We check in to the Damson Dene Hotel in the afternoon. Later, we enjoy a welcome drinks reception hosted by our tour manager.
Tuesday: Askham Hall, Dalemain Mansion & Ullswater
We start the morning with a fascinating guided tour of Askham Hall. Once a lavish stately home, complete with a 14th-century pele tower, it was transformed into an Elizabethan mansion in the 16th century by Thomas Sandford, whose family lived here until 1828 before it served as a rectory. These days it is a unique and stylist retreat, framed by stunning gardens criss-crossed with long terraces and herbaceous borders, as well as a kitchen garden and stunning views of the River Lowther.
Afterwards, we head to Dalemain Mansion, finely-dressed in a salmon-pink Georgian façade, which almost glows in the sunlight. Behind its orderly frontage are the remnants of a 12th-century pele tower and an Elizabethan manor, and during our guided tour we trace its roots back to the reign of Henry II. There is much to discover inside; a helter-skelter of secret passages, spiral staircases, a priest’s hiding hole, as well as Chippendale furniture and priceless oil portraits. Outside we explore a Tudor knot garden and a splendid rose walk, and, as the official home of The Marmalade Awards and Festival, a visit would not be complete without tasting a selection of marmalades that have been named the finest in the world in the gift shop!
To end the day we head to nearby Ullswater, known as England’s ‘most beautiful lake’, it provided the inspiration for William Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ poem. Stretching for 7.5 miles, the deep valley in which the lake sits is flanked by an impressive string of fells, stunning mountain scenery and a charming jumble of quaint villages.
After dinner this evening, we enjoy an interesting themed talk from a guest speaker.
Wednesday: Leighton Hall, Levens Hall & Lake Windermere Cruise
This morning we step back in time with a guided tour “Inside Leighton Hall”, the ancestral home of the world-renowned Gillow furniture family who are known as one of the leading British cabinet-making firms. The family home still retains a relaxed atmosphere as every room in the house is used regularly by the Gillow Reynolds family. There are no roped off areas at all, so we can sit on the ancient chairs while the entertaining guide reveals the family's history and habits. We enjoy some well-deserved refreshments before we head to our next tour.
Later, we visit Levens Hall; a stunning Elizabethan mansion built around a 13th-century pele tower. During our guided tour we learn all about this family home of the Bagots, who have owned the property for over 400 years. Inside we discover an assortment of beautiful objects including many fine paintings by Rubens, Lely and Cuyp, along with the earliest English patchwork. We also have the chance to explore the world-famous, award-winning gardens, which include the oldest topiary in the world; featuring over 100 huge abstract shapes, pyramids and columns resembling towering chess men.
We complete this afternoon with a leisurely cruise on Lake Windermere, England’s largest lake nestled in the Cumbria’s Lake District National Park. Sit back and relax as we take in the breathtaking scenery of towering mountains, secluded bays and wooded islands.
Thursday: Muncaster Castle & Holker Hall and Gardens
Dominating the River Esk, Muncaster Castle is our first visit of the day. Strategically important since Roman times, it has been home to the Penningtons since 1208. The castle has been extended through the ages (originally built around a 14th-century pele tower) and architectural highlights include its great hall and octagonal library. During our audio tour, narrated by members of the family, we discover Muncaster’s colourful history and chilling tales about the resident ghost: ‘Tom Fool’ the malevolent jester!
Our final visit is to the stunning Holker Hall and Gardens, the delightful family home of Lord and Lady Cavendish. The property is a true reflection of an age of confidence, spaciousness and prosperity, and the craftsmanship in many of the rooms is outstanding. Built in red sandstone, it was described as ‘the best Elizabethan Gothic house in the north of England.’ On our guided tour we discover fine displays of antique furniture and art including portraits of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, and even visit the bedroom where Queen Mary stayed in 1937. We finish the tour with a wander around the immaculately kept gardens, which have won numerous awards.
After breakfast, we check out of the hotel for our journey home.
Please note: the itinerary order is subject to change.