September 24: Arrival (depart U.S. on 9/23)
On arrival at Heathrow airport, a private transfer will take you to our overnight hotel, the Macdonald Windsor Hotel. In the evening you are invited to join the group for a welcome drink and canapés, followed by dinner.
September 25: Windsor Castle and Windsor Walking Tour
We start the day at Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world and one of the Queen’s official residences. Established in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, it has been remodelled by successive kings and queens and is regularly used for ceremonial and State occasions. The magnificent State Apartments are furnished with some of the finest works of art from the Royal Collection while St George’s Chapel is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in England. After lunch in a local café, we enjoy a guided walking tour of Windsor. Lying on the south bank of the River Thames, this ancient town, which grew up around the castle, has a rich mix of culture and history. The Old Town retains its picturesque medieval appearance with cobbled streets, winding alleyways and lovely halftimbered houses. We also take a walk down to the river bank and up Castle Hill. We continue on to the Buxted Park Hotel, our base for the next five nights. We enjoy dinner tonight at our hotel.
September 26: Penshurst Place, Ightham Mote and Traditional Pub Dinner
Penshurst Place is a medieval manor house surrounded by stunning formal walled gardens and ancient parkland. Previously used as a hunting lodge by Henry VIII, it has been owned by the Sidney family since 1552 and is still a much-loved family home. The house still displays many of its original medieval and Tudor features, a magnificent Great Hall and State Rooms which house a fine collection of portraits, furniture and tapestries. We enjoy lunch here after our visit. Next, we explore the romantic, moated manor house of Ightham Mote, once described by historian David Starkey as “the most beautiful and the most interesting of English country houses”. Built nearly 700 years ago, atmospheric Ightham has been home to medieval knights, courtiers to Henry VIII and Victorian High Society. The tranquil garden features lakes and an orchard, while the ancient estate offers breathtaking views of the Kent countryside. Dinner tonight is taken in a traditional English pub.
September 27: Red House and Down House
We visit Red House, the only house commissioned, created and lived in by William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Only recently acquired by the National Trust, conservation work has revealed more about the house including a previously undiscovered pre-Raphaelite Genesis wall painting. We then travel to Down House, home of scientist Charles Darwin and his family for 40 years. Several rooms have been recreated as they appeared when he lived here including the study where he wrote ‘On the Origin of Species’. The house is surrounded by extensive gardens; Darwin’s ‘outdoor laboratory’. After dinner back at the hotel this evening, we enjoy a fascinating talk by a guest speaker.
September 28: Sissinghurst Castle Garden and Scotney Castle
We head to Sissinghurst Castle Garden where we enjoy an exclusive early bird garden tour. Created in the 1930s by novelist Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson around the picturesque ruins of an Elizabethan manor house, these world-famous gardens are laid out as a series of enchanting, individuallyplanted ‘rooms’ including a fragrant Herb Garden and Rose Garden. Wealthy Victorians liked nothing more in their gardens than a picturesque ruin and the partially-ruined, 14th century moated example at Scotney Castle is particularly romantic, with roses and wisteria adorning its walls. The lovely Victorian country house overlooking it combines 19th century revival style furnishings with domestic comfort. Later, we enjoy dinner together in a local restaurant.
September 29: Charleston and Bateman’s
Our first stop is Charleston, home of artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell (sister of Virginia Woolf), and country meeting place for the writers, painters and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group. The house was transformed by the artists who painted walls and furniture, and filled rooms with textiles, ceramics and works of art from their collection. 17th-century Bateman’s so enchanted Rudyard Kipling when he discovered it that he made it his home in 1902. With its stone-mullioned windows and Sussex oak beams, it’s a romantic retreat that has been left virtually untouched since Kipling’s tenure here. The tranquil gardens include an orchard, formal garden and a colourful wildflower meadow, through which a river flows. Later, we enjoy dinner at our hotel.
September 30: Watts Gallery & Artists’ Village and Greys Court
We spend the morning at Watts Gallery and Artists’ Village, a building intended to provide ‘art for all’ and finished shortly before artist George Frederic Watts’ death. After major restoration work, the gallery walls are hung with a large selection of Watts’ prolific output. We also have time to visit the Arts and Crafts chapel designed by Watts’ wife Mary, and the great studio house, Limnerslease. We continue on to Greys Court. Set in the rolling hills of the Chilterns, this picturesque Tudor mansion has a rich patchwork of styles, including 18th-century additions and 20thcentury interiors. The house is still furnished as an intimate family home, having been occupied until 2003 and was used as a filming location in the hugely popular TV series Downton Abbey. From here we travel to the Macdonald Windsor Hotel, where we enjoy a farewell dinner together.
October 1: Departure
A private transfer will take you back to Heathrow airport for your return flight home.