The following itinerary describes a range of castles, country houses, museums and gardens 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.
King's Lynn, West Norfolk – 3 nights
Day 1: Saturday 7 June, London Heathrow – Ely – King’s Lynn
- Transfer London Heathrow
- Light Lunch at Almonry Restaurant & Tea Rooms
- Ely Cathedral
- Stained Glass Museum: Curatorial Tour, Ely
- Light (2-course) Welcome Dinner
Meeting Point: The tour will commence at 8.30am at a hotel located close to Heathrow Airport and easily accessed by public transport (details TBA).
After an early morning arrival in London, we travel to the Isle of Ely, where St. Etheldreda, Queen of Northumbria, founded an abbey in 673 AD. Abbot Simon, who owed his appointment to William the Conqueror, begun construction of the great Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity here in 1081. Ely Cathedral rose like a giant ship in the middle of the dense marshes of the Fenlands and attracted many pilgrims who came to visit Etheldreda’s tomb. Our tour of the cathedral will take in the west front with its impressive Galilee porch, the great nave and the octagonal crossing with its distinctive lantern, the work of Alan of Walsingham and William Hurley dating from 1340.
Led by curator, Dr Jasmine Allen, we tour the Stained Glass Museum which celebrates the vibrant beauty of stained glass from the medieval period to the present day. Highlights of the collection include the Bust of a King c. 1210, Soissons Cathedral, France – a striking image of a medieval king featuring a simple design and bright primary colours typical of early medieval stained glass; the Annunciation to the Virgin c. 1340, Hadzor Church, Worcestor, one of the finest surviving examples of English 14th-century glass-painting; the Scene from the Legend of St James c 1550, Rouen, France – richly coloured and exquisitely painted, this panel shows the highly developed techniques of continental glass painters and glaziers by the 1500s; and Labours of the Month: August, Threshing the Corn, 1863 – designed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and made by Morris, Marshal, Faulkner & Co, the panel demonstrates a subtle shift from the Gothic revival style of the time towards the Arts and Crafts style. Note: The Stained Glass Museum is accessed by a flight of 40 steps via a stone staircase. There are handrails and it is all on one level once upstairs.
A light lunch will be provided at the 13th century Almonry Restaurant located within the medieval precinct of Ely Cathedral.
Following our tour of Ely we journey an hour north to the port and market town of King’s Lynn. After check in, there will be time at leisure before we convene for a light Welcome Dinner at our hotel. (Overnight King’s Lynn) LD
Day 2: Sunday 8 June, King’s Lynn – Houghton Hall – Oxburgh Hall – King’s Lynn
- Houghton Hall and Walled Gardens: incl. private tour of the Hall
- Oxburgh Hall, Garden & Estate
This morning we depart King’s Lynn for a private tour of the interior of Houghton Hall which was designed by Colen Campbell and completed in 1735 for Sir Robert Walpole, England’s first Prime Minister. It is one of the country’s great houses and everything about it is of the best quality. Only Holkham, which we visit later in the tour, rivals its Palladian grandeur. The interiors were entrusted to William Kent and their decorative style is matched by the house’s collection of art that adorns the staterooms. There are still wonderful pictures here, although all too many of them were sold to Catherine the Great of Russia to pay the debts of Walpole’s eccentric grandson. Room after room is filled with furniture that Kent designed for the house; the Green Velvet Bedchamber possesses the most sumptuous state bed in the country. We will also walk through the park and explore the walled garden.
Our afternoon visit is to a most remarkable house and garden. Edmund Bedingfield built Oxburgh Hall in 1482, when the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of the Roses were over and England was entering a period of relative tranquillity, so that it was no longer necessary for residences to be fortified. Although this house did not function in the same way as a castle, its owners had to negotiate the tortuous politics of the Tudor court, and it therefore incorporates symbolic elements of Marshall architecture. Oxburgh looks quite tremendous as we approach its twin-towered Gatehouse and seven storeys of brick walls rising to battlements. A moat surrounds this most dramatic manor house. The associated walled garden, on the other hand, is delightful, with a parterre, long herbaceous borders, and a 19th-century kitchen garden. (Overnight King’s Lynn) B
Day 3: Monday 9 June, King’s Lynn – Castle Rising – Sandringham – King’s Lynn
- Guided walking tour of King’s Lynn, incl. St. George’s Guildhall, Docklands area & Custom House with historian, Dr Paul Richards
- Castle Rising
- Sandringham Estate: incl. early evening private tour of the house (to be confirmed in 2025)
We meet with local historian and ex-mayor of King’s Lynn, Dr Paul Richards, who will give us a rather different perspective on life in King’s Lynn, which has a character all its own. This ancient town was one of the most important seaports during the Middle Ages. The maze of streets and lanes, many of which retain their original character, wraps around the quay. It includes Hanseatic warehouses, which reflect stylistically the influence of the Dutch and Lowland States that traded here. The Hanseatic League developed as an important free association of trading cities around the Baltic and North Sea coasts. It was dedicated to protecting members’ shipping from pirates and guarding members’ privileges and interests. Although not a political entity in its own right, the League often defended its interests successfully against monarchs. Some other Hanseatic cities were Lübeck, Hamburg, Bruges, Bergen and Novgorod. Our tour includes a visit to St. George’s Guildhall, which was built in the 15th century. It was converted to a theatre where Shakespeare is said to have performed.
Castle Rising is now a small, interesting inland village but was once a seaport. When the sea receded, King’s Lynn supplanted it as the main port in the region. It is, however, the location of one of the grandest surviving Norman castles anywhere and we shall visit this as part of an afternoon dedicated thematically to the dwellings of royalty and aristocrats. Although much is lost, its original scale can be gauged from the huge earth works. The keep (c.1140), one of the largest and most ornate in England, remains to tell the story of its builder William d’Albini who married Henry I’s widow and became the Earl of Sussex. To the east of the keep, a small square gatehouse is set in the bank near a fragment of the castle’s 14th-century brick curtain wall. A rectangular enclosure, strongly banked and ditched, guards the gatehouse and to the west there is a smaller flanking enclosure. Also in the inner enclosure are the foundations of an 11th-century Norman chapel that is thought to be older than the castle itself. The remains of this chapel were uncovered in the 19th century. The castle passed to the Howard family in 1544 and it remains in their hands today, the current owner being a descendant of William d’Albini II.
From the battlements of Castle Rising we will be able to look out across the lands of the Royal estates of Sandringham. Queen Victoria purchased Sandringham for Edward VII in 1861. The prince, who had just married Alexandra, wanted a secluded place for his projected family, where they could enjoy country pursuits. Sandringham has been a favourite of four generations of the Royal family who continue to use it as a retreat whilst farming its land. The gardens and parklands of Sandringham are extensive. The house itself is large but not at all grand or pretentious. We shall visit the gardens and enjoy a private tour of the house, exploring the rooms used by the Windsor family and their guests, especially at Christmas.
We depart from Sandringham, driving along the narrow country roads of the estate lined with huge drifts of rhododendrons that flourish here. On our return to King’s Lynn we dine together at the hotel. (Overnight King’s Lynn) BD
Langham, Norfolk – 3 nights
Day 4: Tuesday 10 June, King’s Lynn – Castle Acre – Holkham Hall – Langham
- Castle Acre Priory & Herb Garden
- Holkham Hall & Estate: incl. private tour of the Hall
Aptly named, Castle Acre village lies within the outer bailey of an 11th-century castle built by William de Warenne, son-in-law of William the Conqueror, of which only earthworks remain. More impressive is the ruin of the Cluniac priory (founded 1090) that we have come to visit. The Cluniac love of decoration is everywhere reflected in the extensive ruins of Castle Acre Priory, whose great 12th-century church directly imitated that of the vast Burgundian mother-house, Cluny. Its beautiful west end, standing almost to its full height, is articulated and enlivened by tiered ranks of intersecting round arches. This forms an attractive group with the late medieval porch, part timber-frame and part flint-chequer, and the extremely well preserved prior’s lodging. A mansion in itself, this includes a first-floor chapel that retains traces of wall paintings, and a private chamber with two fine oriel windows. The original size of the abbey can be gauged from its remaining walls. Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, which brought about its destruction; the Roman Church was a major landowner, holding a third of the country’s land, roughly the same acreage as the king and his aristocracy, and until Henry’s reign it answered only to the popes. We will walk in the beautifully recreated medieval herb garden, which displays medicinal, culinary and decorative plants used by the religious communities living in these great monasteries, centres of learning and healing, that were scattered throughout East Anglia.
Midday we continue through north Norfolk byways, threading along picturesque roads to Holkham Hall, the Palladian masterpiece that was essentially designed by Thomas Coke, with advice from William Kent, whom he had met, along with Lord Burlington, in Rome during a six-year ‘Grand Tour.’ The estate, which is a huge working farm, is still owned by his descendants, who combine agriculture with an innovative approach to conservation. Houghton Hall and Holkham have always rivalled each other, as have other pairs of English stately homes. These two Palladian houses embody the great building boom of the 18th century. Thomas Coke, first Earl of Leicester (1697-1759), was consumed by the construction of Holkham. The restoration of the family’s fortunes and completion of the house, however, fell to the second Earl. Both men had numerous talents. They were innovative farmers, reformers and progressive thinkers (they were Whigs, whereas the Walpoles of Houghton were Tories). ‘Earls of Creation’ was scholar and writer James Lees Milne’s particularly apposite title for such men. We enter a landscape in which most aspects of the vast deer park (with a herd of Fallow Deer) are dominated by the great house, and everywhere vistas lead your eye to some delight: a temple, an arch, an obelisk or a serpentine lake. In 1762 Capability Brown was commissioned to make adjustments to the grounds, but these were minor. The park wall and shelterbelt were 19th-century additions, as were the formal Victorian parterres beside the house, designed by W.A. Nesfield in 1854. The breathtaking but tasteful boldness of the park is matched by the drama of the house’s interior. The family collection of old masters epitomises the taste of an 18th-century nobleman. Following a light lunch at Holkam Hall’s cafe we take a 2-hour private guided tour of the Hall. This will be followed by some time at leisure for a self-guided visit of the Walled Gardens.
In the late afternoon we continue to the small village of Langham, located a few kilometres inland from the north coast and set predominantly in Norfolk’s Area of Outstanding Natural beauty. Our base for the next 3 nights will be The Harper, a former glassblowing factory converted into a boutique hotel in 2021. Tonight we dine together at the hotel’s restaurant. (Overnight Langham) BLD
Day 5: Wednesday 11 June, Langham – Elsing Hall – Felbrigg Hall – Langham
- Elsing Hall Gardens
- Felbrigg Hall, Garden & Park
We begin this morning with a private visit to Elsing Hall Gardens which surround a 15th-century moated manor house. The 20 acres of gardens feature a notable collections of old English roses which are in full bloom in June, the rapidly maturing pinetum as well as a fine ginko avenue.
Felbrigg Hall is set on a ridge in lush parkland planted with oak, beech and chestnut. It has a wonderful walled garden, an orangery dating from 1704, and an orchard with rare old varieties such as Norfolk Beefing and Wyken Pippin. This 17th-century house belonged to Squire Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, and both he and the house are of substantial character. Although it dates back to the 1400s, it is a place in which to experience 17th-century life and culture. Fine architecture and a consummate choice of materials were brought together in a building program that lasted a hundred years and beyond. The Windham family, who owned Felbrigg for generations, bequeathed a set of pictures acquired by William Windham on his ‘Grand Tour’, and there is much else in the interior to interest us, such as the library and wood carving by Grinling Gibbons and Nollekens.
This is evening is at leisure with the option for you to dine either at The Harper or at the local pub, The Blue Bell, located a two minute walk from the hotel. (Overnight Langham) B
Day 6: Thursday 12 June, Langham – Cley-next-the-Sea – Wells-next-the-Sea – Walsingham – Langham
- Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes: 2 hour guided circular walk
- Wells & Walsingham Light Railway
- Walsingham Abbey & Village
This morning we journey along the picturesque coastline of Cley-next-the-Sea to the NWT Cley Marshes, Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s oldest and best known nature reserve. Following a brief introduction at The Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre we take a 2-hour guided walk through the coastal reserve, which is considered one of the country’s most popular birdwatching sites. The six hides (four of which are accessible via boardwalks) give fantastic views across pools and scrapes that are specially managed to attract breeding and passage birds. Note: The circular walk is just under 5kms along and takes about 1.5 to 2 hours. This easy walk follows a boardwalk through the marshes and a stretch along the beach which is very stony. Bring suitable footwear, jacket and binoculars.
At the conclusion of our walk a light lunch will be served in the Education Centre. We then drive to the tiny fishing port of Wells-next-the-Sea whose charming quay is a mile from coast at high tide. Next we embark on a pilgrimage to Walsingham Abbey, the great medieval Shrine of Our Lady. Our journey will be by a reconstructed train of the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway. A reconstruction of a historic narrow-gauge tank engine will pull our 19th-century carriages gently through the chalk and flinty downs to the market town of Little Walsingham, first settled in 1061. Our visit will take in the history of this place of pilgrimage, including the Abbey grounds, priory, Georgian courthouse and prison from which some inmates were sent to Australia!
We return to Langham for another evening at leisure. (Overnight Langham) BL
Norwich - 4 nights
Day 7: Friday 13 June, Langham – Silverstone Farm – Holme Hale Hall – Norwich
- Silverstone Farm: Guided tour with Mr George Carter
- Home Hale Hall Gardens incl. lunch
This morning we visit Silverstone Farm the home and garden of designer George Carter. We shall tour the ground floor of the 1920s neo-Georgian farmhouse, library and large entrance hall in the barn (part of 1830s farmyard complex) and the elegant formal gardens. The formal theatrical green garden, which incorporates a series of hedged rooms, are influenced by Dutch and English formal gardens of the 17th and early 18th century. Silverstone Farm has been the subject of two TV programmes, many books and magazine features including Gardens Illustrated (Nov 11), World of Interiors (May 2004) and Country Life (June 2006).
Nearby we are invited by Mr and Mrs Simon Broke to a lunch and a visit to the gardens of Holme Hale Hall which has been in the family for several generations. The gardens, designed and planted by Chelsea Gold Medal winning designer Arne Maynard in 2000, feature a wonderful walled garden which has been re-purposed to mix vegetable and fruit production with huge herbaceous borders and lawns. Elsewhere, low cloud hedges of box are filled with perennial grasses framing the formal façade of the Hall. There is also a wildflower meadow, topiary garden and cutting garden filled with heavenly scented roses.
In the late afternoon we continue to the cathedral city of Norwich which will be our base for the next 4 nights. (Overnight Norwich) BL
Day 8: Saturday 14 June, Norwich
- Morning at leisure
- Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
- Norwich Cathedral
“The finest provincial city in England,” declared John Julius Norwich, leading British architectural historian and writer. The unique city of Norwich lies on two rivers, and has kept its labyrinthine medieval plan, encompassing thirty-two medieval churches and a dazzling colourful market. Norwich gave its name to a famous school of painters, and the city has six museums, including the only ‘museum of mustard’ in the country! Norwich is, moreover, one of the best-preserved cities in Britain. Fortified by the Saxons in the 9th century, it became a prosperous market town when Flemish settlers came here in the 12th century, and was the second most important city of England until the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.
This morning will be at leisure to explore the quaint shops in the medieval streets of Elm Hill and Tombland, and the old Saxon marketplace which comes alive on Saturday mornings.
In the afternoon we begin with a visit to the Norwich Museum and Gallery, which is housed in a dramatic location, the keep of a Norman castle (1160) occupying a high mound in the very heart of the city. In the Gallery we will be introduced to work of the Norwich School of watercolour artists, including John Sell Cotman, the Chromes, John Thirtle and George Vincent, who portrayed life in Norwich itself and in the surrounding countryside in the first half of the 19th century.
We also enjoy a guided tour of Norwich Cathedral, one of the most beautiful cathedrals of England, which was begun in the 11th century. This masterpiece in the Romanesque and late Gothic style has a dramatic stone spire, the second tallest in England after Salisbury. It also has many treasures such as the largest number of fine roof bosses anywhere in Christendom. (Overnight Norwich) B
Day 9: Sunday 15 June, Norwich – Mannington Hall – Blicking Estate – Norwich
- Mannington Hall & Gardens
- Blickling Hall & Gardens
This is a day devoted to visiting grand country houses with gardens to match. We commence with the garden surrounding the 15th-century Mannington Hall, a three-storey moated manor house constructed in local flint stone, owned by the Walpole family since 1740. June is Mannington’s ‘Month of Roses’ and roses feature throughout, especially in the Heritage Rose Garden, whose important collection of historic species reflects changing tastes in gardens and roses. There are lakes, follies and woodland walks to explore and morning tea in the teahouse.
Travelling on through the quiet roads of central Norfolk, we come to Blickling Hall, which is flanked by massive trimmed yew hedges. The house is a Jacobean masterpiece in red brick. Here we shall take a tour of the grounds that include glorious formal gardens with parterres, a fountain and extraordinary topiary. Beyond is a park with a lake and a summerhouse that takes the form of a Tuscan temple. The park offers fine vistas through its magnificent stands of trees. The current house, which we shall explore at the end of the afternoon, was built in 1620 by Sir Henry Hobart; the Hobarts later became Earls of Buckingham. Blickling, however, has a longer history. A precursor of the present house was owned by Geoffrey Boleyn, grandfather of Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded by order of her husband Henry VIII; local legend has it that on the anniversary of her execution her ghost rides up to the hall in a carriage drawn by headless horses guided by a headless coachman! (Overnight Norwich) B
Day 10: Monday 16 June, Norwich – East Ruston – Hickling Broad – Norwich
- East Ruston Old Vicarage Gardens: Guided tour with Mr Alan Gray & light lunch
- Hickling Broad: Boat Cruise of the Broads with Norfolk Wildlife Trust
Today we visit a garden created by two men over the past twenty-five years, begun after they acquired a run-down Edwardian Vicarage with no garden. Today it features in 1001 Gardens to see before you die. Situated two kilometres from the sea, it has an absorbing, exotic atmosphere and features a series of gardens, including a Sunken Garden, Dutch Garden, Tropical Border, Mediterranean Garden and Walled Garden. Alan Gray and Graham Robeson created these gardens and Alan will guide us through them. They are a plantsperson’s paradise! A delicious lunch will be included in this inimitable garden experience.
We then drive to Hickling Broad, where we board our boat to cruise the Broads and experience first-hand the setting of Arthur Ransome’s children’s adventure stories, Swallows and Amazons. We sail from Hickling Broad situated on the Upper Thurne river system into the network of lakes known as the Norfolk Broads. The Broads were regarded as natural elements until the 1960s when Dr Joyce Lambert proved that they were, in fact, artificial, having emerged through the flooding of early peat excavations. The Romans first exploited the rich peat beds of the area for fuel, and in the Middle Ages the local monasteries began to excavate the ‘turbaries’ (peat diggings) as a business, selling fuel to Norwich and Great Yarmouth. When sea levels rose the pits began to flood. Despite the construction of windpumps and dykes, the flooding continued and resulted in the today’s typical Broads, with their reed beds, grazing marshes and wet woodland. Our 2-hour guided water trail arranged by Norfolk Wildlife Trust journeys into the hidden heart of the broads to visit remote hides only accessible by boat. Look out for marsh harriers, great crested grebes and the elusive bittern! (Overnight Norwich) BL
Bury St Edmunds, Sulfolk - 6 nights
Day 11: Tuesday 17 June, Norwich – Sutton Hoo – Woodbridge – Bury St Edmunds
- Sutton Hoo: Guided tour of the Anglo-Saxon Royal Burial Site with NT archaeologist, Angus Wainwright
- Longshed: The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company Project
This morning we journey south to Suffolk where we spend the morning at the ‘royal’ burial complex at Sutton Hoo, one of the most significant sites in English Archaeology. In the summer of 1939 landowner Edith Pretty engaged local archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate a cluster of mysterious mounds on her estate. A series of eighteen burial mounds, were identified and excavated, dating to the end of the 6th and beginning of the 7th centuries AD. The largest of the burrows (Mound 1) revealed a 27m-long clinker-built timber ship, and in contrast to other mounds, the grave was undisturbed with its central burial chamber still intact. Given the significance of this discovery the dig was promptly taken over by Cambridge academic Charles Phillips. Painstaking excavation of the burial chamber revealed a spectacular array of over 200 objects which testified to the skill of early medieval artisans and the wealth of the individual buried beneath the mound. Although the ship was initially interpreted as a Viking burial, it soon became clear that Sutton Hoo was the burial ground of 7th-century royalty, and is now thought to be the grave of King Raedwald of East Anglia, buried in 625 AD. The film The Dig produced in 2021, is based on the 2007 novel of the same name by John Preston that reimagines the events of this excavation. Following a guided tour with NT archaeologist, Angus Wainwright to view the burial site there will be time at leisure for lunch and to view photographs of the excavation on display in Tranmer House.
Nearby lies the port town of Woodbridge well known for its boating harbour and tide mill. The town has been a centre of boatbuilding, rope-making and sail-making since the Middle Ages. Edward III and Sir Frances Drake had fighting ships built in Woodbridge. In 2016 the Sutton Hoo Ship Company was formed to reconstruct the Sutton Hoo Ship. Historians, shipwrights and many volunteers are using the specifications meticulously gathered by wartime archaeologists to reconstruct the ship and gain a greater understanding of England’s earliest maritime history. Currently under construction in The Longshed, it is due to be completed at the end of 2024. Following a short guided tour of The Longshed for a talk on this project and tour of the workshops, there will be time at leisure to explore Woodbridge. You may wish to visit the Tide Mill, one of only a handful in the world still producing flour on a regular basis.
In the late afternoon we continue our journey to the historic market and cathedral town of Bury St Edmunds which will be our base for the next 6 nights. (Overnight Bury St Edmunds) B
Day 12: Wednesday 18 June, Bury St Edmunds – Anglesey Abbey – Bury St Edmunds
- Anglesey Abbey, Gardens & House
- Afternoon at leisure
This morning we visit Anglesey Abbey. The chief glory of this 12th-century converted priory is its gardens and grounds. This important National Trust property is grand in scale but its spacious lawns, pools, flowers, shrubs and statuary are all brought together in a scheme that unites formality with charm. We will also explore the interior of the house in which Lord Fairhaven, son of an American Railway magnate, used great ingenuity in displaying his collections. His eclectic taste in art ranged from paintings by Antonio Canova and Claude Lorraine to those of John Constable.
After lunch we return to Bury St Edmunds for an afternoon at leisure to independently explore the city, which is rich in archaeological and historic treasures. Here in the 9th century St. Edmund became the last king of East Anglia. The Danes murdered him because of his Christian faith, and after his burial the town became a place of pilgrimage. For many years St. Edmund was the patron saint of England. You may wish to explore the ruins of the great abbey built in his honour, where in 1214 that the Archbishop of Canterbury met with the Barons of England who swore that they would force King John to honour the dictates of the Magna Carta. The Abbey Gardens include an Old English rose garden, a water garden and a garden for the blind, where fragrance takes the place of sight. (Overnight Bury St Edmunds) B
Day 13: Thursday 19 June, Bury Edmunds – Framlingham Castle –– Otley Hall – Helmingham Hall – Bury St Edmunds
- Framlingham Castle
- Otley Hall and Gardens
- Helmingham Hall Gardens, Stowmarket
Framlingham Castle, in Suffolk, is one of the most important and beautiful medieval castles in the British Isles. Bigod, second Earl of Norfolk, built it in about 1190 on the site of an earlier timber castle. Mary Tudor was one of its occupants. In the summer of 1553, with a large encampment of followers, she waited here for the results of the succession following the death of her brother, Edward VI. We shall visit the castle, climb onto its curtain wall, and walk along the ramparts through the thirteen towers that form its formidable defences. The walls of the castle offer commanding views of the surrounding Suffolk countryside.
A short drive brings us to Otley Hall, a beautiful 16th-century moated manor house, set in ten acres of garden. Following a light lunch we enjoy a tour of the house which is recognised as one of the most perfect examples of unspoiled late medieval architecture in England. Unequalled in Suffolk are the Great Hall and Linenfold Parlour, both of which look out onto a rose garden. Our guide will show us a wealth of notable features, including a cross or screens passage, richly carved beams, superb Linenfold panelling, and 16th-century wall paintings celebrating the marriage of Robert Gosnold III to Ursula Naunton (1559). The building’s profile is inflected with lofty chimneys, and especially noteworthy are the herringbone brickwork and vineleaf pargetting.
Our tour of the gardens provides a feast for the senses with their exquisite blend of wild and cultivated terrain. Elements of the gardens have been inspired by Francis Inigo Thomas (1866-1950) including an H-shaped Canal and Mount. There is also a beautiful Elizabethan-style knot garden, traditional herber and orchard designed by Sylvia Landsberg, and a striking labyrinth based upon the designs of the one at Chartres Cathedral. Conservation is an important part of the gardeners’ program here. They have encouraged growth of wild flowers and hedges, and have taken particular care to preserve the habitats of native wildlife.
We end the day with a visit to Helmingham Hall Gardens. It is hard to exaggerate the effect this beautiful park, with its red deer, and the spectacular moated hall constructed in mellow patterned red brick with its famous gardens, will have on you. The whole combines to give an extraordinary impression of beauty and tranquillity. A classic parterre flanked by hybrid musk roses lies before a stunning walled kitchen garden with exquisite herbaceous borders and beds of vegetables interspersed by tunnels of sweet peas, runner beans and gourds. On the other side lies a herb and a knot garden behind which is a rose garden of unsurpassable beauty. The subtle colour combinations in all these are in immaculate taste. The influence of the well-known garden designer Xa Tollemache, is clearly visible; the parterre was redesigned in 1987 and the rose garden to the east of the coach house was created in 1982, together with the knot and herb garden. (Overnight Bury St Edmunds) BL
Day 14: Friday 20 June, Bury St Edmunds – Beth Chatto – Sudbury – Long Melford – Bury St Edmunds
- The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market
- Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury: Curator led tour of house museum & gallery
- Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford
Beth Chatto OBE has become one of the great gardening writers of our time and enjoys an international reputation after winning ten gold medals at Chelsea Flower Show. She and her husband began establishing gardens at Elmstead Market in Essex during 1960 when the site was an overgrown wasteland between two farms. Faced with all kinds of difficult conditions Beth and Andrew Chatto set out to find homes for many of the plants they wished to grow. With dry and damp soil in both sun and shade, they were able to put into practice the underlying principles of what is now referred to as ‘ecological gardening’. There are five feature gardens to explore: the Gravel Garden, Scree Garden, Water Garden, Woodland Garden, and the newly redesigned Reservoir Garden. Adjoining the gardens is the nursery which contains over two thousand different types of plants, predominately herbaceous perennials, bulbs and a selection of shrubs and climbers. Our visit includes a one-and-half-hour guided tour of the gardens followed by time at leisure to enjoy lunch at the ‘Nursery Tearoom’ and explore the nursery.
We continue to the market town of Sudbury, a centre for the production of textiles, weaving woollen cloth in medieval times and transitioning to the production of silk in the 18th century. The town also became notable for its art, being the birthplace of Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), whose landscapes offered inspiration to John Constable (1776-1837), another painter of the surrounding Stour Valley area. We enjoy a curator-led tour of Gainsborough’s childhood home and the new gallery spaces designed by ZMMA which, after a major refurbishment completed in 2022, now display paintings from throughout the artist’s career and exhibitions on other later Suffolk painters such as John Constable and Cedric Morris.
To complete our day we visit Holy Trinity Church, one of the great Suffolk wool churches which stands at the north end of the village of Long Melford. It is widely acknowledged to be one of the most magnificent late medieval parish churches in England. Its rich 15th-century decoration includes the famous run of stained glass donor portraits which light the north isle and provide an unparalleled record of 15th century costumes, heraldry and hairstyles. (Overnight Bury St Edmunds) B
Day 15: Saturday 21 June, Bury St Edmunds – Ipswich – Flatford – East Bergholt – Dedham – Bury St Edmunds
- Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich
- Guided walk of Flatford (1½ hrs)
- Constable Country Walk from Flatford to East Bergholt (1½ hrs)
- Afternoon tea at the 16th-century ‘Essex Rose Tea Room’, Dedham
Today we journey to the county town of Ipswich to visit Christchurch Mansion which contains the biggest collection of paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable outside of London, along with collections of other artists inspired by the beautiful landscapes of East Anglia. There are also period rooms such as the sumptuous Georgian Saloon and the humbler Victorian wing with its displays of children’s toys and dolls houses.
We travel a little way to Flatford, site of the famous Flatford Mill, before our Constable Country Walk. John Constable (1776-1837) was born in Suffolk and is known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home, which he invested with an intensity of affection. “I should paint my own places best”, he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, “painting is but another word for feeling”. His most famous paintings include Dedham Vale (1802) and The Hay Wain (1821) the colourism and open brush stroke of which, when the painting was exhibited in Paris, were to have a revolutionary influence upon French artists such as Delacroix. Although his paintings are now among the most popular and valuable British paintings, he was never financially successful and did not become a member of the establishment until he was elected to the Royal Academy at the age of fifty-two. He sold more paintings in France than in England. Constable rebelled against the demand that artists compose from the imagination rather than depict nature with immediacy. He told Leslie, “When I sit down to make a sketch from nature, the first thing I try to do is to forget that I have ever seen a picture”.
We begin our tour of Flatford from Bridge Cottage, before exploring the rest of this delightful town. The second leg of this walk takes us outside the village itself, as we make our way through the countryside to East Bergholt. Our tour of painting sites immediately around Flatford will include scenes made famous in The Hay Wain, Boatbuilding and Flatford Mill. Our guide will be armed with reproductions of the paintings, so you can make comparisons with the scenes today (remarkably similar). We have time for tea at the ‘Essex Rose Tearoom’ in Dedham before we return to our hotel at Bury St Edmunds. (Overnight Bury St Edmunds) B
Day 16: Sunday 22 June, Bury St Edmunds – Lavenham – Bury St Edmunds
- Guided tour of Lavenham, including the Guildhall of Corpus Christi
- Time at leisure in Bury St Edmunds
- Farewell Dinner, Eaterie Restaurant, The Angel Hotel
This morning we visit the village of Lavenham, once a vibrant, prosperous Suffolk wool town. The legacy of its past wealth is reflected in the buildings that have survived. We shall visit the Guildhall of Corpus Christi, one of the finest surviving timer-framed buildings in Britain. The Guildhall was the economic hub of what was once the fourteenth richest town in England. Built around 1530, it was one of the last buildings to be erected before the cloth industry collapsed. Fascinating exhibitions here give you insights into local history and traditional farming practices, as well as the area’s medieval cloth industry. An interesting walled garden grows plants that produce traditional dye colours, which are bright even by today’s standards.
Our guided walk around the village where so many Tudor timber framed buildings have miraculously survived will take in the vast parish church of St. Peter & St. Paul. Clothiers built this great church to celebrate the end of the Wars of the Roses in 1485. Quaint streets will lead us into enchanting medieval prospects, including the market place, the Old Wool Hall, Tudor shops and Woolstaplers.
We return to Bury St Edmunds in the early afternoon where the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. You may wish to visit Moyse’s Hall Museum, located 5 minutes’ walk from our hotel. Built around 1180, it houses a collection of artefacts from the Bronze Age, as well as Roman pottery and Anglo-Saxon jewellery. Tonight we enjoy a farewell dinner at the Angel Hotel’s Eaterie Restaurant. (Overnight Bury St Edmunds) BD
Day 17: Monday 23 June, Bury St Edmunds – Audley End – Saffron Waldon – London Heathrow
- Audley End House and Gardens
- Market town of Saffron Walden
- Transfer to London Heathrow Airport arriving at approximately 6pm
This morning we depart Bury St Edmonds and venture into the county of Essex. We begin by visiting a great country house that monarchs and aristocrats alike have used for over 400 years as a symbol of their wealth, status and power, as well as for their pleasure. This is Audley End, a fitting climax to our tour. Henry VIII gave Walden Abbey to Sir Thomas Audley, who transformed it into his mansion, Audley End. His grandson Thomas, first Earl of Suffolk, rebuilt this mansion between 1603 and 1614. The new Audley End was truly palatial in scale, but Suffolk fell from power after 1618. Charles II bought the house in 1668 and used it as a base for attending the Newmarket races. By the 1680s, Sir Christopher Wren was warning of the need for major repairs. The cost of these caused William III to return Audley End to the Suffolk family. When the Suffolk line died out in 1745, the Countess of Portsmouth bought the house for her nephew and heir, Sir John Griffin Whitwell, the fourth Baron Howard de Walden and first Baron Braybrooke. Today, the house’s interior largely reflects the tastes of the third Baron Braybrooke, who inherited it in 1825. He installed his extensive picture collection here and filled the rooms with rich furnishings. The fourth Baron Braybrooke’s natural history collection also remains an appealing feature of the house. After nearly thirty years in store, a rare set of English tapestries by the Soho weaver Paul Saunders has been conserved and displayed in the Tapestry Room. They depict figures in a landscape with ruined buildings and were originally supplied to Audley End in 1767.
Audley’s park and the fine Victorian gardens are just as glorious as its interiors. An artificial lake, created with water from the River Cam, runs through delightful 18th century parkland. The Classical Temple of Concorde, built in 1790 in honour of George III, and the restored 19th century formal parterre garden, dominate views from the back of the house. We will see Robert Adam’s ornamental garden buildings, and the Elysian Garden cascade. If all this sumptuous living is too rich for you then a sobering visit to the historic kitchen and dry laundry might be to your taste. You will have time to lunch here in the Tea Room located in the Servants Hall. After lunch we shall visit the thriving organic walled 19th-century kitchen garden, with its box-edged paths, trained fruit and 52-metre-long vine house – still as it was in its Victorian heyday.
Our last visit is to the enigmatic-sounding town of Saffron Waldon. In the medieval period Saffron Walden was primarily concerned with the wool trade. In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) came to be grown throughout the area. The precious saffron extracted from the flower’s stigmas was used in a variety of ways – in medicines, as a condiment, as a perfume, as an aphrodisiac, and as an expensive yellow dye. The town, originally known as Chipping Walden, thus took the name Saffron Walden. By the end of the 18th century brewing had replaced saffron as the main crop in the district; local malt and barley supplied more than thirty maltings and breweries here by the 1830s.
All good things must come to an end! Our tour ends with a coach trip to London Heathrow Airport, arriving at approximately 6pm, where we must all say goodbye. B