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Fitness / Practicalities
Tour Director

  • Discover the county’s rich legacy of country houses, enjoying privileged access to the unusual Jacobean manor house at Warmwell and the beautiful 19th century Minterne House

  • Visit notable gardens of the early 20th century, including those at Mapperton House, voted Historic Houses Garden of the Year 2020

  • Explore the magnificent abbey church in Sherborne, as well as other charming churches throughout the county

“Lovely variety of beautiful houses”

“A most interesting and varied programme"

- ACE customers on the 2023 Dorset Country Houses tour with Charles Hind

Dorset has remained an overwhelmingly rural county, still dominated in many ways by the traditional estates of private country houses. The landscape is exceptionally varied and often very beautiful, from the rolling chalk downs that occupy the centre of the county and the austere limestone hills of the Isle of Purbeck, to the dramatic ‘Jurassic Coast’ and the lush pastures of Blackmore Vale in the north. Throughout, it is possible to sense the impression that these different landscapes made on Dorset’s most celebrated literary son, Thomas Hardy. 


This tour explores several of the fine country houses to be found across Dorset, which range from the medieval period onwards and from the charmingly modest to the grandiose, as well as some of its delightful churches. 


Forde Abbey evolved from monastic beginnings: in the mid 17th century reception rooms of considerable splendour were threaded through the early medieval and Tudor remains of a Cistercian monastery. 


Sherborne Castle was built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594, and its architecture, interiors and surroundings pay testimony to a variety of decorative styles from over four centuries, including landscape gardens designed by Capability Brown. Since 1617, the castle has been home to the Wingfield Digby family, and it contains fine collections of furniture, paintings and porcelain.


We also look forward to a visit to Athelhampton House, an important Tudor manor house with a well-preserved Great Hall featuring heraldic stained glass and a high hammer-beam roof. Hardy was a frequent visitor to Athelhampton, which provided inspiration for fictional houses in some of his writing.


Also from the Tudor period comes romantic Wolfeton House, with nationally important interiors of the later 16th century. The manor house at Mapperton features Tudor and Stuart architecture, as well as important early 20th century gardens. We also hope to have an opportunity to take in a special temporary exhibition whilst at Mapperton, showcasing the archives of Alberta Sturges Montagu, 9th Countess of Sandwich and an heiress from America's Gilded Age. The exhibition will unveil many previously unseen diaries, journals and letters, offering rare insights into the fascinating period that was the Gilded Age. 

Continuing the historical trajectory, somewhat idiosyncratic Jacobean styles can be seen during our private tour of Warmwell House. Representing a later period, Minterne is a remarkable Edwardian house with Arts & Crafts touches.


Dorset’s churches will form another focal point of our tour, with visits including the abbey church of Sherborne, containing the earliest major fan vault in existence. Meanwhile, Moreton is famous for its set of etched glass windows by Laurence Whistler.

A further highlight will be a guided visit to the still-evolving township at Poundbury on the outskirts of Dorchester to consider its architecture. 


We will stay at the three-star Lanes Hotel, located in a former rectory in the village of West Coker. The hotel is decorated in a comfortable contemporary style and is surrounded by lawns, with the Somerset countryside beyond. Please see the ‘Tour Accommodation’ box under the Practical Information tab for more details on room types.


This tour will be led by Charles Hind, MA, FSA, who holds the positions of Chief Curator and H J Heinz Curator of Drawings at the Royal Institute of British Architects. He is a Trustee of the Georgian Group and Deputy Chairman of the Lutyens Trust.

Tour Code

Included: accommodation based on sharing a twin or double bedded room, five breakfasts, three light lunches, five dinners with water & coffee, excursions & admissions, gratuities & all taxes.

Not Included: travel insurance, double room for single use supplement £275, two-bedroomed apartment for twin/double use supplement £195 per person.

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