Isle of Wight & Thomas Hardy Country

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September 29 – October 6th, 2018- $2,140 per person
$1,990 for Royal Oak members, Single Supplement $500

Few authors have such strong associations with the natural and cultural heritage of their local area as Thomas Hardy. Located within the rolling Dorset Hills is ‘Hardy Country’, where the famous author and poet spent much of his life and where he drew inspiration for his work. We combine our exploration of the landscapes and places Hardy called home with a stay on the Isle of Wight. Known as the ‘Garden Isle’, the island is a haven of old-fashioned charm, Victorian gems and enchanting gardens that in turn have inspired many poets and artists through history.

Day 1: Arrival 

On arrival at Heathrow Airport, a complimentary transfer will take you to the Hallmark Carlton hotel, our base for the next three nights. You will meet the group and have dinner together this evening.

Day 2: Max Gate & Hardy’s Cottage 

Hardys Cottage

Hardys Cottage

Our first visit takes us to the outskirts of Dorchester and the atmospheric Victorian house Max Gate, designed by Thomas Hardy in 1885 and where he lived until his death in 1928. Hardy wrote some of his most famous novels here including Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. We enjoy an introductory talk before exploring the house and garden which remains much as it was in Hardy’s day.

We then travel the short distance to Thomas Hardy’s birthplace, Hardy’s Cottage. Little altered since the Hardy family left, this handsome cob and thatch cottage is surrounded by a typical cottage garden of honeysuckle, climbing roses and japonica, and is where Hardy wrote some of his early poetry and novels including Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd.


Day 3: Athelhampton House & Kingston Lacy

Kignston Lacy

This morning we travel to Athelhampton House, a splendid manor house dating back to the 15th century. Thomas Hardy’s father was a stonemason and worked on the restoration of the Great Hall and the West Wing. It was during this time that Thomas Hardy, who was a regular visitor, painted a watercolour of the house. Today, Athelhampton plays host to historic furnishings, wood-panelled rooms and stained glass windows. Outside is a superb example of a 19th-century Italianate garden with yew pyramids.

In the afternoon we 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.

Day 4: Ferry to the Isle of Wight, Ryde & Quarr Abbey


After the short ferry crossing to the Isle of Wight, we pay a visit to the historic seaside town of Ryde, the largest town on the island with a wealth of boutique shops to explore and sandy beaches to enjoy. On our September and October tours we will also be able to pay a visit to Quarr Abbey, home to a small number of Benedictine monks and set on a beautiful historic estate.

Later, we check in to our hotel on the island, our base for the next four nights. 

Day 5: Osborne House

Osborne House

With the popular ITV drama Victoria recently on our screens, we have the chance to explore Queen Victoria’s one-time residence on the island, Osborne House. Built as a holiday home in the late 1840s, the Italianate palace boasts spectacular views across the Solent. We take an intimate glimpse of royal family life as we wander through the magnificent Royal Apartments as well as the walled gardens and grounds where we find the charming Swiss Cottage, used by the royal children to learn household management.


Day 6: Dimbola Lodge, Mottistone Gardens & Ventnor Botanic Garden


This morning, we take a scenic drive via the Needles to Dimbola Lodge, home of the celebrated Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. After our introductory talk, we have time to explore the house which is now a Museum and Gallery dedicated to her life and work. Dimbola Lodge also showcases contemporary exhibitions from photographers around the globe.

We continue on to Mottistone Gardens, one of the most peaceful and magical gardens on the island, surrounding an attractive Elizabethan manor house. Established in the early 20th century, the garden is set in a sheltered valley and is rich in colourful herbaceous borders, shrub-filled banks and grassy terraces. The National Trust is experimenting with a Mediterranean-style planting scheme here, taking advantage of the garden’s southerly location.

We could easily be mistaken for being transported to a country in the Mediterranean when we end our day at Ventnor Botanic Garden. Founded in 1970 by Sir Harold Hillier, the garden is home to an impressive collection of rare, subtropical and exotic plants, thanks largely to the remarkable microclimate on the south coast of the Island.

Day 7: Newtown Old Town Hall & Cowes


We journey to Newtown Old Town Hall this morning, a 17th-century town hall with no town! Newtown was once the capital of the Isle of Wight, and the hall was built to reflect the town’s status. Newtown lost its importance, and the town dwindled to a peaceful village, but the brick hall survives as a reminder of Newtown’s past.

The afternoon is spent at leisure in Cowes, home to the world-famous regatta that swells the local population each August. Many of the town’s ornate buildings date from Queen Victoria’s time, in the style popularised by her consort Prince Albert. As well as some upmarket shops, Cowes also has numerous art galleries.

Day 8: Flight home

We check out of our hotel and catch the ferry back to the mainland. At Southampton a private transfer will take you back to Heathrow airport for your return flight home.

Please note: that your return transfer will not arrive into Heathrow Airport until the afternoon, and we recommend you book an evening flight for your return.


Your Hotels:

The Hallmark Hotel Bournemouth Carlton

Set on Bournemouth’s East Cliff overlooking the sea, this grand hotel has traditional-style rooms with en suite bathrooms, flat screen TVs and great facilities. There’s an elegant, high-ceilinged restaurant and bar, and also a seasonal, heated outdoor pool, an indoor pool and a gym, as well as a sauna and spa pool.


For the last four nights on the Isle of Wight, we’ll stay at

The Bourne Hall Country Hotel in Shanklin

Built in the 1860s and overlooking Luccombe downs, this hotel is 9 minute walk from the beach. Set in 3 acres of mature gardens, this beautiful Victorian country house has stunning views over Sandown and Shanklin Bay. Bourne Hall has 2 swimming pools, a mini gym and a spa bath.

Each comfortable en suite room also has a CD player and facilities for making tea and coffee. Breakfast is included in the room rate, and options range from a full English to fresh fruit and pastries.

Your Break Includes

  • Airport transfers from Heathrow Airport*
  • 3 nights dinner, bed and breakfast at the Hallmark Hotel Bournemouth Carlton
  • 4 nights dinner, bed and breakfast at Bourne Hall Hotel
  • Porterage
  • After dinner tea and coffee
  • Coach transfers to and from your excursions
  • Return ferry from Southampton to the Isle of Wight
  • Introductory talk at Max Gate
  • Introductory talk at Dimbola Lodge
  • Services of a Tour Manager

* supplement applies for transfers from all other airports


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