We all had a lovely time on the 2022 History of England tour. Or at least that’s what everyone said, and I had a great time anyway. So having a second tour seemed the obvious thing to do which is precisely what we are doing from 11th to 18th September 2023. I hope very much you will join me.
The Tour is being organised and run by professionals, you will be relieved to hear. So, to find out more, register or book and ask any questions you might have – go to the Albion Journeys website.
Why tour at all?
The idea is for a chance to get a few people together who have been kind enough to listen to the podcast, and share a love of English history. It’s also my chance to show off parts of the country that are special to me, and places that help bring to life the story we have covered so far on the podcast – from earliest times to the Stuarts, the lives of ordinary people as well as the great and the good.
So, this year we’ll travel down Welsh borders, starting off in Chester, and travelling down to Chepstow. On the way we’ll catch up with the medieval Marcher lord William Marshal, the wars of the Roses at Ludlow, the Stuarts and Charles II’s lucky escape in an oak tree. We’ll take in castles, towns, churches, abbeys, houses grand and ordinary, to tell the story of the English and hopefully have a good time together on the way.
Where are we going?
We are travelling first up to Chester from the hotel close to Heathrow Airport, but we’ll break the journey in a couple of places. Firstly, by visiting Wightwick Manor, house and gardens. It’s a bit naughty of me really, because this is strictly outside the prehistory to Stuarts theme. But I love the love the Arts and Crafts movement, and that’s what you will see – a Victorian era manor house, with lots of William Morris designs, pre Raphelite paintings, and gardens inspired by the movement.
But then we are back in the heartland of the blazing 17th century – at Boscobel House. It’s a beautiful example of an early 17th century gentry house, those aspiring local leaders of society who wanted to look as much like the grand magnates as they could afford. But it has the added twist of belonging to a loyal Catholic family, recusants, who made priest holes to shelter fugitive priests; and then, there’s a very famous Oak tree here. This is where a young Charles Stuart hid after his defeat at the hands of Cromwell at the battle of Worcester in 1651, with Roundheads searched below. As Charles never tired of telling everyone.
The next day is mainly about Chester. In 79AD, the Roman invaders built a ‘castrum’, and fort, and until the 4th century a legion was station there, at Deva Victrix. There is so much to do and see in Chester – imprints of the Romans still remain, the city walls still encircle the bounds of the medieval city and are the most complete in Britain. The Rows are a unique series of shops and covered walkways, and while many of Chester’s buildings are part of the Victorian ‘black and white revival’, there are many medieval buildings too. We’ll also take a short trip into Wales to St Winefride’s Well and Shrine, a place of pilgrimage since the 12th century, and where in the late 15th century, Margaret Beaufort built a chapel overlooking the well.
Still based in Chester, we then take an excursion southwards to the 17th & 18th century Erddig Hall, built by the Yorke family, set in a 1,200 acre estate and beautiful gardens. One of the glories of the house is that the family never seemed to throw anything away. So the house is stuffed full of paintings, porcelain and furniture; but also filled with records of the lives of the family and their servants, with portraits and poems recording domestic life.
And then, then one of my personal favourites; a monument of the industrial revolution, Pontycysyllte Aqueduct World Heritage Site. The Aqueduct and canal, and the countryside is which they are set, are stunning, and we’ll drift down the canal too ad soak it all in. Also, a national trail crosses the river here. This trail follows the path of Offa’s Dyke, built by the 8th century king to mark the border between Mercia and the Welsh princes. So, if you look carefully maybe you’ll the footprints of my son, daughter and friends because we have walked this lovely and historic trail more than once.
Jane and I were mouching about the glorious Shropshire countryside longer ago than I care to mention, when we came across Stokesay Castle, and quickly realised we’d found a sparkling pearl hidden in the Shropshire grass. It’s a fortified manor house really, built from the wealth of the 13th century wool trade, and as you walk around it feels as though you can still feel medieval life going on around.
Our next port of call, Ludlow, has so much to see and offer in a small town. Ludlow Castle is massive, a magnificent survival started in the 11th century with and one of the finest examples of a medieval castle, once centre of Yorkist and royal power in the Welsh Marches. Ludlow town is full of vernacular early modern merchant buildings, and we will do our first bit of church crawling – at St Laurence Church, a magnificent parish church described as the ‘cathedral of the Marches’. And if we get time, we’ll drop in at Sobhan Church, an absolutely extraordinary Strawberry Gothic confection.
Hereford is an ancient city which sits in a loop of the River Wye and was long fought over by Welsh and Anglo Saxon princes. We are visiting the city partly for its streets of half-timbered houses, but mainly for its magnificent Cathedral. There has been a church at Hereford since 696 AD, but the church you will see dates from the 12th century, with all its magnificent architecture and stained glass. Plus, it contains one of England’s great wonders – the Mappa Mundi, a map which has survived since the 13th century, and gives a unique insight into how the people of the time understood the world around them.
On the way to our next destination, we’ll do a bit more church crawling with a visit to Kilpeck church, described by Prof Nicholas Pevsner (who could be pretty brutal when he wanted to be) as ‘one of the most perfect Norman churches in England’, and that’s saying something. It’s tiny, on a completely different scale to Hereford Cathedral, but with lovely surviving carvings, and a real sense of a local church that bears the marks of 10 centuries of parish life.
The day finishes at Tretower Court. The beauty of Tretower is that you can trace within it the transition from a castle to a gentry house. Building dates from the 13th century, and at the time of Owain Glyndwr 15th century rebellion was still a key strongpoint, but then it began to put away its military purpose as the danger of violence receded, and became a gentry house at the heart of a country community. We will walk round the house from the medieval kitchen, buttery and pantry to Sir Roger Vaughan’s Great Hall, designed to host the family and display their status to visitors and tenants alike. We’ll try to drop in on Hay on Wye on our way back if we have time, home to more second hand and antiquarian bookshops than seem possible, an idyllic small town on Offa’s Dyke.
Next, it’s medieval and Marshal time. Three medieval masterpieces in one day – a we’ll also pick up my good friend Dr Richard Grove who will take us round. Tintern Abbey is a national icon and a romantic gothic masterpiece. It is the very template of the vast medieval Cistercian abbeys and religious communities, set in the remote hills, isolated communities but also economic powerhouses.
We’ll visit Goodrich Castle which seriously could have been my favourite castle ever since I saw it when I was a nipper, though it seems to have got smaller since then. This is a Norman Marcher stronghold ‘gainst the Welsh, with Keep, curtain walls, gatehouse and all, built and owned by Richard Strongbow of the de Clare, and later William Marshal.
Both gents also held another Norman castle at Chepstow, from where Marshal gained his name Lord of Striguil (derived from the Welsh for ‘bend in the river’) when he married Isabel de Clare in 1189. Again, I love this castle more than words can wield the matter, such a massy, powerful remind of Norman brute force and border warfare, and beautifully set high above the banks of the River Wye. And then that evening we’ll have a bit of an event together, a Q&A, where you can ask Richard and I anything you’d like from what you’ve seen on the way, or on the podcast, or anything really, and we can have some fun.
The last day could be the best of all. One early morning, I stepped off the bus with back pack and tent at Avebury, to find the start of the prehistoric Ridgeway Path which goes all across the chalk scarp of southern England. But I wasn’t prepared for the Avebury Circle, a majestic set of high stones, at the heart of a neolithic ceremonial complex. It was quite magical, and I have never forgotten the experience and the feeling. You can walk through and around the stones, and Richard will talk us through the complex as a whole, including Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Burrow.
Then we head for home – well, Heathrow, but we have one more delight before we get there. Again, I discovered Dorney Court when I still had my teeth, an absolutely exquisite early Tudor manor house, a living home more than 500 years old. The rooms are all wonderful and arranged in the original layout from Great Hall, Kitchens and Courtyard to the wood panelled Parlour and Great Chamber. Also, it happens to be where the first pineapple was cultivated in England.
Once more, to find out more, the order and general timings, hotels price, bookings and all of that hie thee to the Albion Journeys website, since they are the experts and know what thy are doing!