Dorset - Hidden Country Houses & Gardens

Prices from £1,290


7 Apr 2019 - 10 Apr 2019
Duration: 3 nights
Ref: 19DORS
With: Barbara Peacock


Prices from £1,290
Single Supplement: £170
Deposit: £100

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Dorset is one of the most unspoilt and rural of England’s counties, a land of downs and moor, secluded valleys, woodlands and beech groves. It is not a county of grand mansions, but possesses a remarkable concentration of lesser-known gentry manor houses, often little changed over the centuries, and sometimes still in possession of the families which originally built them.

This new Art Pursuits Abroad tour will focus on houses still in private hands which illustrate the development of the country house from early Tudor times to the 20th century, and almost every house on our itinerary has an important historic garden or designed landscape park. Sherborne, our base for the tour, is one of the most delightful and unspoilt of small country towns, built in the beautiful golden-coloured Ham stone, which is such a characteristic feature of the region. All house tours will be private, in some cases conducted by the owners.

DAY 1:

Independent arrival in Sherborne in the early afternoon to settle into your room at the four-star Eastbury Hotel. Coach to Sandford Orcas Manor, for a private visit to one of the most enchanting and unaltered Tudor manor houses of Dorset. Return to Sherborne for a group dinner in the hotel restaurant.

DAY 2:

After breakfast we travel by coach to Forde Abbey. Founded by the Cistercians in 1141, the buildings were sumptuously embellished by Abbot Chard in the early Tudor period as a residence for himself. After the Abbey was dissolved in 1539, it became the residence of Cromwell’s attorney-general, Edward Prideaux, who transformed the monastic buildings into one of the most impressive houses of the Commonwealth period. The interior has outstanding woodwork and plasterwork of the period, whilst the beautiful gardens are a special feature of the estate. We enjoy lunch and a private visit to Came House (1754), a Georgian Palladian house with magnificent Rococo plasterwork, and important furniture supplied by the great Georgian cabinet-maker William Vile. Our final visit of the day will be to Kingston Maurward, an estate much loved by Thomas Hardy; there the Old Manor House is the perfect Elizabethan house. In 1717-20 George Pitt, (cousin of William Pitt the Elder), wanting a grander house, built the present impressive Baroque mansion, possibly designed by Thomas Archer. Return to Sherborne.

DAY 3:

Leaving Sherborne by coach, we stop for coffee and view the dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle on the way to Creech Grange, a romantic house in a secluded valley setting. Built in the Elizabethan period, it was partially remodelled by the important Dorchester architect, Francis Cartwright c.1740, whilst the East Front (1846-7) is a sensitive early example of Elizabethan revival. We have lunch at Minterne, a sophisticated Arts and Crafts house, built 1904-6 for Lord Digby, by Leonard Stokes. The magnificent woodland garden, particularly beautiful in the spring, lies in a valley landscaped in the 18th century with chains of lakes, cascades and streams, and contains a unique collection of Himalayan azaleas and rhododendrons and many fine and rare shrubs and trees. Return to Sherborne.

DAY 4:

Our morning will be spent at St Giles House, Wimborne, one of Dorset’s most fascinating country houses. The ancestral home of the Ashley-Cooper family (who became the Earls of Shaftesbury) for over 600 years, its architectural development is linked to the personalities and tastes of the family. After a period of decline in the late 20th century, the house and park have been brought back to life by the current 12th Earl, and his restoration of the house has earned a number of national accolades. In the park, an exquisite 18th-century Shell Grotto is not to be missed. After lunch, we visit magical Cranborne Manor (exterior only), rebuilt 1608-20 as a hunting lodge by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, and surrounded by beautiful gardens, where features of the 17th-century layout by John Tradescant survive. In the late afternoon, we return to our hotel where the tour concludes at c. 6.00pm.

Please note that at this stage the programme is still provisional. Although we aim at the greatest degree of accuracy from the outset, some details, especially the order of visits, may be subject to change.


Specific fitness requirements for this Study Tour:

The tour involves a lot of walking, with some parts of the gardens being on uneven or sloping ground and stout shoes are recommended. Coach journeys do not generally exceed one hour.

Please note that all our Study Tours involve a significant amount of standing and walking, often across uneven ground, over cobbled streets, or up and down steps and inclines. While we do not have an upper age limit for participants, we require you to have a level of fitness which does not spoil other participents' enjoyment of the holiday and you should be able to walk at a reasonable pace and / or stand for at least thirty minutes without aid or requiring a rest.

If you are in any doubt as to whether a particular tour is suitable for you, please ring us to check before placing your booking.


Twin/double share: £1290 per person
Double room for sole use supplement: £170
Deposit: £100 per person


  • Three nights B&B at the four-star Eastbury Hotel
  • Excursions around Dorset by private coach
  • Two dinners and two lunches
  • Services of the lecturer and a tour manager
  • Detailed programme and study notes
  • All entrance fees, taxes, and gratuities for coach drivers and waiters
  • Small group between 12 and 22 participants


  • Travel insurance. We strongly advise you to be covered by adequate travel insurance

Eastbury Hotel****

Located in a quiet area of Sherborne in a former Georgian residence is the Elegant Eastbury Hotel. No two rooms are the same, each has its own character, personality and design from contemporary chic to classic georgian.


  • En Suite
  • Freeview Television
  • Desk with Mirror
  • Tea and coffee making facilities


Overlooking the hotel’s beautiful walled garden is the award winning conservatory restaurant. Afternoon tea and snacks are served in the bar lounge.