind of statues favoured by Grand Tourists to Rome; from higher up the garden’s complex structure reveals itself. Fabriques include the Neoclassical Temple of Piety (dedicated to Hercules), a rusticated Banqueting House, a Gothic octagon tower and a Temple of Fame, and a rotunda with wonderful views across the garden where 18th-century visitors picnicked. Other garden features include the Rustic Bridge, Hermit’s Grotto, Half Moon Pond, Cascades, Canal, Fishing Tabernacles, Drum Fall and the Seven Bridges Valley in the Deer Park. Our garden tour climaxes at the end of the High Ride at ‘The Surprise View’, also called ‘Anne Boleyn’s Seat’, because of a headless statue to be seen there! It gives a magnificent panorama of the distant Abbey ruins.
Returning from the end of the water gardens we climb a path through the fields to William Burges’ St Mary’s Church, one of Britain’s finest Gothic Revival churches. From outside its chancel you can see all the way to Ripon Cathedral.
We next tour the house and gardens at Newby Hall, one of England’s renowned Adam houses; its exceptional interior decoration and fine Neoclassical sculpture collection represent the epitome of 18th-century taste. Built in the 1690s in the style of Sir Christopher Wren, it was later enlarged and transformed by John Carr and subsequently by Robert Adam. It was the home of the Compton family and much of its superb collection was acquired on a Grand Tour by a Compton ancestor, William Weddell. The collection includes tapestries in the magnificent Gobelins Tapestry Room, a renowned gallery of classical statuary, and some of Chippendale’s finest furniture. Its glorious garden was designed in the 1920s by Major Edward Compton, who was strongly influenced by the garden of Hidcote. Newby Hall’s garden has many rare plants, including the National Collection of Cornus (Dogwood). It is famed for its main axis of double herbaceous borders, amongst the longest in Europe. Flanking this axis are numerous formal, compartmented gardens including a Rose Garden, a Water Garden, Autumn Garden and even a Tropical Garden. (Overnight York) BL
Day 5: Saturday 10 June, York – Castle Howard – Thirsk – Markenfield Hall – York
- Castle Howard: Private Guided tour of house & morning tea
- Market Town of Thirsk, the Darrowby of the late James Herriot
- Markenfield Hall
This morning we will have a private tour of a masterpiece of the Baroque, one of England’s greatest country houses, Castle Howard, the setting for the BBC series Brideshead Revisited. The 3rd Earl of Carlisle commissioned the ‘castle’ (a term often used for country mansions with no military purpose) from the gentleman-dilettante Sir John Vanbrugh, a fellow member of the famous Whig Kit-Cat Club. Nicholas Hawksmoor, architect of a number of Oxford colleges, assisted Vanbrugh here and at Blenheim. Vanbrugh designed a Baroque structure with two wings projecting symmetrically on either side of a north-south axis.
Castle Howard’s crowning central dome over the Great Hall, where we have a morning tea of homemade shortbread, was added as an afterthought. The East Wing and the east end of the Garden Front, the Central Block (including the dome), and the west end of the Garden Front all received exuberant Baroque decoration of coronets, cherubs and urns. Doric pilasters are on the north front and Corinthian on the south. Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, the Venetian Rococo painter, designed many of the house’s interiors when he was living in England between 1708 and 1713. Much of his painting was unfortunately destroyed in a fire in 1940. The house remained incomplete on the death of the 3rd Earl in 1738, and Vanbrugh’s design was never completed. The West Wing was designed in a Palladian style for the 4th Earl by Sir Thomas Robinson and was not completed until 1811. Much of the house, including the central dome, was destroyed by fire in 1940. Most of the devastated rooms were restored and the house was opened to the public in 1952.
Castle Howard has extensive and diverse gardens, including a large formal garden immediately behind the house. The house, flanked by two lakes, is prominently situated on a ridge, which was exploited to create a landscape garden that lies beyond the formal garden and merges with the surrounding park. Occupying this landscape are the Temple of the Four Winds at the end of the garden and the Mausoleum in the park. Castle Howard also has an arboretum called Ray Wood, and a walled garden that contains decorative rose and flower gardens. The garden architecture at Castle Howard also includes the ruined Pyramid, an Obelisk and several follies and other motifs in the form of fortifications. Another huge arboretum, called Kew at Castle Howard, was established in 1975 as a joint venture between Castle Howard and Kew Gardens. Managed by the Castle Howard Arboretum Trust, it has one of the most important collections of specimen trees in the United Kingdom.
Many of us grew up watching the television series All Creatures Great and Small and late this morning we travel to the bustling market town of Thirsk, where the stories originated. James Alfred Wight (James Herriot) moved to Thirsk to work as a country vet with Donald Sinclair in July 1940. Here there will be some time at leisure for lunch and to explore the town on a Saturday, which is Market Day.
Our day’s program concludes with a private tour of Markenfield Hall, a charming medieval moated manor house. The privately owned home is tucked away down a mile-long winding drive and is the most complete surviving example of a medium-sized 14th-century country house in England. The earliest part of the house dates to c.1230, while the main sections were built 1310-1325 for John de Markenfield, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Edward II, with further additions and alterations in the 16th, 18th and 19th centuries. The history of the home has always been deeply intertwined with the fortunes of Fountains Abbey and it was one of the most important centres of the 1569 ‘Rising of the North’. The house has been lovingly restored and in 2008 it was the first recipient of the Sotheby’s/Historic Houses Association Restoration Award, a prize that recognises the finest restoration of a historic house in Britain in a way which respects and is in sympathy with the age and quality of the building. (Overnight York) B
Day 6: Sunday 11 June, York – Scampston Estate – Mansion Cottage – Burton Agnes Hall – York
- Walled Garden of Scampston Hall
- Mansion Cottage
- Burton Agnes Hall
We begin this morning by driving to Scampston Hall, situated in peaceful North Yorkshire, to visit its famous Walled Garden. Sir Charles and Lady Legard’s stunningly beautiful contemporary garden is quite unlike any other. Opened to the public for the first time in 2004, it has been received with great acclaim by visitors from all over the world. Set within the 18th-century walls of Scampston’s original kitchen garden, today the Walled Garden has an exciting and unashamedly modern feel to it and complements the adjacent 18th-century ‘Capability’ Brown park. The garden had been derelict for nearly fifty years before Sir Charles and Lady Legard undertook the huge task of renovating. Having adopted a traditional approach to the restoration of the house and park, they here produced a stunning garden with a contemporary feel with the help of leading garden designer, Piet Oudolf.
We next visit the small, private garden of Chris and Polly Myers’ Mansion Cottage. This hidden garden offers beautiful views and a tranquil atmosphere. Lush, vibrant perennial planting is highlighted with grasses; features include a globe garden, mini hosta walk, 100-foot border, summerhouse, vegetable plot, cuttery, bee and butterfly border, ponds, decking areas and lawns.
Having visited two contemporary gardens we now travel back in time to visit Burton Agnes Hall, an exquisite Elizabethan house filled with fine art, furniture, porcelain and impressionist and modern paintings. Fifteen generations have filled the Hall with treasures over five centuries, from magnificent carvings commissioned when the Hall was built to French Impressionist paintings, contemporary furniture, tapestries and other modern artwork. Lawns and topiary bushes surround the Hall and its gardens contain a maze, giant games, a jungle garden, and more than four thousand plant species. Burton Agnes Hall’s walled garden won the Historic Houses Association and Christies’ Garden of the Year Award 2005. We shall be given a guided tour of this beautiful property before returning to York. (Overnight York) BL
Buxton, Derbyshire - 4 nights
Day 7: Monday 12 June, York – Renishaw Hall – Haddon Hall – Buxton
- Renishaw Hall: Private literary tour of the Sitwell family home, gardens and ‘Renishaw cream tea’
- Haddon Hall
We depart York early this morning and travel south to Renishaw Hall, a country house in Derbyshire where the Sitwell family has lived in this ancestral home for nearly four centuries. On arrival we take a tour of Renishaw’s beautiful Italianate garden, park and lake, that were created by Sir George Sitwell, father of Osbert, Edith and Sacheverall. Sir George spent much of his life in Italy, where he had bought the huge former palace-villa of the Florentine Acciaiuoli family, Montegufoni. In England, he wanted to create an Italian garden in contrast to Gertrude Jekyll’s ‘colourful’ designs. The use of water, fountains, temples, cave and avenues adds effect and shelter for tender specimen plants. Following morning tea served in the Georgian stables, we shall visit the interior of Renishaw Hall.
The interior, which features an antechamber designed by Edwin Lutyens, is graced with many Italian artworks and pieces of furniture collected by Sir George. The painting collection includes Salvator Rosa’s Belisarius in Disgrace, a painting that was once much appreciated by Benjamin Franklin. Our tour will have a literary focus, as Renishaw Hall is a house ‘built on books’, with a wide range of literary interests and connections over a period of almost 400 years. Each Sitwell generation has made its unique contribution to the literary legacy of the house and the family, particularly the famous ‘literary trio’ – Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell. Our tour will follow the fortunes of the Sitwell family as wealthy book collectors in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and will include a special visit to the Renishaw Hall Library.
After free time for lunch in the small market town of Bakewell (famous for its pudding) we continue our tour of Derbyshire with a visit to Haddon Hall, arguably the finest example of a fortified medieval manor house in existence, and dating mostly from the 14th and 15th centuries. Originally owned by the descendants of William the Conqueror’s illegitimate son, Peverel, it was passed through marriage to the Manners family, later to become Dukes of Rutland, in whose possession it has remained. Haddon Hall affords a wonderful glimpse of English Early Modern country house design, because it remained closed and empty for two hundred years after the Dukes of Rutland moved to Belvoir Castle in the 17th century. The 9th Duke of Rutland reopened it in the 1920s. Because the grounds had escaped transformation into a landscape garden it influenced Edwardian gardeners deeply; its series of 17th-century terraces were particularly important. It embodies a vision of ‘old England’ symbolised by the rambling roses growing over its old stone walls. These roses are quite superb (some are 80 years old), and also impressive are the delphinium beds. There are recreations of 17th century box-edged parterres or knots, and below there are wonderful river meadows with a small and large stone bridge, which feature prominently in the 2006 BBC TV dramatisation of Jane Eyre. The approach to the house has a wonderful topiary garden.
The house itself has sections from a number of periods from the late 12th century to c.1620. The Banqueting Hall is medieval, but the house is predominantly Elizabethan, its pride being the oak panelled Long Gallery; the diamond panes of the gallery’s many windows are set at different angles to facilitate the entry of daylight. It also has a magnificent collection of English, Flemish and French tapestries, remains of a larger collection lost in a 1925 fire. Most important are five early 17th century English tapestries that may have belonged to King Charles I. The chapel has medieval frescoes, and the house also has a fine painting by Rex Whistler (1933), the artist of Plas Newydd.
Next we continue our journey to the elegant spa town of Buxton, which will be our base for the next four nights. Our hotel, built in 1550 by the Earl of Shrewsbury, the 4th husband of formidable Bess of Hardwick, is reputedly the oldest in England and has hosted during its long history such luminaries as Mary, Queen of Scots and Daniel Defoe. It is located in the centre of the town opposite one of the most exquisite Edwardian opera houses in the British Isles. (Overnight Buxton) B
Day 8: Tuesday 13 June, Buxton – Peak District – Castleton – Lyme Park – Buxton
- White Peak District
- Castleton Village, Peak District National Park
- Lyme Park, House & Garden
- Lecture by Maxwell Craven: ‘Country Houses of Derbyshire’
This morning we enjoy the stunning and diverse scenery of Britain’s first designated national park, the Peak District National Park (1951). The Peak District is situated at the southern end of the Pennines in Central England and covers most of northern Derbyshire as well as parts of Cheshire, Yorkshire and Staffordshire. It has been prominent in numerous movies and TV dramas, including the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. A local guide will point out some of the locations used during filming whilst introducing Derbyshire’s bustling market towns, villages, and showing us its hills, dales and rivers.
Following lunch in Castleton, one of the most beautiful villages in the Peak District, we visit Lyme Park, the largest house in Cheshire. A Tudor house transformed into an Italianate palace, it is famous for its role as ‘Pemberley’, Darcy’s home, in the BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice. Aficionados of the series will recall the scene of Lizzy meeting the dripping figure of Mr Darcy following his dip in the lake! Thomas Legh, an intrepid explorer and collector who made a pioneering journey through Egypt and up the Nile in 1816, saved Lyme Park from ruin. An extremely wealthy young man, he set Lewis Wyatt the huge task of reviving this vast, outdated family home. Wyatt’s remodelling, although extremely thorough, in no way compromised the 17th-century character of Lyme Park. The saloon, with its magnificent rococo ceiling and Grinling Gibbons-carved wood decorations, speaks amply of his sensitive approach.
This evening we are joined by Maxwell Craven, a renowned historian with a long-standing involvement in the preservation of Derbyshire’s heritage buildings. Maxwell is the author of over 22 books on the subject, including The Derbyshire Country House, written with Michael Stanley, and numerous articles. In 1999 he was awarded the MBE for services to conservation. Tonight, Maxwell will present for us an illustrated lecture entitled ‘Country Houses of Derbyshire’. (Overnight Buxton) BL
Day 9: Wednesday 14 June, Buxton – Tissington Hall – Chatsworth House – Buxton
- Tissington Hall & Gardens
- Tissington Village & Norman Church of St Mary
- Group Lunch at Chatsworth House
- Chatsworth House: one of the grandest Whig country houses
This morning we journey into Derbyshire to Tissington Hall, a beautiful Jacobean mansion where eight generations of the FitzHerbert family have lived. Tissington presides over a quintessentially English village, complete with duck pond and village green. This is one of the few remaining privately owned villages left in Britain. As it has no road markings or street lighting it is often used for filming period pieces, such as the BBC’s Jane Eyre (2006) and The Duchess (2007). We will take a guided tour of the hall and its gardens, as well as the village and the Norman Church of St Mary.
This afternoon we visit Chatsworth House, one of the grandest Whig country houses, situated in a spectacular landscape in the heart of the Peak District. It is the home of the 12th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, of the Cavendish family. The late Duchess, born Deborah Mitford (Debo) (1920-2014), the youngest of the famous Mitford sisters, revived the economy of the estate after it had been almost destroyed by death duties following the death of the 10th Duke in 1950 (the Chatsworth Settlement). The core of the house is from 1552, but its great days date from the 1690s, after the 4th Earl of Devonshire was created 1st Duke in 1694 for his part in the Glorious Revolution (1688). Generations of prominent Whigs followed and so Chatsworth represents the first phase of the great Whig country house (Stowe represents the second). The 1st Duke rebuilt the old house in stages, adding its fine Baroque façades, and it was substantially complete by 1707. The Painted Hall, whose ceilings and walls carry scenes of the life of Julius Caesar (1692-94) by Louis Laguerre, leads to a grand staircase. The State Apartments are the most important late Baroque presentation rooms in England, with ceilings by Laguerre and Mortlake tapestries made from Raphael’s tapestry cartoons now in the Victoria & Albert Museum. The chapel, designed by Cibber, is equally impressive, with illusionistic paintings by Laguerre and woodcarvings by Grinling Gibbons.
Chatsworth’s late Baroque gardens, like almost all great English Baroque gardens, were swept away when the 4th Duke commissioned Capability Brown to replace them (1760s). One survival is an Italianate cascade designed in 1696 by Grillet, a pupil of Le Nôtre. Thomas Archer, arguably the English architect who best understood the Italian Baroque, added the Temple or Cascade House above it in 1703. In the 19th century Joseph Paxton, the 6th Duke’s gardener, created a great glasshouse for exotic specimens; its revolutionary design led to his architectural triumph, London’s Crystal Palace. Paxton also built the Emperor fountain, whose jet rises 280 feet, and a vast rock garden. Newer additions to the garden include a serpentine hedge. (Overnight Buxton) BL
Day 10: Thursday 15 June, Buxton – Quarry Bank – Buxton – Baslow Hall – Buxton
- Quarry Bank Mill & Styal Estate
- Walking Tour of Buxton, followed by time at leisure
- Group Dinner at Fischer’s, Baslow Hall
This morning we drive to Quarry Bank Mill, a rare Georgian cotton mill that is both one of Britain’s most important industrial heritage sites as well as a working mill that produces over 9000m (10,000 yards) of cloth each year. Founded in 1784 by a young textile merchant, Samuel Greg, Quarry Bank Mill was one of the first generation of water-powered cotton spinning mills. By the 1830s Samuel Greg & Co. was one of the largest cotton manufacturing businesses in Britain with four other mills as well as Quarry Bank.
This mill reflects the earliest phase of the industrialisation of England, when manufacturing had not yet moved to great industrial cities, but rather occurred where water was plentiful. Such early industrial complexes often are built in a fine, simple architectural style not unlike some of the earliest colonial architecture in Australia. Our visit here offers a unique opportunity to see the two major sources of power available during the Industrial Revolution. The most powerful working waterwheel in Britain illustrates how power can be harnessed to drive machinery. A Boulton and Watt type beam engine (c.1830) and an 1880s Horizontal Engine powered by steam bring the past to life. Chief Engineer Barry Cook will be on hand to explain how everything operates. Time permitting, we also visit the three-hectare (8-acre) ‘Secret Garden’, the Greg family’s lovely, picturesque valley retreat adjoining the mill. Recently restored, it has now been opened to the public for the first time.
We return to Buxton for a short walking tour of the town, followed by time at leisure to continue exploring. Tonight we dine at Fischer’s Restaurant at Baslow Hall. The Michelin-starred dining room serves classical dishes created with balance and finesse, using the very best of fresh local and regional produce. The setting within a charming manor house further enhances this very special dining experience. (Overnight Buxton) BD
Chester, Cheshire - 3 nights
Day 11: Friday 16 June, Buxton – Little Moreton – Biddulph Grange Garden – Chester
- Little Moreton Hall
- Biddulph Grange Garden: Private guided tour of this amazing Victorian Garden
- Dinner at Macdonald New Blossoms Hotel
This morning we drive to Little Moreton Hall for a guided tour of one of Britain’s finest timber-framed, moated Tudor manor houses, which featured in David Dimbleby’s How we built Britain documentary (2007). Of particular importance is its magnificent Long Gallery that has unusual plasterwork. Its grounds feature a delightful knot garden.
This afternoon we take a private tour of Biddulph Grange Gardens. Biddulph is a treasure trove of 19th-century eccentricities and a rare surviving example of a High Victorian garden. Our private guided tour of the garden, to be opened specially for our group, leads us down tunnels and pathways taking us on a miniature tour of the world, with rare and exotic plantings and picturesque garden architecture, such as an Egyptian court and elegant Italian terraces. There is a unique Chinese garden with a temple enclosed within its own Great Wall of China. Some of the more eccentric features of the garden are an upside-down tree and strange stone sculpture. Biddulph also has an unusual geological gallery where the garden’s creator, James Bateman, showed his fossil and geological collection. It was arranged to correspond with the seven days of creation in the Genesis story and is contemporaneous with the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1859), a seminal work in scientific literature and a pivotal work in evolutionary biology.
We next drive a short distance to the city of Chester, lying on the River Dee, close to the border of Wales. Tonight we dine together at our hotel. (Overnight Chester) BD
Day 12: Saturday 17 June, Chester
- Walking Tour of Chester
- Guided Tour of Chester Cathedral
- Afternoon at leisure
A Roman legion founded Chester on the Dee River in the 1st century A.D. It reached its pinnacle as a bustling port in the 13th and 14th centuries but declined following the gradual silting up of the river. While other walls of medieval cities of England were either torn down or badly fragmented, Chester still has 3km of fortified city walls intact. The main entrance into Chester is Eastgate, which dates only from the 18th century. Within the walls are half-timbered houses and shops, though not all of them date from Tudor days. Chester is unusual in that some of its builders used black-and-white timbered facades even during the Georgian and Victorian eras.
This morning we take an orientation tour of this interesting medieval city, followed by a visit to Chester Cathedral. The present building, founded in 1092 as a Benedictine abbey, was made an Anglican cathedral church in 1541. Many architectural restorations were carried out in the 19th century, but older parts have been preserved. Notable features include the fine range of monastic buildings, particularly the cloisters and refectory, the chapter house, and the superb medieval woodcarving in the choir (especially the misericords). Also worth seeing are the long south transept with its various chapels, the consistory court, and the medieval roof bosses in the Lady Chapel.
The afternoon is free for you to further explore Chester at leisure. (Overnight Chester) B
Day 13: Sunday 18 June, Chester – Liverpool – Chester
- Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
- Time at leisure at Liverpool’s refurbished Albert Dock
- Tate Liverpool: home of the National Collection of Modern Art in the North
- The Beatles: Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, Mendips and 20 Forthlin Road (exteriors only)
Liverpool, with its famous waterfront on the River Mersey, is a great shipping port and industrial center and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. King John launched Liverpool on its road to glory when he granted it a charter in 1207. Before that, it had been a tiny 12th-century fishing village, but it quickly became a port for shipping men and materials to Ireland. In the 18th century, it grew to prominence because of the sugar, spice, and tobacco trade with the Americans. By the time Victoria came to the throne, Liverpool had become Britain’s biggest commercial seaport.
This morning we drive to Liverpool to visit the Walker Art Gallery, opened in 1877. Here, we focus on its Pre-Raphaelite collection and its Victorian sculpture. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in London in 1848, consisted of seven young artists dedicated to the revival of styles that preceded the High Renaissance: John Millais, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James Collinson, F G Stephens, Thomas Woolmer and William Michael Rossetti. Liverpool was the only provincial city with its own Pre-Raphaelite school (The Liverpool Academy). The Walker Art Gallery collection includes Rossetti’s Dante’s Dream (1871), Millais’ Isabella, Holman Hunt’s Triumph of the Innocents and one of the world’s finest corpora of Victorian sculpture.
We take a short walk to Liverpool’s recently refurbished Albert Dock, where there will be time at leisure to explore this precinct. Albert Dock features a number of museums, including the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the award-winning ‘Beatle Story’ and numerous restaurants and cafés.
This afternoon we visit the Tate Liverpool, which displays much of the National Collection of 20th-century art, complemented by changing art exhibitions of international standing such as the prints of Joan Miró or the sculptures of the iconoclastic British sculptress Rachel Whiteread. Before returning to Chester we make a short tour to view a number of the sites associated with the Beatles including Penny Lane, Strawberry Field and the childhood homes of John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney. (Overnight Chester) B
Portmeirion, Wales - 3 nights
Day 14: Monday 19 June, Chester – Erddig Hall – Powis Castle – Portmeirion
- Erddig Hall: private tour of house
- Powis Castle and Garden
- Dinner at Hotel Portmeirion
Early this morning we depart Chester and cross into Wales for a private tour of Erddig Hall. Located on the outskirts of Wrexham, Erddig is one of the finest and evocative country houses in Britain, reflecting the upstairs-downstairs life of a gentry family over 250 years. Mainly of the 18th century, it has fine furniture, textiles and wallpaper. The servants’ quarters are particularly well preserved.
We continue south to Powis Castle and have lunch here on arrival. Powis, a 13th-century border castle, features the rare 17th-century Baroque garden of William Herbert, first Marquess of Powis. Herbert, a Roman Catholic, went into exile with James II after the Glorious Revolution (1688). In 1703 the Herberts returned from exile, their taste shaped by great French gardens such as St Germain-en-Laye, where the Stuart court was located. This put them out of step with new directions in Whig landscape gardening. Their grand Baroque terraces survive, with an extraordinary yew hedge, planted in 1720, that is now old and irregular in a way never intended when it was first established. Powis did not escape change entirely. A Dutch-style water garden laid out in 1705 in the flat meadows below the castle was swept away in the 1770s, and in part of this area an Edwardian formal garden was laid out in 1912. The Baroque terraces enjoy magnificent views. Against them are spectacular herbaceous borders by Graham Stuart Thomas and Jimmy Handcock. There are rich flower displays in vases on the edges of the terraces and in its niches. They are lined with lead statues by John van Nost, examples of the early 18th-century taste for picturesque Italianate rustic garden figures. In the castle courtyard stands a lead statue of Pegasus bearing aloft the personification of Fame, original centrepiece of the lost Dutch water garden. Van Nost’s pupil, Andries Carpentiére, based it on Antoine Coysevox’s group of Fame at Louis XIV’s palace at Marly. South and east of the castle is a Wilderness with a fine collection of trees and shrubs planted in the 20th century.
A Herbert family member married into the Clive family in the 18th century and their descendants own Powis today. Powis’ Clive Museum displays superb Indian treasures collected by family members, including Robert, ‘Clive of India’. The castle interior has a fine Baroque staircase (1674-1685) with a ceiling by Verrio, its walls painted in 1705 by his pupil Gerard Landscroon, who also painted the library. G.F. Bodley’s dining room with fine panelled walls and Jacobean plasterwork and his Oak Drawing Room are fine examples of Edwardian taste. A grand Baroque state bedroom (1665-1685) is the only one in Britain with a bed railed with a balustrade in the manner of Louis XIV’s Versailles. A superb T-shaped Elizabethan Long Gallery (1587-1595) has original plasterwork and chimneypieces. The castle’s sculpture collection includes marble busts of Roman emperors and a Roman statue of a cat playing with a snake that Robert Clive acquired in Rome. An interesting painting collection includes a fine view of Verona by Bernardo Bellotto.
From Powis Castle we cross the mountains, rising above the treeline, before descending into Gwynedd, an area in north-west Wales. We make our way to the resort village of Portmeirion, our base for the next three nights. Portmeirion is the creation of the flamboyant Arts and Crafts architect and garden designer Sir Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978), a dedicated sailor who loved the Amalfi Coast, the Cinque Terre, and, especially, Portofino, and decided to create his own version of them in Wales. In 1925 he bought a spectacular Snowdonian peninsula site not far from his family house at Plas Brondanw, overlooking an estuary that forms a vast sandy beach at low tide. On the cliffs above Portmeirion’s only pre-existing structure (now Hotel Portmeirion) he built a range of picturesque buildings and towers as a kind of village-hotel. Many writers, including Evelyn Waugh, lived and wrote here in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. These village houses surround a garden, forming a colourful, seaside version of Arts and Crafts taste. Many are tiny and are built using parts of demolished buildings. Clough later espoused a Romantic version of the Dutch 17th and 18th-century style. He was not afraid to create buildings in painted sheet metal, sometimes painted illusionistically to give a sense of relief, or to create buildings that had no other function than to look interesting: he built a domed building because he felt an Italianate coastal village should have one. Portmeiron also has interesting woodland walks, one of which takes you past a pet cemetery and ‘lighthouses’.
Williams-Ellis wanted to demonstrate that architecture could be both beautiful and fun but he was also a serious conservationist and town planner. He argued against uncontrolled suburban development (England and the Octopus), founded the Council for the Protection of Rural England, saved Stowe, and contributed to the planning of New Towns in post WWII Britain. His daughter created the Portmeirion pottery works, which is still run by the family. Tonight we enjoy a group dinner at Hotel Portmeirion. (Overnight Portmeirion) BLD
Day 15: Tuesday 20 June, Portmeirion – Caernarfon – Llanberis – Snowdonia National Park – Portmeirion
- Caernarfon Castle: the greatest of the Edwardian Castles
- Llanberis Village
- Dolbardarn Castle (exterior only)
- Snowdon Mountain Railway – excursion by diesel engine to summit
- Dinner at Castell Deudraeth
This morning we head further north along the coast to reach Caernarfon, located at the southern end of the Menai Strait between north Wales and Anglesey. Caernarfon was considered a strategically excellent place to build a castle during Edward I’s invasions of Wales. Completed in 1330, the castle was built on a site that had once been a Roman fort and then a Norman motte and bailey; it was to become a symbol of English dominance in a region strong in Welsh tradition and anti-English feeling. To stamp his supremacy even further on the native population, Edward ensured that the birth of his son, the first English Prince of Wales, took place in the castle (1284) and the castle continues to be the setting for the Investiture of the Prince of Wales, the last being Prince Charles in 1969.
Following lunchtime at leisure in Llanberis, we view Dolbadarn Castle. Built for Llywelyn the Great in the 1230s, it features a massive round-towered keep. We then take the cogwheel railway train to the summit of Snowdon to enjoy the breathtaking views over the area. In the late afternoon we return to Portmeirion.
Tonight we dine at Castell Deudraeth, a Victorian castellated mansion Williams-Ellis bought from his uncle in 1931 with the intention of incorporating it into the Portmeirion hotel complex. The intervening war and subsequent building restrictions delayed its incorporation until 2001 when it was finally opened. Portmeirion is now owned by a charitable trust. (Overnight Portmeirion) BD
Day 16: Wednesday 21 June, Portmeirion – Harlech – Plas Brondanw – Portmeirion
- Harlech Castle
- Plas Brondanw Gardens
- Afternoon at leisure in the village of Portmeirion
This morning we make a brief visit to Harlech Castle. Men of Harlech or The March of the Men of Harlech is a song and military march which is traditionally said to describe events during the longest siege in British history (1461-1468) which took place here during the War of the Roses. Edward’s tried and tested ‘walls within walls’ model was put together in super-fast time between 1283 and 1295 by an army of nearly a thousand skilled craftsmen and labourers. The structure boasts two rings of walls and towers, with an immensely strong east gatehouse. It was impregnable from almost every angle. Its secret weapon was a 200-foot (61m) long stairway which still leads from the castle to the cliff base. Access via the stairway to the sea and crucial supplies kept the castle’s besieged inhabitants fed and watered. When it was first built, a channel would have connected the castle and the sea. You could have sailed a boat up to the moat. Seven hundred years later, the sea has receded and you could say the castle appears almost stranded, waiting for the tide to turn once more.
Next we visit Plas Brondanw, the home of Clough Williams-Ellis between 1902 and 1960. It has one of the great Arts and Crafts gardens, noted for its structure of yew-hedged compartments. Inspired by stunning views of the mountains of Snowdonia, Clough cleverly ‘borrowed’ the peaks of the Snowdon and Cnight mountains visually by using the former to establish the chief axis of the garden, and revealing the latter through a window-opening cut in a hedge. Within the grounds of Plas Brondanw is Folly Castle, described on a plaque as ‘a wedding present from the Welsh Guards to Clough Williams-Ellis and Amabel Strachey in 1915. Located on a small hill, the folly affords good views of the surrounding landscape. It has featured in the film Inn of the Sixth Happiness and the Doctor Who film, The Five Doctors. We enjoy a light buffet-style lunch at Plas Brondanw before retuning to Portmeirion, where we have the afternoon and evening at leisure to explore the village and its beautiful gardens. (Overnight Portmeirion) BL
Bodysgallen Hall, Conwy, Wales - 3 nights
Day 17: Thursday 22 June, Portmeirion – Gwydir Castle – Bodnant Garden – Bodysgallen Hall
- Gwydir Castle
- Bodnant Garden
- Gardens of Bodysgallen Hall
- Dinner at Bodysgallen Hall
This morning we drive to Gwydir Castle beneath Carreg y Gwalch (Rock of the Falcon), the ancestral home of the powerful Wynn Family, descendants of the kings of Gwynedd, and one of the most significant families of North Wales during the Tudor and Stuart periods. The Castle is being sympathetically restored by the present owners, who will introduce us to their house and garden.
Following our tour of Gwydir Castle we travel to Bodnant Garden. Bodnant Garden occupies an 80-acre westward sloping site above the River Conwy that looks across the valley towards the Snowdonia range. Its spectacular garden was the inspired work of the second Lord Aberconway who in 1902, with his mother’s encouragement, conceived and constructed its great terraces and organised the mass planting of Chinese rhododendrons. Appointed in 1920, Bodnant’s head gardener, Frederick Puddle, undertook an extensive and successful rhododendron hybridising programme, a project continued until today by three generations of Aberconways and Puddles. It is the archetypal plantperson’s garden, where exotic species brought from China or the Himalayas were first cultivated in Britain.
The garden has two parts. The upper part surrounding the house consists of five Italianate terraces on which herbaceous borders surround informal shady lawns. Its most famous feature is the laburnum walk, a fifty-five metre long tunnel that becomes a mass of yellow blooms from late May to early June. Lower down is the Pin-Mill, a reconstructed garden folly. From here the ground drops away to a deep, damp valley, known as The Dell, along which rushes the river Hiraethlyn. Here, in the Pinetum and Wild Garden, grow Britain’s earliest plantings of the Metasequoia (Dawn Redwood), discovered only in the 1940s.
From Bodnant Garden we continue north to Bodysgallen Hall, which will be our base for the next 3 nights. Bodysgallen is a manor house in Conwy county borough, north Wales, near the village of Llanrhos. Since 2008 the house has been owned by the National Trust. We plan to arrive at the hall in time for you to enjoy a walk through the hall’s magnificent 200 acres of gardens before dinner. (Overnight Bodysgallen Hall) BD
Day 18: Friday 23 June, Bodysgallen Hall – Penrhyn Castle – Conwy – Bodysgallen Hall
- Penrhyn Castle
- Time at leisure in Conwy
- Plas Mawr
- Conwy Castle
- Dinner at Bodysgallen Hall
This morning we journey along the coast to visit the enormous Penrhyn Castle, which sits beween Snowdonia and the Menai Strait. Built in 1820-35 in neo-Norman style, this is one of the most sumptuous country houses of its time. It features a one-ton slate bed made for Queen Victoria, elaborate carvings, plasterwork and mock-Norman furniture. It also has an outstanding collection of paintings. The stable block houses a fascinating railway museum.
Midday we travel to Conwy, and following some time at leisure for lunch we visit Plas Mawr, possibly the best preserved Elizabethan town house in Great Britain. It was built by Robert Wynn between 1576 and 1585 and its interior has elaborately decorated plaster ceilings and fine wooden screens.
Castle Conwy, which, like Caernarfon, was constructed by Edward I between 1283 and 1289 as one of the key fortresses in his ‘iron ring’ of castles to contain the Welsh, dominates the town. A World Heritage site, Conwy has no concentric ‘walls within walls’ because they were not needed. Its massive military strength springs from the rock on which it stands and seems to grow naturally. Soaring curtain walls and eight huge round towers give the castle an intimidating presence undimmed by the passage of time. (Overnight Bodysgallen Hall) BD
Day 19: Saturday 24 June, Bodysgallen Hall – Anglesey Island – Bodysgallen Hall
- Plas Newydd House & Gardens
- Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber
- Farewell Dinner at Bodysgallen Hall
This morning we depart Bodysgallen Hall for an excursion to the Isle of Anglesey. Here we visit the house and gardens at Plas Newydd. James Wyatt redesigned this elegant old home in the 18th century in a Gothic style and its 1930s interior is famous for its association with Rex Whistler. Like Williams-Ellis, Whistler belonged to that underrated strand of mid 20th-century British culture that looked to the past with gusto. Uninhibited by modernist theory, they did not hesitate to revive the great traditions of the past. In the dining room, Whistler created his masterpiece, a vast mural for the sixth Marquess of Anglesey. This mural, eighteen metres wide, was executed on one enormous piece of canvas that Whistler had made on a special French loom. Within an Arcadian and Romantic coastal landscape are romantic allusions to Whistler’s unrequited love for Lady Caroline, the beautiful eldest married daughter. On the painting’s left side is a depiction of Romeo and Juliet in which the young Whistler (Romeo) languishes beneath the balcony of Lady Caroline (Juliet).
The mild climate of the coastal setting of the gardens at Plas Newydd is ideal for many woody plants from warmer temperate regions of the world. While the bones of the garden were set out in the late 18th century by leading landscape gardener Humphrey Repton, much has changed in the intervening centuries. A long and broad sweep of lawn fringed and broken by trees to the west of the house is known as ‘the West Indies’, and at the end of the Long Walk you arrive at an arboretum known as ‘Australasia’ that features, among other things, a collection of eucalyptus, added in the 20th century. A wild and exotic wood of rhododendrons was established in the 1930s by the sixth Marquess and added to by the ‘thinnings’ sent from Lord Aberconway of Bodnant as a wedding present to Lord Anglesey in 1948. For three seasons, lorry-loads of rhododendrons arrived with two gardeners to plant them.
Following a light lunch at Plas Newydd’s café, we visit the prehistoric site of Bryn Celli Ddu, meaning ‘the mound in the dark grove’. This is an impressive Neolithic chambered tomb with partially restored entrance passage and mound, on the site of a former henge monument.
In the late afternoon we return to Conwy, where we shall enjoy a farewell dinner together at Bodysgallen Hall. (Overnight Bodysgallen Hall) BLD
Day 20: Sunday 25 June, Bodysgallen Hall – Manchester Airport. Tour Ends.
- Departure transfer to Manchester Airport
This morning we depart Bodysgallen Hall and travel to Manchester Airport for our return flight to Australia. The ASA ‘designated’ flight is scheduled to depart in the early afternoon. B