Gardens of Hidcot Manor, protected by the National Trust.TyntesfieldGreenway, home of Agatha ChristieStourhead

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Society Stories: from Downton Abbey to Jane Austen

31st August 2014 - 6th September 2014 —£1795 (approx $2945), £500 deposit

Rich family histories are encapsulated in the grand houses of southern England. This beautifully scenic part of the country also has strong associations with the literary greats Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, allowing a glimpse of life from a bygone era.

Sunday 31st August: Arrival

On arrival at Heathrow, a complimentary transfer will take you to our overnight hotel, the Woodlands Park Hotel in Surrey. In the evening you are invited to join the group for a cocktail, followed by dinner.

Monday 1st September: 'Downton Abbey' and Greys Court

We depart after breakfast for a morning at the world-famous Highclere Castle, residence of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon and filming location for the much loved Downton Abbey television series. Entrance includes access to the Egyptian Exhibition in the cellars of the castle, which explores the achievements of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922.

We continue our Downton Abbey theme by heading to another filming location of the popular series. Set in the rolling hills of the Chilterns, Greys Court is a picturesque Tudor mansion with a rich patchwork of styles, including 18th century additions and 20th century interiors. The house is still furnished as an intimate family home, having been occupied until 2003. We'll also enjoy a guided tour of the delightful walled gardens that surround the house, set amidst medieval ruins.

We continue on to Audleys Wood Hotel and check in. There'll be time to unpack and freshen up before dinner.

Tuesday 2nd September: Strawberry Hill House and Ham House

This morning we travel to Strawberry Hill House, a magnificent Gothic Revival villa created by author Horace Walpole in the 18th century to house his vast collection of treasures. Elegant and eccentric, it is Britain's finest example of this style of architecture and we have the chance to see its highlights with a guided tour.

Our afternoon visit is to Ham House and Garden, one of Europe's greatest 17th century houses nestling on the banks of the River Thames. This atmospheric mansion with fine interiors and historic gardens has remained virtually unchanged for 400 years.

Wednesday 3rd September: The Vyne

After breakfast we check out and travel the short distance to The Vyne, a splendid Tudor red-brick mansion set in 13 acres of attractive gardens. It was built for King Henry VIII's Lord Chamberlain before becoming the Chute family home for over 300 years. We enjoy a guided tour bringing The Vyne to life in Georgian times.

From here we travel the short distance to Rhinefield House Hotel, arriving with plenty of time to unpack and relax in the hotel's surroundings in the afternoon, followed by dinner.

Thursday 4th September: Thomas Hardy Explorer Tour and Kingston Lacy

Our theme this morning is Thomas Hardy, one of Britain's greatest novelists and poets. We discover the countryside and settings for his novels on our Thomas Hardy Explorer Tour which includes Hardy's Birthplace, where some of his early novels such as Far from the Madding Crowd were written, and the Vale of the Great Dairies.

We then visit Kingston Lacy, the family seat of the influential Bankes Family. Built in 1665 and remodelled extensively in the 19th century, this striking Italianate house plays host to lavish interiors and is renowned for the collections of antiquities and artwork on display. It is also home to the largest private collection of Egyptian artefacts in the UK.

Friday 5th September: Winchester and Chawton House

We check out of our hotel and head east to explore the medieval city of Winchester with a literary-themed guided tour. The awe-inspiring cathedral is just one of the historic highlights here; its hidden treasures include the tomb of Jane Austen and the Winchester Bible, one of the finest 12th century bibles to have survived.

On our way back to London, we call in at Chawton House, an Elizabethan manor house that once belonged to Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight. It now accommodates a unique library of over 9,000 titles focusing on women’s writing in English from 1600 to 1830. We'll be treated to afternoon tea here after our bespoke tour.

From here we travel back to the Woodlands Park Hotel in Surrey, where we’ll enjoy dinner before departure the next day. 

Saturday 6th September: Departure

A complimentary transfer will take you back to Heathrow.

Special extras included in your itinerary

  • Garden tour at Greys Court
  • Private guided tour of Strawberry Hill House
  • 'Georgian Life and Jane Austen' tour at The Vyne
  • 'Thomas Hardy Explorer' tour in Dorchester
  • Literary based tour of Winchester
  • Bespoke tour and afternoon tea at Chawton House
  • Illustrated evening talk on Hampshire's history by an experienced guide

Your Hotels

Nights One & Six

Woodlands Park Hotel is set in beautifully landscaped grounds near Cobham in Surrey. Built in 1885, this impressive country house still retains many of its original features including oak-panelled walls, antique furniture and the galleried Grand Hall with its intricate ceiling and stained glass.

Nights Two & Three

A grand Victorian manor house originally built as a private home, Audleys Wood Hotel is surrounded by lush woodlands and seven acres of private grounds on the edge of Basingstoke in the beautiful Hampshire countryside. The hotel has many period features and all bedrooms have been recently refurbished and offer a mixture of both modern and traditional features.

Nights Four & Five

Rhinefield House Hotel stands in 40 acres of ornamental gardens in the heart of the New Forest National Park. This magnificent 19th century mansion is a mixture of Tudor and Gothic architecture with fine examples of woodcarving, masonry and plasterwork. Each bedroom has a name rather than a number and blends classic comforts with modern amenities. Other facilities of the hotel include an outdoor and indoor pool, spa pool, steam room and gym.

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At a Glance

    • 2 nights at the Crowne Plaza London Heathrow
    • 2 nights at Audleys Wood Hotel
    • 2 nights at Rhinefield House Hotel
    • Full English breakfast & 3-course table d'hôte dinner each day
    • Travel by comfortable motor coach
    • Services of a tour director throughout your stay
    • All entrance costs
    • Welcome cocktail on your first evening

    Single Supplement has been waived for this tour.

    The member's price in US dollars is $2,650 As a British company, all our tours are priced in sterling rather than dollars. Obviously the exchange rate will fluctuate very slightly each day so the prices shown are correct at the time of this webpage going live.

    The prices shown are Royal Oak members' prices. Non-members will be required to pay an additional £100 per person, if booking online please check the non-members box. If you are a member please take your Royal Oak membership card with you as some National Trust properties will require proof of membership to be shown on entry. If you're not a member why not join now?

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    GTM Monday to Friday

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