Here it is – the 2024 Tour! 9th – 17th September, please come and join me. I’ve had massive fun looking at all the places in East Anglia I’d like to go to…slightly self-indulgent of me. The is a collaboration between myself and Albion Journeys; this is the third time we have done it, and Albion have been brilliant professionals every time, so you are in the hands of Experts. Also between thee and me, Kristin the Tour Manager is great company as well.
The idea is to get a few people together who have been kind enough to listen to the podcast, and share a love of English history. We’ve had two tours so far; spending a week with people who have absolutely got on like a house on fire and talked day and night about history has been such a joy.
It is planned to assemble at a hotel near London Heathrow on the evening of Monday 9th September. Head out for a week, returning to the same hotel – hopefully after having a ball – on Monday 16th, so that people can go on to what every they would like the following day, 17th.
There’s a bit of a theme, a bit loose – essentially, medieval and Early Modern up to the 17th century – so where we are up to now on the podcast, including the lives of ordinary people as well as the great and the good. But frankly, it’s also just my chance to show you some places I love.
It’s East Anglia this year
Every part of England has its special flavour. I sometimes think that if you towed the rest of England away in the night one day and sank it, it would take a while for the people of East Anglia to notice. But I could be wrong. It’s a country of ‘big skies’, of a glorious, wildlife-rich coastlines, fenland, verdant agriculture and, back in the day can claim to be the location of the Anglo Saxon origin story. It’s bountiful pre-industrial economy means it is littered with ‘prodigy’ houses, astoundingly varied churches from the smallest parish church, to the exceptional glories of Ely and Norwich; and the towns with streets that that still breath with hundreds of years of commerce and town life.
So. Hopefully if you decide to join me you’ll see enough to get a flavour.
Getting into the 16th & 17th century mood
One more thing, before I tell you about where we are going. One of the best things about the tour is people getting together. We have a one Q&A evening by tradition, but this year I also thought we’d try to get into the 17th century vibe with some folk culture. So three talented musicians will be coming along to give us an evening about English ballads, folk music and Dance, loosely based around John Playford’s The Dancing Master, published in 1651. With a bit of luck we can have a bit of a dance to boot. (Could I also say that attendence is entirely optional. If this doesn’t sound like your bag, you can sit it out!).
After a first night getting together and meeting each other at a hotel close to London Heathrow on the evening of Monday 9th September, we set off north and east for our first day touring.
Tuesday 10th September
First we are off to Ely Cathedral. For most if its history, Ely was the capital of the fens, an island, and fiercely independent, home of Hereward the Wake’s rebellion against the Norman. The Cathedral has its origins as far back as 672, and the Cathedral you can see today dates from 1083, with styles that span centuries, including the genius of the 14th Century Octagon tower.
Then it’s Oxborough Hall a bit off the beaten track; a moated manor house with its origins in a family made good in the 15th century. Oxborough is a great example of the new material of choice – brick – and it is beautiful. Jane and I went there decades ago, I’ve always meant to go back. The story is also about resistance and Catholic faith, with a priest hole made by the master of such things, Nigel Owens.
We reach the day’s destination at the gorgeous 17th Century and Georgian village of Burnham Market, centre of the seven Burnhams, and near where we spent all our wind-swept beach holidays as children, with essentially nothing to stop the wind between us and the Arctic Circle. We’ll be staying at the Hoste Arms, named after Captain William Hoste. This is Nelson country, and Hoste was a frigate captain and one of Horatio’s proteges.
Wednesday 11th September
Next day we stay nice and local. Walsingham was medieval England’s most important pilgrimage site outside of Canterbury, the whole town was organized around the thousands of visitors that flocked there. The tradition has returned after the Reformation, and we can get some feel for how visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham must have felt. Lovely place, too. Variety being the spice of life and all that, next visit could hardly be more different. Holkham Hall is a Neo Palladian masterpiece – massive and severe outside, 100% bling inside. Set in lovely parkland, and founded by one of the most famous of English jurists, Edward Coke. These days it’s also at the centre of coastal rewilding projects; the north Norfolk coast is a famous stopover for millions of migratory birds, and you will not go far without tripping over a birder or six.
By the way, we’ll also go to Horatio Nelson’s home village of Burnham Thorpe for lunch, and pop into his church. Also, because we are very local this day I’m hoping some of you might join me for a walk around the eras – don’t hold ne to it, but there’s a church, the mighty River Bourn (irony – really not mighty) and two water mills and a windmill if we can manage a 5 mile walk in the evening.
Thursday 12th September
Carrying on the variety theme, I have cheated and slipped in something completely different – the Arts and Crafts movement house at Voewood house. Built in the 1900’s, idiosyncratic and daring before we head on to our second prodigy house. Before we do, by the way, we’ll have lunch in Holt, a lovely Georgian town, home also of Elizabeth I’s financial genius Thomas Gresham.
After lunch – to Blickling Hall. There are few houses like this, I have been there more times than I care to mention. It’s set in an astounding estate, the Jacobean architecture is just…well among my very favourite anywhere (except possibly Haddon Hall, which we are not going to because it’s in Derbyshire, but one day), the interior is beguiling. Probably the birthplace of Anne Boleyn, also quite haunted. I am utterly confident you will love it all, and if you don’t I’ll buy you a free bun in the rather nice tea shop.
Friday 13th September
Norwich is the capital of East Anglia, and all its history and trade has drained into it. It was one of the four great regional capitals of England until the industrial revolution along London, York, and Bristol. We are going to spend the whole day in Norwich based in Tombland, because there is so much to see and do. The Norman cathedral is one of my favourite, the Norman Castle massive and impressive, and you can follow the story of Norwich’s favourite Tudor rebel, Robert Kett. The medieval shopping quarter around Elm Hill is full of lovely old vernacular buildings and the remains of the old wharfs. We’ll have a walking tour in the morning,, and then leave you to your own devices in the afternoon and evening. We’re based at a hotel in the centre. So no travelling this day.
Saturday 14th September
Next day we are out on our travels again, south into Suffolk at the market town of Framlingham and the great castle there, dating from the 12th century. The seat of the powerful Dukes of Norfolk, it was from here that Mary Tudor launched the only successful rebellion against the Tudor state, to dethrone the Nine Days Queen – Lady Jane Grey. We’ll have lunch in the lovely seaside village of Orford, and then it’s on to Sutton Hoo.
As the Second World War closed in, Edith Petty and local archaeologists excavated a burial mound, and uncovered a site of enormous significance – the burial ship and goods of a high status individual, probably Rædwald the 7th century king of Essex, and the fourth of Bede’s Brewalda. It’s a wonderful story, and part of England’s foundation story. You might like to watch the film The Dig before you come. Then it’s to our next hotel and location the Swan Hotel at Lavenham.
Sunday 15th September
Next morning we are going to Flatford Mill in search of historic English rural life, rural industry and art. Because this is Constable country, immortalised, and the image of his The Haywain and the Mill are still recognizable. Then we return to Lavenham. Now the middle ages were good for Lavenham, it flourished and much has survived today. It’s a perfect place to understand a late medieval town, with glorious vernacular urban architecture, church, Guildhall and Hall.
Monday 16th September
The last day starts with a glorious example of a wool church – the church at Long Melford. It’s an amazing 15th century building, with stunning perpendicular architecture and a parish church at the heart of the community for hundreds of years. With a bit of luck we’ll also get a chance to see the 16th century Melford Hall to boot.
Our last visit is to Hatfield House. This is the prodigy house created by James I’s greatest minister, Robert Cecil, son of Elizabeth I’s chief minister William. It is one of the very best examples of Jacobean architecture, and set in wide parks and gardens. It is good to finish on a high, and you will be blown away by Hatfield House.