Day 1: After a morning departure from your local area we will travel to the south–east's only spa town, Royal Tunbridge Wells, once the playground of royalty and the aristocracy and a rival to Bath and nearby Brighton. Don't miss the town's elegant colonnaded walkways, known as The Pantiles, where in Georgian times anybody who was anybody would go to see and be seen, with 'gentry only' allowed on the upper walkway. In the late afternoon we will continue on to your Maidstone hotel for dinner and the first of four nights' stay.
Day 2: Following a full English breakfast, we travel to Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, the world–renowned garden planted by Vita Sackville–West and Harold Nicolson in the 1930s. The garden is designed as a series of 'rooms', each with its own particular character or colour, the walls of the 'rooms' being high, clipped hedges or pink–hued brick walls. Sissinghurst's white garden is a particularly well–known, and much emulated, feature. Comprising a cottage, 10 gardens and the remains of a moated Elizabethan manor house and tower, still containing Vita's library, Sissinghurst was donated to the National Trust and is today the most visited garden in England.
This afternoon we travel the short distance to Sir Edwin Lutyens' romantic medieval creation, Great Dixter House, for our visit to the 'epitome of English plantsmanship'. Surrounding the reconstructed Tudor half–timbered house, the garden is in the traditional, retro–folk art style of William Morris' Arts & Crafts Movement, and features topiary, a long border, an orchard and a wild flower meadow. We return to the hotel in time for dinner.
Day 3: Today's excursion departs after breakfast to the 13th–century double–moated Hever Castle, once the family home of Queen Anne Boleyn. Somewhat dilapidated in later years, Hever was bought and restored to glory by William Waldorf Astor (he of hotel and salad fame) in the early 20th century. The splendid rooms contain fine furniture, tapestries, antiques, an important collection of Tudor paintings and two prayer books inscribed and signed by Anne Boleyn herself. William Astor also added a lake and planted the magnificent gardens on what was marshland surrounding the Castle. Spanning 125 acres, these include Italian, Rose and Tudor gardens, topiary, a yew maze and a splashing water maze, and informal areas including Sunday Walk and Anne Boleyn's Walk. We return to our hotel for dinner.
Day 4: A full day at Leeds Castle, 'the Loveliest Castle in the World'. Over the centuries it has been a Norman stronghold; the private property of six of England's medieval queens; a palace used by Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon; a Jacobean country house; a Georgian mansion; an elegant early–20th–century retreat for the influential and famous; and in the 21st century it has become one of the most visited historic buildings in Britain.
With 13th century walls, mullioned gothic windows, arrow slits and crenellations, and set in the middle of a lake, it really does look like the ideal picture–book castle, and 500 acres of parkland gives you lots to explore. There are woods and water gardens, a maze, a grotto, a golf course, falconry displays and what may be the world's only museum of dog collars. We return to the hotel afterwards for dinner and your final night's stay.
Day 5: Breakfast first, then we head for home via a lunch stop in either Cambridge (for those returning to the North East) or Oxford (for those returning to the North West). After lunch we re–join the coach for the final leg of the journey home in the mid–afternoon.