The following itinerary describes a range of castles, country houses, museums and other sites 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.
Marazion, Cornwall - 3 nights
Day 1: Tuesday 9 June, Cornwall Airport Newquay – Marazion
- Arrive Cornwall Airport Newquay and transfer to Marazion
- Light (2-course) Welcome Dinner
Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight are scheduled to arrive into Cornwall Airport Newquay mid-morning. Upon arrival we transfer by private coach to Marazion, where we spend the next three nights. Those taking alternative flights should meet the group at the Cornwall Newquay Airport Arrivals Hall – please contact ASA to arrange a suitable meeting time.
After check in, there will be time at leisure before we convene for a light, two-course Welcome Dinner. (Overnight Mount Haven Hotel and Restaurant, Marazion) D
Day 2: Wednesday 10 June, Marazion – St Michael’s Mount – Godolphin – Marazion
- St Michael’s Mount: medieval castle & coastal gardens)
- Godolphin: historic house & medieval garden
This morning we make a short causeway walk or boat trip (depending on tides) to Saint Michael’s Mount. An early medieval monastery probably occupied this site. It became a dependent house of the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy and then passed to various monastic orders before becoming a possession of the St Aubyn family in 1650. An important site of pilgrimage, it has a small chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary and a chapel dedicated to St Michael. The island is dominated by the castle on its heights, which we shall tour. We also view the surrounding terraced gardens which cascade down from the castle in a riot of colour. Protected from frosts by the mild Gulf Stream, the gardens feature semi tropical plants, scented herbs and a wildflower meadow.
After lunch at the Sail Loft, on Saint Michael’s Mount, we return to the mainland to explore Godolphin House and its gardens. This Tudor/Stuart house is surrounded by a formal garden, established around 1500, one of the most important of its type in Europe. We return to Marazion for an evening at leisure. (Overnight Mount Haven Hotel and Restaurant, Marazion) BLD
Day 3: Thursday 11 June, Marazion – Botallack – Marazion – Porthcurno – Marazion
- Botallack Count House
- Levant Mine and Beam Engine
- Performance at the Minack Theatre, Porthcurno (subject to performance schedule)
We head west from Marazion and begin the day by exploring Cornwall’s heritage of coastal tin mining, in an area that was popularised in the two Poldark series, that of the 1970s and the series beginning in 2015. Our first stop is the Botallack Count House. If you are feeling energetic you may participate in a walk to the West Wheal Owls, which became ‘Wheal Leisure’ in the most recent Poldark series. Botallack Count House itself, built in the 1860s, was the administrative centre for the mines. We shall also drive past Botallack Manor, a typical Cornish farmhouse that was used for many of the scenes of Ross Poldark’s house, ‘Nampara’, in the 1970s series.
We then take a walk (approx. 1 kilometre) along the cliff tops of the coast near Botallack to the famous Levant Mine, which doubles as Tressiders Rolling Mill in Poldark, part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining World Heritage Site. Copper and tin have been mined here for generations, and the mine workings of Levant extend over some two kilometres out under the seabed. In 1820, the Levant Mining Company was formed with a capital of £400. By 1836, 320 men, 44 women and 186 children were employed on the site. In Levant’s first 20 years of business, £170,000 was made from mining copper. New technology was introduced to streamline production, and in 1857 the now-infamous man engine was installed. This engine carried men many fathoms up and down the mine, to and from work each day. We shall view this engine, now restored to working order. It is the only Cornish beam engine that is still in steam on its original site.
Mid-afternoon we return to Marazion, where there will be some time at leisure. This evening (subject to performance schedules) we shall enjoy a performance at Cornwall’s world-famous open-air Minack theatre, set high on cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean. (Overnight Mount Haven Hotel and Restaurant, Marazion) BD
St Austell, Cornwall - 3 nights
Day 4: Friday 12 June, Marazion – St Ives – Padstow – St Austell
- Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, St Ives
- Lunch at Rick & Jill Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant, Padstow
- Prideaux Place: Elizabethan Manor & Gardens, Padstow (by special appointment)
This morning we drive to St Ives to visit the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Dame Jocelyn Barbara Hepworth DBE (1903-1975) was one of England’s most important modernist sculptors and one of the few female artists of her generation to achieve international prominence. She first came to live in Cornwall with her husband, Ben Nicholson, and their young family at the outbreak of war in 1939. She lived and worked in Trewyn studios – now the Barbara Hepworth Museum – from 1949 until her death in 1975. Following her wish to establish her home and studio as a museum of her work, Trewyn Studio and much of the artist’s work remaining there was given to the nation and placed in the care of the Tate Gallery in 1980. “Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic”, she wrote. “Here was a studio, a yard and garden where I could work in open air and space.” Most of the bronzes are in the positions in which the artist herself placed them. The garden itself was laid out by Barbara Hepworth with help from a friend, the composer Priaulx Rainier.
We lunch today at Rick and Jill Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant, in the fishing port of Padstow. Since 1975, this restaurant has established an international reputation for the very freshest fish and shellfish. Head chef Stephane Delourme creates simple seafood dishes with classic flavours using Rick’s recipes.
After lunch, by special appointment, we visit Prideaux Place, an Elizabethan country house in Padstow. This was home to the Prideaux family, an ancient Cornish clan, for over 400 years. The house was built in 1592 by Sir Nicholas Prideaux (1550-1627), and has been enlarged and modified by successive generations, most notably by Sir Nicholas’ great-great-grandson Edmund Prideaux (1693-1745) and by Edmund’s grandson, Rev. Charles Prideaux-Brune (1760–1833). The present building, with 81 rooms, combines a traditional E-shape Elizabethan plan with the 18th-century exuberance of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill Gothic.
We shall view the house’s fine collection of works of art, including royal and family portraits, fine furniture and the Prideaux Porcelain Collection. The recently uncovered ceiling in the Great Chamber is a masterpiece of the art of the Elizabethan plasterer. We shall also stroll through the house’s extensive gardens. (Overnight The White Hart Hotel, St Austell) BL
Day 5: Saturday 13 June, St Austell – Polperro – Trematon – Saint Austell
- Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing
- Trematon Castle Gardens (by special appointment; to be confirmed)
This morning we drive to the beautiful small port of Polperro to visit the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing. All along the south coast of England, people responded to high taxes in the second half of the 18th century by smuggling goods through fishing villages like Polperro. This museum, housed in an old pilchard factory, has a fascinating collection of objects from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as fine ship models and an excellent collection of 19th-century photographs that show vividly what life was once like in the village. After our museum visit, there will be time at leisure to eat lunch and explore this beautiful small port.
This afternoon we visit the highly romantic Trematon Gardens, set within the ruins of a medieval castle founded soon after 1066, in which a Georgian house was later built. The gardens are largely the work of garden designers Julian and Isabel Bannerman, who played to the Castle’s romantic and pre-Raphaelite glories. They enhanced the garden’s wonderful collection of wildflowers, its woodland and orchard with ‘bold borders full of scent, colour, lustre and panache’. (Overnight The White Hart Hotel, St Austell) B
Day 6: Sunday 14 June, St Austell – Lanhydrock – Eden Project – St Austell
- Lanhydrock: Victorian Country House and Garden
- Eden Project
This morning we visit a grand Victorian country house, Lanhydrock, and its extensive garden. Most of an original 17th-century house burned in 1881, leaving only the north wing, the grand gallery of which is adorned with some of England’s finest plasterwork. The architect Richard Coad built a huge house here in the style of the original for the second Lord Robartes (later the 6th Viscount Clifden). We shall make a very extensive tour of the house, visiting the service rooms, nurseries and some servants’ bedrooms, as well as the main reception rooms and family bedrooms. We also wander through parts of the house’s present 160-hectare gardens which include topiary, box-edged beds and a picturesque woodland.
After lunch, we shall visit the Eden Project, an extraordinary project which, as its organisers state, explores ‘how we can work towards a better future’. The centre nestles in a huge crater, once a vast china clay pit, with massive biomes (domes). These biomes consist of hundreds of hexagonal and pentagonal inflated plastic cells supported by steel frames. The largest of the two biomes simulates a rainforest environment and the second, a Mediterranean environment. Outside these, a botanical garden is home to many plants and much wildlife native to Cornwall and the UK in general, and many plants that provide an important and interesting history such as those with a prehistoric heritage. (Overnight The White Hart Hotel, St Austell) BL
Taunton, Somerset - 3 nights
Day 7: Monday 15 June, St Austell – Buckfastleigh – Lustleigh – Castle Drogo – Taunton
- Buckfast Butterfly Farm and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary
- Thatched village of Lustleigh, Dartmoor National Park
- Castle Drogo: Castle & Lutyens-designed terraced garden
Our first visit today is to the Buckfast Butterfly Farm and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary. The farm’s butterflies, many of them tropical, are housed in a building of special design that shelters a tropical habitat. Three types of otters are to be seen in the sanctuary: British native otters, playful Asian short-clawed otters and large American river otters.
We next visit the village of Lustleigh, nestled in the Wrey Valley in the Dartmoor National Park. Occupying a site settled since prehistory and mentioned in Alfred the Great’s will (899), Lustleigh has been described as ‘the most beautiful village in England’. We shall stop for lunch at the Cleave pub and take a brief stroll through the village, whose many thatched cottages and houses include Wreyland Manor, Southern Wreyland, Yonder Wreyland and the Tallet House. Lustleigh’s medieval church of St John the Baptist has a Celtic cross in its grounds.
This afternoon we visit Castle Drogo, the grandest house designed by the master who is arguably England’s greatest late 19th-/early 20th-century architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), architect of New Delhi. Lutyens’ design, which was only partially constructed, borrowed elements from medieval and Tudor castle construction, melding these with a minimalist contemporary style and innovative modernist features. The castle’s formal garden, designed by Lutyens with the assistance of Gertrude Jekyll, contrasts with its setting on the edge of Dartmoor. The garden is noted for its rhododendrons and magnolias, herbaceous borders, rose garden, shrub garden and circular grass tennis court now used for croquet. (Overnight The Castle Hotel, Taunton) BLD
Day 8: Tuesday 16 June, Taunton – Barrington Court – Montacute House – Taunton
- Barrington Court: Tudor Manor House & Gardens influenced by Gertrude Jekyll
- Montacute House: Elizabethan Manor with a collection from the National Portrait Gallery
Today we visit two grand houses, Tudor Barrington Court (1538-1550s) and Elizabethan Montacute House. Like many Elizabethan mansions, Barrington has an ‘E’-shaped plan with large projecting wings. The profile of its gabled south front is enlivened with twisted finials and English crockets. Its central entry porch leads into a screens passage with the hall on the left. A service passage leads to the kitchen, which occupies the right wing. A long gallery stretches the entire length of the house on the upper floor. The house fell into disrepair in the 18th century but was restored in the 1920s. It is surrounded by substantial gardens influenced by Gertrude Jekyll.
A special tour highlight is today’s visit to the grand English Renaissance Montacute House, built by Sir Edward Phelps, Master of the Rolls. Phelps, who held many key positions in James I’s government, built this magnificent ‘prodigy house’, a fascinating mix of Dutch, English Gothic and Italian Renaissance motifs, in 1598. It remained in his family, its architecture largely unchanged, until the first years of the 20th century. Prodigy Houses were vast Elizabethan and Jacobean residences which evolved in part through the need to house Elizabeth I and her court; Elizabeth often visited such places. Montacute, with its wonderful large windows and its rich profile dominated by Dutch gables, boasts the longest great gallery in England, in which London’s National Portrait Gallery displays some of its collection. (Overnight The Castle Hotel, Taunton) BD
Day 9: Wednesday 17 June, Taunton – Bruton – Taunton
- Private art gallery and garden
- Lunch ‘At the Chapel’, Bruton
- Time at leisure in Taunton
Today we visit a gallery which displays displays masterpieces from world-leading contemporary artists. The gallery architecture is a masterful combination of traditional vernacular elements and ultra-modern features, while the garden, designed by the legendary landscape architect Piet Oudolf, is a gently sloping meadow enclosed by hedges containing 25,000 herbaceous perennials in a variety of shapes, colours and textures.
After enjoying this extraordinary art centre, we shall lunch in ‘At the Chapel’ restaurant in Bruton which, as its name suggests, occupies a 17th-century chapel. The restaurant kitchen uses only the best and freshest West Country produce and brings a relaxed Mediterranean approach to British food. After lunch there will be some time at leisure to explore the village and then, after returning to our hotel, time to enjoy Taunton at leisure. (Overnight The Castle Hotel, Taunton) BL
Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales - 5 nights
Day 10: Thursday 18 June, Taunton – Dunster – Abergavenny
- Dunster Working Watermill
- Dunster Castle
- Medieval village of Dunster
This morning we travel to the sweeping hills of Exmoor National Park where we spend the day visiting Dunster Castle and the medieval village that grew up around it. The village has a number of fascinating buildings, such as a restored, 18th-century working watermill, which we visit, a nunnery, packhorse bridge, a 14th-century tithe barn, a 16th-century dovecote and a picturesque folly, Conygar Tower. Since the decline of the woollen industry in the eighteenth century the village has been locked in a time warp.
Dunster Castle, a motte and bailey, now a country house, sits atop a steep hill called The Tor (hence the castle’s name). An Anglo-Saxon foundation, it was rebuilt by the Norman William de Mohun in order to subdue Somerset after 1066. A stone keep replaced this original wood structure in the 12th century. At the end of the 14th century the de Mohuns sold the castle to the Luttrell family, who continued to occupy the property until the late 20th century. In the 17th century it was converted to a mansion that was added to in the 18th century. Of the original castle, the most important remnant is the great gatehouse with its original 13th-century gate. The gardens surrounding the castle cover approximately 6 hectares and include the National Plant Collection of Strawberry Trees; the wider parkland beyond totals 277 hectares.
Mid-afternoon we continue our journey north, to the ‘gateway to Wales’, the town of Abergavenny, which will act as our base for the next four days. (Overnight The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny) B
Day 11: Friday 19 June, Abergavenny – Bristol – Clifton Suspension Bridge – Abergavenny
- SS Great Britain
- Free time to further explore Brunel Institute, Dry Dock, and Dockyard Museum
- Clifton Suspension Bridge
Today we drive to Bristol to explore the work of England’s great 19th-century engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), who revolutionised English bridge- and tunnel-building, ship-building, railway construction and public transport in general. Arguably, he is best known for his SS Great Britain, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which spans the Avon Gorge in Bristol. It was the longest suspension bridge of its time.
We visit both the bridge and the SS Great Britain. Brunel, having completed the Great Western Railway, wanted to continue its ‘westward expansion’ by linking Britain to New York. His first ship, the Great Western, was a paddle steamer, but soon Brunel became convinced of the superiority of propeller-driven ships over paddle wheels. He incorporated a large six-bladed propeller into his design for the 98-metre SS Great Britain, which was launched in 1843. It is considered the first modern ship, having been built of metal rather than wood, powered by an engine rather than wind or oars, and driven by a propeller rather than paddle wheels. She was the first iron-hulled, propeller-driven ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean; her maiden voyage was made in August and September 1845, from Liverpool to New York. She was later employed in the Australian service.
After touring the SS Great Britain, you will have time at leisure to explore the Brunel Institute, the Dry Dock and the Dockyard Museum. We return to Abergavenny, stopping en route to admire the Clifton suspension bridge. (Overnight The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny) B
Day 12: Saturday 20 June, Abergavenny – Tintern – Chepstow – Lydney – Parkend – Abergavenny
- Tintern Abbey
- Chepstow Castle; Chepstow Museum (time permitting)
- Dean Forest Railway: Lydney Junction to Parkend
We begin today by visiting one of England’s greatest historical landmarks, Tintern Abbey. The abbey was founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow, in 1131. Situated adjacent to the village of Tintern on the Welsh bank of the river Wye, it was the second Cistercian foundation in Britain. The abbey fell into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, but its ‘picturesque’ ruins later became a favourite of the Romantics, its remains celebrated by poets and painters such as Thomas Gainsborough (1782), Thomas Girtin (1793), and J.M.W. Turner (1794–95).
We then drive to Chepstow to visit its castle and, time permitting, its museum. Chepstow is one of the earliest stone castles in Britain; its design heavily influenced later castles. The first castle at Chepstow was erected in 1067 by William FitzOsbern, whom William the Conqueror had rewarded after the Battle of Hastings with the earldom of Hereford. He built a citadel here to control the main river crossing over the Wye, on the main route into Wales. The site, a narrow promontory overlooking the river, meant that Chepstow developed into a very long, narrow castle. In 1189, Chepstow passed to the great knight William Marshall, later Earl of Pembroke, who created what we see today by extending and strengthening the Norman castle and enclosing it within strong stone walls protected by towers, and adding the Marshall tower. The castle now resembled castles in the Holy Land, where William had been on crusade. It later passed to the Earl of Norfolk, Roger Bigod II, who further strengthened its defenses, but also created comfortable domestic apartments, turning the military fortress into a lavish mansion. The castle eventually fell into decay, but its impressive ruins, like those of Tintern, attracted Romantic artists.
Adjacent, the Chepstow Museum is housed in an elegant 18th-century house. It explores the town’s rich, varied past as an important port and market centre. Exhibits deal with the wine trade, shipbuilding and salmon fishing. Photographs, posters, and 18th- and 19th-century paintings and prints illustrate the history of Chepstow; they represent the appeal of the town and the Wye Valley to ‘picturesque’ artists. Of particular note is the View on the River Wye, Looking towards Chepstow Castle, Monmouthshire (1844), by influential Romantic artist John Martin (1789-1854).
Our final activity for the day is to ride the historic Dean Forest Railway from Lydney Junction to Parkend. The steam locomotive winds through some 7 kilometres of dense woodland, stopping at four historic stations. (Overnight The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny) B
Day 13: Sunday 21 June, Abergavenny – Westbury Court Gardens – Symonds Yat – Abergavenny
- Westbury Court Gardens: Dutch Water Garden
- Lunch at the Old Court Hotel, Symonds Yat
- Wye River Cruise
This morning we visit Westbury Court Gardens, which hold a unique place in British garden history and culture. In the 18th century, European formal gardens were replaced by the ‘natural’ landscape gardens of masters like Capability Brown. In England, ‘Dutch gardens’ denoted a particular type of rectangular garden space, often enclosed within hedges or walls, laid out in a highly cultivated and geometrical, often symmetrical, fashion. Dutch gardens were shaped by dense plantings of brightly coloured flowers, and edged with box or other dense and clipped shrubs, or low walls. These gardens featured areas of artificial water, with fountains and water butts, which were also laid out in symmetrical arrangements. Few of these formal gardens survived; the garden of Westbury Court is one of these survivals. Such gardens, like Dutch architectural motifs on British Jacobean houses, were extremely popular.
After Westbury, we drive to Symonds Yat, a village straddling the Wye Valley, where we shall eat lunch at the Old Court Hotel. We then board a vessel for a cruise on one of the most picturesque sections of the Wye. (Overnight The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny) BL
Day 14: Monday 22 June, Abergavenny – Monmouth – High Glanau Manor – Veddw House Garden – Abergavenny
- Nelson Museum & Local History Centre, Monmouth
- High Glanau Manor: Lecture on the life and work of H. Avray Tipping, by the manor’s owner, Mrs Helena Gerrish
- High Glanau Manor: Guided tour of the gardens & private lunch in the manor (by special appointment)
- Veddw House Garden (by special appointment)
We begin our day with a drive to the historic Welsh town of Monmouth, which lies at the confluence of the Monnow and Wye rivers. Monmouth throve in the Roman period and the Middle Ages; it has a magnificent towered bridge that was constructed around 1272. In the 19th century the town became particularly important in connection with the Wye River Tour, undertaken by such Romantic luminaries as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Robert Southey and J.M.W. Turner. We shall visit the Nelson Museum and Local History Centre. One of Monmouth’s most famous visitors was Admiral Lord Nelson, who travelled through the Wye Valley with Sir William and his wife Lady Hamilton (Nelson’s mistress) on their way to visit Hamilton’s large estates in Pembrokeshire. Nelson had been given the ‘freedom of Monmouth’; a pavilion with magnificent views had been constructed by public subscription to commemorate famous British naval victories, including Nelson’s triumph at the Battle of the Nile. The Nelson Museum was founded in 1924, when Lady Llangattock donated her collection of material relating to the famous admiral to Monmouth.
Today we are privileged to visit two special properties by private appointment. High Glanau Manor was built in the Arts and Crafts style in 1922-23 by the architect Eric Francis of Chepstow, for Henry Avray Tipping. We begin at High Glanau with a talk on H. Avray Tipping, who was an architectural writer, the editor of Country Life magazine, and a garden designer who numbered among his friends Gertrude Jekyll and Harold Peto. The talk will be delivered by Mrs Helena Gerrish, owner of High Glanau Manor. Mrs Gerrish holds a Masters Degree in Garden History from Bristol University; she is the author of ‘Edwardian Country Life – the Story of H. Avray Tipping’. The main façade of the house is of two storeys, with three slate-hung gables between two chimneystacks. On the upper entrance side, there is a broad slate roof with a pair of gabled turrets. The house, which is privately owned, is set above formal gardens, with stone-walled terraces and an octagonal pond. We shall explore the gardens, which were created by Tipping between 1922 and 1929. They incorporate a pergola, herbaceous borders, Edwardian glasshouse, rhododendrons, azaleas, tulips, an orchard with wild flowers and woodland walks. We also enjoy a specially prepared private lunch at the manor house.
This afternoon we visit Veddw House Garden, the creation of prolific garden writer Anne Wareham. Anne has written many articles and three books: The Bad-Tempered Gardener; Outwitting Squirrels and The Deckchair Gardener. Her garden is set in the wonderful countryside above Tintern Abbey. It comprises a hectare of ornamental garden and a hectare of woodland. The surrounding landscape of rolling hills is echoed in the sinuous hedges that lead to a dramatic reflecting pool. These hedges provide a perfect backdrop for other planting schemes. Anne has a great interest in the history of the local landscape and has incorporated this into her garden design. This is evident particularly in a large parterre of grasses which follow a pattern of box hedges based on the local Tithe Map of 1842. (Overnight The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny) BL
Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales - 2 nights
Day 15: Tuesday 23 June, Abergavenny – Cardiff – Tenby
- National Museum Cardiff
- St Fagans National Museum of History
Today we drive west through Cardiff to the walled seaside town of Tenby, which is located on Carmarthen Bay in Pembrokeshire. The walls of this picturesque town date from the 13th century. We halt our journey in Cardiff to visit its National Museum and the St Fagans National Museum of History.
The National Museum in Cardiff, unbeknownst to many, has one of Europe’s finest painting collections, from medieval Italian works right through to important Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections. We take a tour of the Museum’s highlights and then have time to explore the collection further.
St Fagans National Museum of History, named after the village in which it is located, is an open-air museum that chronicles the historical lifestyle, culture, and architecture of the Welsh people. It consists of more than 50 re-erected buildings from various locations in Wales. It is set in the grounds of St Fagans Castle, a Grade I listed Elizabethan manor house.
We shall dine at our Tenby hotel this evening. (Overnight Heywood Spa Hotel, Tenby) BD
Day 16: Wednesday 24 June, Tenby – Martin’s Haven – Skomer Island – Tenby
- The Fauna & Flora of Skomer Island: Nature walk incl. visit to Atlantic Puffin Colony with ornithologist Dave Astins
- Harbour town of Tenby
We spend the day with ornithologist Dave Astins, who has been visiting Pembrokeshire since the 1980s. At Martin’s Haven we board our vessel early to sail to Skomer Island, whose name derives from Skalmey, a word of Viking origin meaning ‘Cleft Island’, possibly from the fact that the eastern end of the island is nearly cut off from its main part. The island is a national nature reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area, surrounded by a marine nature reserve. It is well known for its wildlife. Around half the world’s population of Manx shearwaters nest on the island; the Atlantic puffin colony is the largest in southern Britain; and the Skomer vole is unique to the island. Of archaeological interest are its stone circles, standing stone and remains of prehistoric houses. We shall eat a packed lunch on the island.
After exploring the island, we return to Tenby for some time at leisure with which to explore the historic town. Notable features include its 13th-century town walls, the Five Arches barbican gatehouse, the 15th-century St Mary’s Church, and the stone Tudor Merchant’s House, a 15th-century town house. You may wish to visit the Merchant’s House (time permitting – this will depend on our return time from Skomer Island), or perhaps take a short walk from the town centre to Tenby’s North Beach, which provides a pretty view of the town.
We shall dine in the hotel again this evening. (Overnight Heywood Spa Hotel, Tenby) BLD
Hereford, Herefordshire, England - 4 nights
Day 17: Thursday 25 June, Tenby – Brecon – Tretower Court – Laskett Gardens – Hereford
- Market town of Brecon
- Tretower Court & Castle
- Lunch at the Nantyffin Cider Mill
- The Laskett Gardens: the creation of Sir Roy Strong CH and his late wife, Julia Trevelyan Oman
Today we return east across Wales to Hereford. Along the way, we stop at the historic town of Brecon, known as the gateway to the Brecon Beacons Mountain Range. We next visit Tretower Court and Castle. Tretower Court is a medieval fortified manor house, parts of which may have been constructed as early as the 13th century, when the adjacent Norman castle was still in use as a stronghold. The manor house, which was added to in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, was intended to provide a level of luxury impossible in the castle. It is probably the oldest surviving manor house in Wales, and it is especially noted for its fine decoration, a masterpiece of medieval craft.
After visiting this beautiful old house and the ruined castle we shall enjoy a light lunch at the Nantyffin Cider Mill. The restaurant, housed in a 16th-century inn, is noted for some of the best cuisine in Wales.
In the afternoon, we visit the Laskett Gardens, which were created by Sir Roy Strong, an art historian, landscape gardener and retired director of the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum. His wife, Julia Trevelyan Oman, was a set designer for television, theatre, ballet and opera. Together they developed the gardens over a period of 40 years. Covering nearly two hectares, the garden is an elaborate assemblage of hedged garden rooms with surprises around every corner: follies, urns and fripperies mark a sequence of contrasting spaces, which range from formal to informal, light to dark, open to enclosed. The ‘formal’ garden is influenced by the great gardens of both the Italian Renaissance and Tudor England. (Overnight Castle House Hotel, Hereford) BL
Day 18: Friday 26 June, Hereford – Brockhampton – Kempley – Ledbury – Madresfield Court – Hereford
- All Saints’ Church, Brockhampton
- Medieval wall paintings of St Mary’s Church, Kempley
- The church of St Edward the Confessor, Kempley: a mini-cathedral of the Arts and Crafts movement
- Market town of Ledbury: time at leisure
- Madresfield Court: A moated stately home (by special appointment)
This morning we drive to the village of Brockhampton to visit the beautiful All Saints’ Church, widely recognised as one of the most important Arts and Crafts buildings of the early 20th century. We next drive to the nearby village of Kempley, where we visit two churches, St Mary’s and St Edward’s. St Mary’s is a Norman construction with excellent medieval wall paintings and ancient timbers. St Edward’s was designed by the Arts and Crafts architect Albert Randall Wells in 1903. The poet John Betjeman described it as a ‘mini cathedral to the Arts and Crafts movement’.
From Kempley we travel to Ledbury, passing the village associated with the Dymock poets. This group, which includes Robert Frost, Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas, Wilfred Wilson Gibson, and John Drinkwater, made the village of Dymock its home from 1911 to 1914.
The market town of Ledbury sits in the landscape that inspired Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This pretty town has a large number of timber framed buildings. Outstanding among its monuments are the Market House, built in 1617, and the parish church of St Michael and All Angels, where Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s mother and sister Mary are buried. Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) spent her formative years at nearby Hope End House; the poet laureate John Masefield (1878-1967) grew up in the town.
Our final visit today is to a grand country house, Madresfield Court, which has been the home of the Lygon family for nearly six centuries. It is located on lands first inhabited in Anglo-Saxon times and developed in the 12th century. The present building is largely Victorian, although its origins are from the 16th century and its 12th-century Great Hall survives at its core. The original Tudor house followed the plan of a standard moated manor; the original 16th-century bridge and entrance tower have been restored. The important Arts and Crafts architect Charles Robert Ashbee decorated the library. The house was extensively restored and rebuilt between 1866-1888 by the great architect of London banks, Philip Charles Hardwick, for the 5th Earl, creating the current ‘Victorian fantasy’. The chapel was designed by Hardwick and decorated in the Arts and Crafts style by Birmingham Group artists including Henry Payne, William Bidlake and Charles March Gere. Evelyn Waugh was a frequent visitor to the house. He based the Marchmain family, which is central to his novel Brideshead Revisited, on the Lygons. (Overnight Castle House Hotel, Hereford) B
Day 19: Saturday 27 June, Hereford – Hay-on-Wye – Hereford
- Award-winning gardens of Hereford Cathedral
- Hereford Cathedral
- Mappa Mundi & Chained Library
- Black & White House Museum, Hereford
- Free time in Hay-on-Wye
We devote this morning to the cathedral city of Hereford. By the beginning of the 8th century, Hereford had become the Saxon capital of West Mercia. In the following centuries, the town was involved repeatedly in struggles between the Saxons, the Welsh and the Vikings. Its strategic location on the Welsh Marches led to the construction of a huge castle by the Earls of Hereford (dismantled in the 18th century).
We begin our day with a tour of Hereford Cathedral’s gardens. These RHS award-winning gardens, on 6 acres, have been featured in Country Life magazine and on BBC TV. A cloister garden, enclosed by 15th-century buildings, features interesting borders and small trees, and is planted for colour through all seasons. The College Garden hosts roses and plants which have an ecclesiastical connection, and enjoys beautiful views of the Wye Valley and a medieval bridge. The Bishop’s Garden’s ancient trees shade spring bulbs and lawns, and its outdoor chapel is perfect for quiet contemplation.
Next, we visit Hereford Cathedral itself. The cathedral dates from the 12th century and the adjacent Bishop’s Palace was constructed in 1204. The cathedral has a grand Romanesque nave and a fine Gothic ceiling and tracery windows in the aisles. It has a lustrously decorated Lady Chapel. Hereford Cathedral School is also one of the oldest schools in England.
A highlight of our morning is a viewing of Hereford Cathedral’s greatest treasure. The magnificent Mappa Mundi (1300) is the largest medieval map in existence. Parts of Europe and Africa are identifiable in this map, which has as its centre Jerusalem. Its representation of the world is more symbolic than geographically accurate. Its real importance lies in its portrayal of the medieval spiritual worldview, which includes Paradise. We also view the cathedral’s magnificent library books. In the Middle Ages, such valuable items were chained for security; the use of chains endured until the 18th century. Hereford has the most complete example of these chains. The library’s oldest manuscript, one of 229 in the collection, is the extraordinary 8th-century Hereford Gospels.
We then visit Hereford’s Black and White House Museum, also known as the Old House. This fine timber-framed Jacobean building of 1621 is now a museum of Jacobean life, with period furniture and paintings.
After time for lunch at leisure in Hereford, we drive to Hay-on-Wye. This small market town is known for its numerous bookstores, including the Hay Cinema Bookshop. Housed in a former cinema, this store has over 200,000 volumes on all subjects! (Overnight Castle House Hotel, Hereford) B
Day 20: Sunday 28 June, Hereford – Stokesay Castle – Ludlow – Hereford
- Stokesay Castle: A fortified medieval manor house
- Walking tour of the medieval walled market town of Ludlow
- Farewell Dinner
We begin today at Stokesay Castle, the finest and best preserved fortified medieval manor house in England. Lawrence of Ludlow, a wealthy local wool merchant, built Stokesay between 1281 and 1291, and it has scarcely been altered since. The castle, timber-framed gatehouse and parish church form an unforgettably picturesque group. Stokesay’s magnificent great hall has a fine timber roof, shuttered gable windows and a magnificent open hearth. A tall castle-like tower with an original medieval tiled floor and remains of wall paintings, and a solar block – a private apartment block – flank the great hall. The solar block contains one of the few post-medieval alterations to the house, a fine panelled chamber of 1641 with a richly carved fireplace. Traces of the original painting that adorned it survive. The magnificent gatehouse, with lavish timber framing and charming carvings of Adam and Eve, was also added in 1641.
We next drive to Ludlow, a medieval walled market town where we shall have a walking tour. The historic centre of Ludlow has largely escaped development that would otherwise alter its medieval, Tudor and Georgian character. M.R.G. Conzen remarked of Ludlow, “Its composite medieval town plan and a history of eight and a half centuries with several periods of considerable importance have endowed its Old Town with an historically well-stratified and richly textured landscape.” Michael Raven, who created a detailed gazetteer of all the settlements of Herefordshire and Shropshire in the late 20th century, stated that “There can be little doubt that Ludlow is the finest town in Shropshire.” Ludlow’s medieval street plan survives, though the town walls and gates have disappeared in many places. Mill Street and Broad Street are particularly famous for their rich architectural heritage and vistas, with many fine Georgian buildings. The great architectural historian, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, described Broad Street as “one of the most memorable streets in England.”
We return to Hereford with time to freshen up before our farewell meal. (Overnight Castle House Hotel, Hereford) BD
Day 21: Monday 29 June, Hereford – Wightwick Manor – Birmingham Airport
- Wightwick Manor & Gardens: Victorian manor, home to a Pre-Raphaelite art collection
- Departure transfer to Birmingham Airport
Wightwick Manor is one of only a few surviving examples of a house built and furnished under the influence of the Aesthetic movement and Arts and Crafts movement. The house is a grand version of the half-timbered (Elizabethan) vernacular style. Within, it has wallpapers and fabrics created by the great Arts and Crafts designer William Morris, De Morgan tiles, Kempe glass and Pre-Raphaelite works of art, including works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and John Everett Millais. The manor also contains the work of thirteen professional female artists including Lizzie Siddal, Evelyn De Morgan, Lucy Madox Brown, Marie Spartali Stillman and May Morris. The Malthouse Gallery now houses a group of works by Evelyn De Morgan and her husband William. The house is surrounded by 17 acres of woodland and gardens.
After exploring this grand house we have a light lunch in the tearoom. We then drive to Birmingham Airport. Group members taking the ‘designated’ ASA flight are scheduled to depart in the late afternoon. BL