Wessex: close to our home base, and close to our hearts. We invite you to join us and see why – in this tour of a beautiful region of England, which perfectly encapsulates the history and culture of the country. From the ancient chalk downlands of Wiltshire, through the lush tree-clad hills and combes of Gloucestershire to the misty beauty of the Somerset Levels, this is the England of the mind’s eye. We will take you to dramatic cathedrals with soaring spires, serene abbeys, elegant Roman villas and into the deep past of Stone Age England, where it all began.
All of England’s history can be seen in this region replete with World Heritage Sites. We begin with the truly ancient landscape of Wiltshire, which still feels indefinably old, even to those familiar with the ancient world. Through encounters with ridge-top sepulchres, the awe-inspiring great stone circles at Stonehenge and Avebury and the strange wonder of Silbury Hill, you will see how humanity passed from the Mesolithic and embedded itself in the landscape in the Neolithic, one of the most dramatic eras in England’s history, and nowhere seen better than here. The depth of our story can be appreciated when even the Celts and Romans arrive only at its middle. Once more, this tour introduces you to some of their finest sites and traces, from the fine mosaics of Britain’s second largest Roman town, through the richly decorated and comfortably heated villa at Chedworth to the pious melding of Roman and British religion in the hot springs of the great shrine at Bath with its strange gorgon-like sculpture.
The castles and holy places of the Middle Ages, and the new Kingdom of England, come into view next. We see the powerful castles of the Marcher Lords at Berkeley, meet saints and see a powerful prelate cast down at Old Sarum, and admire the delicate beauty of Salisbury Cathedral, its renowned spire reaching up in adulation to Heaven.
Finally, we come to the periods of turbulence and transformation that made our own world as the old religion is broken. At Glastonbury we see a beautiful monastery suppressed, leaving romantic ruins and enduring myth. We see the varying fortunes of the great families, as some fall in Civil War and others prosper and build great country houses, ready to enter the refined and genteel world of Georgian elegance and high society in the respectable, elevated beauty of Bath.
All of this accompanied by some fine dining, visits to traditional English pubs, locally brewed ales and ciders and tastes of some of the world famous specialities of the region. At night we stay firstly in a beautiful Italianate-style Victorian country house set in wonderful gardens in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside before heading to Bath and an elegant mansion house hotel on the edge of one of the city centre parks and only minutes away from some of Bath’s most famous sights.
From green fields with enigmatic henges, outposts of Roman civilisation in wooded valleys, emblems of Norman power and Georgian taste, there is no finer place to begin your exploration of England’s long and inspiring history.
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We return to Bath and a sublime evening tour of the remarkable Roman structure that gives it its name, a Celtic sacred spring with naturally warm and sulphurous gushing waters turned into a vast Roman religious complex. We visit the fine modern museum with its extraordinary array of remains, including thanksgiving altars offered by those saved by the goddess’ power, the famous ‘gorgon’ image, the exquisite bronze head of Sulis Minerva and the lead tablets that sought divine aid for those writing them – and punishment for transgressors. Then we view the miraculous spring itself, its heated and sulphurous flow still inspiring awe today. Finally, we visit the celebrated icon of the King’s Bath, opened to the heavens in Medieval times, the steam now rises skyward from the warm waters amid flickering evening torchlight.
After lunch, we visit the picturesque jewel of Sudeley Castle, a huge fortified manor house, which ended up with a warlike role in unexpected circumstances. Sudeley suffered two sieges during the Civil War, one a particularly fierce and vicious fight – through its owner’s prominent loyalty to his king. Through story and fame of its owners, Sudeley constantly intertwines with the great events of English history: Richard III built a great and now aesthetically ruined banqueting hall that just begs to be the subject of a painting; Henry VIII was here, and Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey. Henry’s last wife, Catherine Parr came to Sudeley with her new husband, the ambitious, lascivious and lecherous Thomas Seymour, for the last hopeful and tragic part of her life. Uniquely for a queen, she is buried in the lovely church that is part of the house. Ruined then rescued, a series of remarkable and spirited nineteenth century owners have given us a fantastically beautiful house, honey coloured stone bathed by the deep greens of its wonderful gardens and a riot of roses in a charming tree-clad landscape.
We complete the day with our return to Bath and a tour of this magnificent World Heritage Site. It brings some of our earlier experiences together in some of the most perfect vistas Britain boasts. The healing waters brought the town and its springs a second period of fame, the Georgian and Regency Bath of Jane Austen, when it became a fashionable draw for refined society. We follow in her footsteps through the ordered and mathematically perfect yet delightful streets which bring us up to the serene beauty of the Royal Crescent and its sublime views over the city and its surroundings.
After some time to rest, we drive to Old Sarum, a site with a very long history. An Iron Age fort, into which the Normans set a castle and richly-decorated Cathedral, both are intimately connected with the tumultuous rise and fall of the ambitious Bishop Roger in the Twelfth Century, one of the leading men in England, who was dramatically arrested when at the height of his power. After demolition, the Cathedral was moved to Salisbury, visible in the distance. Old Sarum itself declined, and became one of the infamous Rotten Boroughs, with William Pitt long its MP. A short journey takes us to this pretty cathedral city, and its excellent museum. Here, we’ll see some of the finest remains from the age of Stonehenge. You are free to lunch in the town before we pick up the story we left at Old Sarum and visit the exquisite and fragile beauty of Salisbury Cathedral. We’ll see Magna Carta, one of the most celebrated documents in English history, and a founding influence on the American colonies and Constitution. Only four copies of the original 1215 Magna Carta have survived the ravages of time and Salisbury Cathedral is home to the best preserved. We then return and, with a full store of experiences to discuss, we’ll have a fantastic final meal together.
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Arrival and Departure Information
Arrival Airport – Bristol International Airport
Departure Airport – Bristol International Airport
Arrival Train Station – Bath Spa
Departure Train Station – Bath Spa
Our transfer vehicle will collect from Bristol International Airport at 16.30, and Bath Spa Train Station at 17.00, should you wish your arrival at your hotel to be organised by us. If you prefer to arrange your own arrival, check in time is set for 14.30.
Check out time is 10.30. We will arrange a transfer from your hotel to Bath Spa Train Station or Bristol Airport, leaving from your hotel at 09.30.
Booking Flights The cheapest way to book flights to join this tour in the United Kingdom is directly with the airline online.
If you prefer to book with a travel agent, we are happy to recommend specialists in a number of countries around the world, please contact our office for more details.
Travel Insurance Travel insurance is a requirement of our booking conditions and we recommend you investigate the options thoroughly to make sure that your trip is properly covered. Please be advised some insurers may require you to take out a policy within 15-20 days of booking your holiday to receive all of their insurance benefits.
Visas If you are not from an EEA country you must have a valid passport to enter the UK. It must be valid for the whole of your stay. You may also need a visa, depending on which country you are from. You can check if you need a visa by using the link below.
Custom Tours If you are thinking of extending your trip to the United Kingdom to include visits to London, South-West England, Wales or further afield, please contact our office for advice and suggestions for bespoke travel plans.