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Three World Heritage Sites, six grand houses, four ancient places, Bath & Salisbury Cathedral
This tour hangs on the skeletal remains of several past 'Downton Abbey' tours to Highclere Castle, and we appreciate that is possibly not the best sales pitch that we've ever made, but it is, in essence, the truth!
This is a fantastic tour, taking in a wide-range of historic and ancient places - grand houses, churches, forts and monuments - some of which are well known and others less so. Whether it's the architecture, the social history, the literary and political connections, the fashions of the day or just simply the atmosphere, each place will tell its own story. In short, we take you to a selection of some of southern England's great treasures, including two UNESCO World Heritage Sites at Blenheim Palace, a perfect example of an 18th-century princely house, and the Stonehenge, Avebury & Associated Sites, collectively among the most famous groups of megaliths in the world. And, although gardens may have faded from their high-summer splendour, there are still many a superb garden, delighted to impress the late-summer visitor, and we show off a few of these too.
We spend most of our time in Wiltshire, but we dip into and out of neighbouring Oxfordshire and Somerset, touching upon the southern parts of the Cotswold Hills and the North Wessex Downs. And you won't be rushed away, there will be plenty of time for the story to unfold: like all our tours, we remain resolutely unhurried.
Sleeping & Eating
We return to the newly refurbished The Old Bell Hotel, Malmesbury, a wonderful establishment and one of several claimants to the title 'The Oldest Hotel in England'! We will dine in, at The Old Bell, on three evenings and dine out on three evenings, at The Red Lion, East Chisenbury, the current Good Pub Guide 'Wiltshire Dining Pub of the Year' award winners, at The Methuen Arms, Corsham, and at a personal favourite, The Potting Shed, Crudwell.
Day 1 : From the airports to The Old Bell, Malmesbury, via Blenheim Palace
Tim will collect you from either Stansted Airport or from the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel, immediately north of Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport and, once we are all together, we will drive west, towards Oxford, for lunch and the afternoon at Blenheim Palace, the Oxfordshire seat of the Dukes of Marlborough, home to the 12th Duke and, famously, birth place of Winston Churchill. Vanburgh's early-18th century masterpiece of English Baroque is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was built by Queen Anne as a gift, from a grateful nation, to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, for his victory, over the Franco-Bavarian army, at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704.
There is much to see and do at Blenheim, and we shall have plenty of time to explore its rich treasures, its gardens and wonderful parkland before we continue to The Old Bell Hotel, our home-from-home for the week. Set in the centre of historic market town of Malmesbury, we will arrive there in good time to check-in and relax, before drinks and dinner in their dining room.
Today's total driving is about 170 miles/270 km, for those of you joining us at Stansted, or 105 miles/170 km, for those joining from Heathrow
Day 2 : Bowood, Lacock & Corsham, three Grand Houses close to home
We spend today, close to home, starting with a morning visit to Bowood House, home of the Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne, and home to the Lansdowne family since the 1st Earl of Shelburne purchased it in 1754. We visit both the house and the beautifully landscaped 'Capability' Brown park, before driving to Lacock Abbey, for lunch and the early afternoon exploring this house, its village and the Fox Talbot Museum of photography. Founded in 1232 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, Lacock Abbey has enjoyed a rich and varied history, culminating in the world's first photographic negative being made, in August 1835, in the South Gallery, by William Henry Fox Talbot, a pioneering scientist and keen mathematician, who had moved into Lacock in 1827.
Our final visit of the day is to Corsham Court, its gardens and art collection. Corsham dates to 978, as a summer palace for the Kings of Wessex, and subsequently became part of the dowry of the Queens of England, until Thomas Smythe held the property and built an Elizabethan manor house. It came into the hands of the Methuen family, and remains the home of James Methuen-Campbell, the eighth generation of the Methuens to live here.
Day 3 : Barrows, Hills, Henges, Stone Circles & a Manor House
We spend today in and around Avebury World Heritage Site, starting with a visit to West Kenet Long Barrow, one of the largest and most accessible Neolithic chambered tombs in Britain and was built around 3650 BC. Close by is the mysterious Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe. It compares in height and volume, and is roughly contemporary, with the Egyptian pyramids. Probably completed around 2400 BC, it apparently contains no burial and, although clearly important in itself, its purpose and significance remain unknown.
It is only a few minutes to Avebury, where we will have lunch, visit Avebury Manor and Garden, and explore Avebury henge and stone circle, one of the greatest achievements of prehistoric Britain. Built and much altered between 2850 BC and 2200 BC, the henge survives as a huge circular bank and ditch, encircling an area that includes part of Avebury village, and the largest stone circle in Britain - originally of about 100 stones - itself enclosing two smaller stone circles.
Day 4 : Old Sarum, Salisbury Cathedral & Stonehenge
Our day starts with a brief visit to Old Sarum, a mighty Iron Age hill fort where the Celts, whose hill fort this was, followed by the Romans, the Saxons and the Normans all left their mark, and none more so than the Normans, who built Salisbury's first cathedral within their fortifications. However, Old Sarum was abandoned, in favour of a new site by the river, and the new Salisbury Cathedral, consecrated in 1220, was built. Salisbury is one of the finest examples of Early English Gothic architecture in Britain and home to one of the four original Magna Carta, and we will have a private guided tour of the cathedral. We will have lunch in Salisbury and there will be the opportunity too, to visit Mompesson House, in the Cathedral Close.
From Salisbury we retrace our steps north to spend the rest of the day at Stonehenge, the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe, one of the wonders of the world, and the subject of speculation and fascination since at least the early medieval period. The first monument, the circular earthwork enclosure of about 3000 BC, was transformed some 500 years later by the addition of the central stone monument, a construction project of unparalleled proportions, and we will learn about this and much else in the new visitor centre.
From Stonehenge, it's about a 30 minute drive to dinner, at the sumpteous Red Lion, East Chisenbury, the current holders of the Good Pub Guide's best Dining Pub of the Year award.
Day 5 : Iford Manor, Bath, afternoon tea & the Roman Baths
We start the day outside Bath, for a private visit to Iford Manor and its tranquil, Italianate garden designed by the architect and landscape gardener Harold Peto. Peto, a contemporary of Edwin Luytens, lived at Iford from 1899 to 1933, and created this romantic hillside garden, with its steps, terraces, sculpture and magnificent rural views.
After a cup of coffee, and a homemade biscuit or two, we will leave Iford for nearby Bath, where you will have some free time to explore this fantastic, historic city, before meeting up for a light afternoon tea at the Georgian Pump Rooms - where the likes of Jane Austen and her contemporaries would have taken the waters - before visiting the Roman Baths, next door.
We leave Bath late in the afternoon for supper at The Potting Shed, in Crudwell, en route home to Malmesbury.
Day 6 : The River Thames, Kelmscott Manor & Buscot Park
We spend much of our day, today, in neighbouring Oxfordshire, at two very different properties either side the River Thames, immersing ourselves in the 'Arts & Crafts' movement at Kelmscott Manor, the rather wonderful country retreat of William Morris, his family and co-leasee Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite artist. Morris thought Kelmscott was 'Heaven on Earth', and provided a constant source of inspiration for Morris until his death in 1896.
After lunch, at Kelmscott, we cross the Thames for the afternoon at Buscot Park, the late-eighteenth century family home of Lord Faringdon, who looks after the property on behalf of the National Trust. As well as the family collection of pictures, furniture, ceramics and objets d'art - collectively, the Faringdon Collection, which is displayed in the house - we have time to explore Buscot's beautiful walled gardens, its extensive grounds and its delightful Peto water garden.
Day 7 : Windsor Great Park & the Savill Garden, Heathrow and Stansted
Our final morning is spent in Windsor Great Park, the remnant of a once vast Norman hunting forest, which today still covers some 5,000 acres/2,000 ha of parkland, gardens and woodland. We will concentrate our efforts on the Savill Garden, named for its creator Eric Savill, and one of Britain's finest ornamental gardens. It is a true wonder and a garden for all seasons.
After lunch, at the Savill Garden, we return to the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel, for those of you departing from Heathrow, and then to Stansted Airport, where the tour ends and where we plan to be in good time for your evening flight home. However, if you are staying on in the UK, and don't need, or wish, to return to either Heathrow of Stansted, then please let us know your plans, so that we may assist you, in getting you to your next destination.
Today's total driving is about 80 miles/130 km to Heathrow or about 145 miles/230 km to Stansted
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* Some Advance Percentage of total booking amount
* Airfare/Transport fare to be paid full at one time in advance.
Cancellation & Refund Policy :
* Upon cancellation, refund will be made after deducting the Retention Amount.
* Retention Amount varies as per the number of days left before your package start date.
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Today, 10:27 PM
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