Comprehensive introduction to a beautiful part of England
Visits to a wide range of properties from Roman settlements to contemporary gardens
Private visits to houses & gardens rarely open
Comfortable country house hotel with golf and spa facilities
Northumberland conjures up many and varied images: Roman soldiers toiling to construct the great wall ordered by the Emperor Hadrian, Irish monks bringing Christianity to Lindisfarne and elsewhere in Northumbria, ancient families such as the Percys defending the realm against the threat of marauding Scots, fine houses built on the profits of the area’s abundant natural resources, and spectacular gardens created in the teeth of all that nature can throw at the unsuspecting. These are all aspects of a marvellous part of England in which we shall spend the best part of a week exploring in leisurely detail.
If you have not seen Hadrian’s Wall and the military settlements associated with its garrisons, our selection of Roman sites will come as a revelation: Vindolanda, scene of the ongoing excavations from where the famous letters emerged, the great fort at Housesteads looking out across windswept moorland, and the fort at Chesters, set in a quiet valley by the River Tyne. Following in the footsteps of those early Irish missionaries, we shall visit the great monastic island of Lindisfarne - here St Aidan founded his monastery and from where the Gospel was spread far and wide. Although that original monastery has long gone, there is an impressive later church on site and an excellent museum run by English Heritage.
Amongst the country houses to be included we shall visit privately Alnwick Castle, seat of the Dukes of Northumberland, before it opens to the public - it contains the best art collection in the north of England with wonderful paintings by Titian and Van Dyck. Chipchase is a gem of a house, hidden away in the Upper Tyne valley, is rarely open and we visit privately. The chaste beauty of ‘Greek Revival’ Belsay Hall, abandoned to the elements some decades ago and now the subject of a remarkable rescue, will amaze. The Browne-Swinburne family have been seated at Capheaton for many centuries and we shall be their guests for a private visit and dinner in what Pevsner described as “one of the most interesting houses of its date and character in England”.
Horticulturally, the remarkable transformation of Alnwick Castle Gardens by the present Duchess of Northumberland is for many a dominant presence. However, there are smaller, more sophisticated gardens to be discovered: the quarry garden at Bide-a-Wee is inspirational; similarly impressive is the recent restoration of the gardens at Belsay. It is hoped to include one other, private garden, in the area.
Our base will be Matfen Hall Hotel. This is a fine Victorian country house built for one of the prominent local families, the Blacketts. Sir Hugh, the present Baronet, and his wife converted the house into a very comfortable hotel, with excellent food, complete with a spa, indoor heated swimming pool and a fine golf course. Recently fully refurbished by the new owning company and situated in rolling countryside 20 miles west of Newcastle, it will be the ideal base for our explorations.
Day by day
- Day 1: Sunday 27 June
- Guests should arrive independently at Matfen Hall Hotel in the course of the afternoon. The hotel is happy for guests to arrive from 10.00 am to use the spa and golf facilities, but check-in is officially from 3.00 pm, only after which time bedrooms will be available. We have our group dinner in the hotel - wine, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
- Day 2: Monday 28 June
- This is a day dominated by the first significant buildings to survive in the area from the past – those built by the Romans. If you have not seen Hadrian’s Wall and the military forts and settlements associated with its garrisons, our selection of visits will come as a revelation. We plan to include visits to Vindolanda, site of the ongoing excavations from where the now famous series of ‘Vindolanda letters’ emerged; the great fort at Housesteads looking out across stunning moorland; and the fort at Chesters, set in a quiet valley by the River Tyne. There will be a simple group lunch close to the Roman sites. We then drive over to the Upper Tyne Valley to visit Chipchase Castle, owned by Mr & Mrs Jonathan Elkington. This is a fine example of a Northumbrian bastle house, ie a fortified manor house, with an excellent Jacobean extension and suitable contents. We have a guided tour of the house followed by Afternoon Tea in the Summerhouse. We return to our hotel and the evening will be free.
- Day 3: Tuesday 29 June
- Today we drive north to Lindisfarne. Here St Aidan founded a monastery from where the Gospel was spread far and wide. Although the original monastery has long gone, there is an impressive later church and an excellent museum run by English Heritage. Access allowing, we hope to visit Lindisfarne Castle, rebuilt by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Edward Hudson, the founder of Country Life – some, or all of the Castle may be closed for ongoing repairs. You will have free time for lunch, not included. En route back to the hotel, we visit Bide-a-Wee Garden, near Morpeth, for a private visit. Set in a disused quarry, it is widely thought to be one of the best small gardens recently created in Northumberland. We have our group dinner at the hotel.
- Day 4: Wednesday 30 June
- The day will start with a private tour of Alnwick Castle, before it opens to the public. It contains the best art collection in the north of England including masterpieces by Titian, Van Dyck and Reynolds, together with fabulous furniture and porcelain. The group will then have free time to wander back through the castle and make their way to the café in the garden for lunch, not included today. A tour of Alnwick Garden has been arranged, to look closely at the garden created by the present Duchess of Northumberland. There will then be some free time to explore the gardens further and to discover the charming market town of Alnwick, after which we return to the hotel and the evening will be free.
- Day 5: Thursday 1 July
- We spend the morning not far from Matfen at the nearby estate of Belsay, now in the care of English Heritage. The house is one of the most distinguished, if eccentric, ‘Greek Revival’ houses in England. Abandoned by the building family in the mid twentieth century, the interiors have been saved and conserved and are now used for a variety of exhibitions. In fact there are two Belsays, as in the delightful grounds we shall also see the ruins of a much earlier house, now a feature of the ‘picturesque’ landscape gardens through which we shall be guided after which there will be free time for lunch, not included. We had originally planned to visit the Wallington estate on this day, but the wimpish National Trust have decided not to open both house and gardens to visitors this year ‘in order to safeguard their staff’. Should they relent, we shall reinstate a visit to the gardens, if not the house. If this is not possible it is hoped to visit another private garden nearby.
- That evening we visit Capheaton, privately owned by William & Eliza Browne-Swinburne. It is described by Pevsner as “one of the most interesting houses of its date and character in England and far too little-known”. Mr & Mrs Browne-Swinburne will host the group to a final dinner.
- Day 6: Friday 2 July
- We depart after breakfast at the end of what should be a memorable few days!
- Price: £1,785
- Deposit: £250
- Single Supplement: £290 (Double Room for Sole Use)
- Tour Manager: Tom Duncan
5 nights with breakfast at Matfen Hall Hotel
Single Supplement Upgrade £445 per room for a Deluxe Room. Couples / Two sharing are in a Deluxe Room
3 dinners & 1 lunch with wine, water & coffee, all local transfers, entry fees & gratuities, the services of Tom Duncan
Travel to/from Matfen, 2 dinners & 3 lunches
Weather Conditions for Matfen in June are:
Average Temperature between: 12oC - 20oC / 53oF - 69oF
Rainfall: 45mm / 1.75inches
We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.