Great Historic Houses and Castles
Time capsules of power and privilege
The stately homes and castles of England are testament to the significance of landed power in the story of England. The architecture, art, gardens and stories of these estates reveal much about the great families that owned them and key events of England’s past.
Your tour can be tailored to match your interests and the time you have available. A themed tour might explore how the great houses have changed over the centuries, concentrate on the art treasures to be discovered, follow the story of a particular family or uncover the threads of great national events in the quieter corners of England.
Tours close to London:
Blenheim Palace and Woodstock Blenheim is one of the great houses of England and now a World Heritage Site. Built for the 1st Duke of Marlborough and his infamous wife, Sarah, it was also the birthplace of Winston Churchill. It was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh in magnificent baroque style and is renowned for its Capability Brown landscape setting. Combine your visit with time in Woodstock, Oxford or head to Minster Lovell: a ruined but lovely medieval manor house close by.
Downton Abbey Tour. Visit Highclere Castle, characterised as the model English stately home for the Earl of Grantham, his family and household, in the Downton Abbey series. In real life the house has been magnificently restored by the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon with splendid views and lovely gardens. Continue on to Basildon House where many Downton interior scenes were shot and Bampton in the Cotswolds used for many of the village scenes.
DURATION: 8 HOURS or several days.
The services of a local expert Blue Badge Guide.
Advice and local insights to choose the best combination of historic sites for your tour with carefully selected scenic routes between locations.
Local food and drink venues to suit your tastes.
Links to coach and car services or help with trains and public transport for travellers wishing to minimise their carbon footprint.
Tours in Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset and Devon:
Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy House: two contrasting visits in the beautiful Dorset countryside. Corfe Castle, a great medieval castle built by the Norman kings, was captured and 'slighted' as a result of treason during the Civil War. Nearby Kingston Lacy was built for the Bankes family as their new home. Its magnificent rooms, art collection, gardens and afternoon teas make for an excellent day out.
Wilton House and Wardour Castle in Wiltshire. Wilton is the home of the Earl of Pembroke and his young family. The Herberts are one of the great aristocratic families of England and Wales influencing political events over many centuries. Designed by Inigo Jones the house includes the double cube room displaying one of the best collections of 17th century art in England and it is thought Shakespeare brought his players to Wilton to perform. In contrast, Wardour Castle, hidden away in a lonely valley represents medieval political and military power translated into stone.
Stourhead and Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire these estates demonstrate the power of the new. Stourhead House and its renowned Gardens, were designed to display the wealth and accomplishments of the Hoares, a family whose fortune was made in banking at a time when property was the accepted symbol of status. Lacock Abbey, once a great monastery became a private estate at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Elements of the medieval building remain, gentrified as a gothick mansion for the comfort and status of the Fox Talbot family.
Sherborne Old and New Castles in Dorset are located next to one another near the lovely market town of Sherborne. The Old Castle represents medieval status and security in stone for the Norman bishop Roger who built it.built It proved too chilly and damp for Sir Walter Raleigh who built the New Castle as his cherished home, safely remote from the Tudor Court and his adventures in the New World.
Saltram House and Antony House on either side of the Tamar estuary in Plymouth are both grand and very human; built by families whose fortunes rose and fell buffeted by political and economic change. Both have exceptional grounds overlooking the estuary and can be combined with a longer visit that includes Plymouth itself.