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The counties of Shropshire and Herefordshire boast some of the most exciting mediaeval remains in England, set amidst breathtaking scenery in the area known as the Marches that separates England from Wales. Three distinct types of building form the core of this Study Tour, including monuments that chart the history of the Middle Ages, from the 11th-century birth of Romanesque style, through turbulent times of civil war during King Stephen’s reign, into the Gothic age of the 14th century. Impressive castles at Ludlow, Acton Burnell and Stokesay proclaim the might of mediaeval noblemen, coupled with their desire for domestic comfort. Immense cathedrals and abbeys at Hereford and Shrewsbury bear testimony to the rich splendour of ecclesiastical life. Smaller parish churches at Kilpeck and Shobdon provide intriguing evidence for the contacts lay mediaeval patrons forged, via pilgrimage, with lands as distant as Spain.
Independent arrival in Ludlow around midday to check into your hotel, located in the heart of this charming historic town. Our first afternoon will take in a visit to the ruins of Ludlow Castle, perched high above the river Teme and constructed c. 1085 by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury.
Continue to the grand parish church of St Laurence, which incorporates important examples of Decorated and Perpendicular architectural styles. The church also houses a fine collection of 15th-century misericords and some original, if highly restored, stained glass, including scenes from the life of St Laurence. Return to our hotel for dinner in the restaurant.
We set out this morning to explore some of the small parish churches that provide splendid examples of Romanesque sculpture of the “Herefordshire School”, the term used to describe sculpture produced in this area 1130-50. St Mary and St David at Kilpeck has a sculpted doorway and chancel arch that owe a debt to one of the doorways at the pilgrimage church of Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. The badly-weathered chancel arches at Shobdon, displayed in the 18th century as a folly, come from a church built in the 1130s by Oliver de Merlimond, and indicate links with sculpture in Aquitaine, south-western France.
We will also visit St Mary Magdalene, Eardisley, which possesses one of the finest 12th-century carved fonts in England. After lunch, we continue to Hereford and its magnificent cathedral, begun under Reynelm, Bishop of Hereford, 1107-15.
An exploration of the cathedral will be rounded off with a visit to the visitor centre, which displays part of Hereford’s chained library, including illuminated manuscripts made at Hereford priory during the 12th century, and the famed Mappa Mundi, produced by Richard de Bello, a canon of Lincoln Cathedral in c. 1280.
A morning in Shrewsbury, a town set within an exaggerated meander of the River Severn. We will start at Holy Cross, originally the Benedictine abbey of the town, founded by Early Roger de Montgomery, c. 1080. Only the nave and transepts of the Romanesque abbey church survive, together with fragments of the shrine of St Winifred, traditionally believed to be a 7th-century Welsh nun from Denbighshire.
We continue to St Mary’s, a parish church dominated by a lofty spire, to see a fine late medieval collection of stained glass, much of which was purchased from Continental churches in the 19th century, and three carved English alabaster altarpiece panels.
The afternoon will take in a visit to Acton Burnell Castle, a fortified manor house, built 1284-93 by Bishop Burnell, Edward I’s Lord Chancellor. Our day concludes at Much Wenlock Priory, a Cluniac foundation with important Romanesque sculpted reliefs from the lavabo in the cloister, and magnificent blind arcading on the walls of the Chapter House. We then return to Ludlow for dinner.
Morning visit to Stokesay Castle, built during the late 13th century by Laurence de Ludlow, son of a clothier, and one of the greatest wool merchants of his day.
This is arguably the finest and earliest fortified manor house in England. Two towers, the great hall and solar are arranged around a courtyard surrounded by an originally battlemented curtain wall, providing an opportunity to consider essential developments in domestic architecture during the late Middle Ages.
In the afternoon, we return to Ludlow, where the tour concludes in the hotel at approximately 3pm.
Please note that it is necessary to have a good level of fitness as there will be at times extensive walking and inevitably some long periods of standing.
The historic Feathers Hotel is full of character and contemporary features. Ensuring a comfortable and relaxing stay, the luxury ensuite bedrooms include your choice of pillows and Sleepezee beds with luxury cotton bed linen.
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