We check in to the Slaley Hall Hotel in the afternoon. Later, we enjoy a welcome drinks reception hosted by our tour manager.
Tuesday: Naworth Castle & Lanercost Priory
This morning we visit Naworth Castle, the private ancestral home of the Howard family. We enjoy an exclusive private guided tour by the current owner, Philip Howard, followed by lunch. A border stronghold dating back to 1335, the castle was remodelled in the 16th and 17th centuries. Almost destroyed by a devastating fire in 1844, restoration began in 1850 but the interiors were the work of the 9th Earl of Carlisle who counted many of the eminent Pre Raphaelites, including William Morris, among his friends.
Nearby stands the Augustinian Lanercost Priory, founded in 1166. The tranquil setting of the priory belies an often troubled history. Standing close to Hadrian’s Wall, it suffered frequent attacks during the long Anglo-Scottish wars. Although the chancel and transepts are in ruins, the cloisters are beautifully preserved. We are also able to visit the beautiful priory church nearby.
Wednesday: Raby Castle, Brancepeth Castle & St Brandon’s Church
We make our way to Raby Castle, where we enjoy refreshments followed by a special VIP tour. King Cnut owned the estate in the early 11th century but it was the Nevilles, one of the major powers in the North, who built the 14th-century castle we see today. The exterior of medieval towers, turrets and embattled walls contrasts with the sumptuous interiors which span Medieval, Regency and Victorian periods and provide a magnificent backdrop for the stunning art collection.
Our next stop is Brancepeth Castle, once the stronghold of the Neville family in medieval times. The current castle is a combination of the Neville’s medieval towers and the grand country house created for the wealthy Russell family in the Regency period. The castle is once again a private home and we enjoy an exclusive guided tour of the main rooms and medieval cellars. Afterwards, we make a short visit to St Brandon’s Church opposite the castle in Brancepeth village.
Thursday: Durham Cathedral & Rokeby Park or Ushaw
We start the day with a visit to Durham Cathedral, a World Heritage Site, sitting on a rocky promontory high above the River Wear. Originally built in 1093 as a monastic cathedral for a community of Benedictine monks, the cathedral boasts some of the most intact surviving monastic buildings in England.
If you join us in June, we then head to Rokeby Park where we enjoy a guided tour by the current owner and refreshments. Completed in 1735 by its owner, Sir Thomas Robinson, this architectural treasure represents the heyday of the Palladian-style country house. A unique collection of 18th-century needlework pictures by Anne Morritt are on display here as well as a very rare surviving print room.
Alternatively, if you join us in September, we then head to Ushaw founded over 200 years ago to educate students for the Catholic priesthood. The vast estate contains buildings designed by Augustus Pugin and his followers and boasts significant examples of Victorian Gothic architecture. We discover some of the main buildings and chapel on our guided tour.
After dinner this evening, we enjoy an interesting themed talk from a guest speaker.
After breakfast, we check out of the hotel for our journey home.