Historic Houses of Dorset

The county of Dorset is a rich repository of historic houses, with many properties recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. Each one has a multitude of stories to tell, some having changed hands many times, others having been home to the same family for centuries. Exquisite furnishings, fine art and a range of architectural styles will be discovered as we tour the tour houses.

Our guide to Minterne House will be none other than the owner Lord Digby himself, who will give us a personal insight into the 1000 year history of the influential families who have lived here, including connections to the Duke of Marlborough and the Churchill dynasty. Lord Digby will also be our guide to the gardens, and our visit is timed to see Minterne’s magnificent collection of Himalayan shrubs at their best.

At Kingston Lacy we will see grand, beautifully detailed carvings, intimate family souvenirs and a fine collection of paintings including works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian and Brueghel. Mapperton has been described as “The nation’s finest manor house” and is now the home of the Earl and Countess of Sandwich, while over at Forde Abbey Forde Abbey, home to the stunning Mortlake tapestries, we will discover a rich and varied history spanning 900 years.

We spend a day in the vicinity of Dorchester, forever associated with the novelist Thomas Hardy, whose birthplace and house at Max Gate we will visit, along with Athelhampton, which dates back to the Tudor age.

Please note: several of the properties included in this tour are owned by the National Trust and as many of our guests are NT/NTS members, we have not included admission costs for these properties. There is therefore a supplement of £40.00 for non-members.

Travel by luxury coach from London is included, featuring:

  • Luxury leather seats with 3-point seat belts and arm rests, facing illuminated tables
  • Air conditioning/heating
  • Kitchen/refrigerator
  • Curtains and privacy glass
  • Air suspension

Itinerary 2021

Day 1

We depart by coach from our pick-up points and head for our first visit, the elegant country mansion of Kingston Lacy. The house features grand, beautifully detailed carvings, intimate family souvenirs and strange curiosities such as an ‘I owe you’ note from a king. There is a fine collection of paintings including works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian and Brueghel, while the Egyptian Room holds the largest private collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the UK. The extensive gardens include a restored Edwardian Japanese Garden and a terrace with urns and vases overlooking a vast lawn. There is also a Victorian fernery, a cedar walk, a lime avenue and a sunken garden which was made in 1906. Lunch is available here (not included).

We continue our journey to our comfortable accommodation in the seaside resort of Bournemouth, where dinner will be served in the evening.

Day 2

After breakfast this morning we visit Mapperton, which is tucked away deep in the beautiful Dorset countryside and was described by Country Life magazine as “The nation’s finest manor house”. Now the home of the Earl and Countess of Sandwich, Mapperton was entered in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Malperetone, the property of William de Moion. In the course of our guided tour we will see a wide range of architectural features, such as the elegant plaster panelling and fireplaces that survive from Robert Morgan’s 16th century manor and Richard Brodrepp’s 17th century house, and admire some wonderful paintings. The Sandwich collection includes pictures by Lely, Van de Velde the Younger, Scott, Reynolds and Hogarth. There are several portraits of Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, who served under Cromwell and became Charles II’s first general-at-sea. He helped his young cousin, Samuel Pepys, to become the Navy’s first great administrator and the ship models and naval paintings date mainly from this period.

Close to the house is the Italianate garden laid out by Ethel Labouchere in her husband's memory in the 1920s, complete with grottoes, stone ornamental birds and animals and a fountain court. Below the wall and summer house are 17th century fish ponds. An orangery was added by Victor Montagu, former MP for South Dorset, who extended the lower garden with specimen shrubs and trees in the 1950s.

In the afternoon we continue to Forde Abbey, which has a rich and varied history spanning 900 years and is home to the stunning Mortlake tapestries, woven from the internationally famous Raphael cartoons, now housed in the V&A. We can walk in the actual footsteps of the monks and explore the exquisite interior which featured in a recent Hollywood adaptation of ‘Far From the Madding Crowd.’

The highest powered fountain in the country is a highlight for many in the award-winning gardens, which include topiary-lined vistas, colourful herbaceous borders and a giant-sized labyrinth in the arboretum.

Dinner is served in the evening.

Day 3

A trio of historic properties awaits today, all close to the original county town of Dorchester, which has become synonymous with the novelist Thomas Hardy. Our first stop is Athelhampton House, one of England’s finest Tudor Manors. The Great Hall built in 1485 remains greatly unchanged with a mainly original hammer-beam roof, carved stonework, stained glass and other details. The house survives due to its complex ownership through the years, having appeared in the Domesday Book as Pidele. It has passed through many hands and has been rebuilt and restored at various times, with Thomas Hardy’s father employed during one of the periods of work on the house. The many changes in ownership and fortune is also said to have led to Athelhampton being considered one of the most haunted houses in England, with various ghostly apparitions reported.

We continue to Hardy’s Cottage, where Thomas Hardy was born in 1840. Built of cob and thatch by his great-grandfather, the house has been altered little since the family left. The garden reflects most people's idea of a typical cottage garden, with roses around the door, and the sound of birdsong. Once inside we will discover that 19th-century rural life, with its open hearths, small windows and stone floors, was not always idyllic.

In the afternoon we visit Max Gate, the house which Thomas Hardy designed and lived in from 1885 until his death in 1928. This is where he wrote Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Casterbridge, as well as much of his poetry. The National Trust has recently opened up the small dressing room where Hardy used to take his morning bath, and we will also learn about his faithful but rather grumpy Fox Terrier, Wessex.

Dinner is served in the evening.

Day 4

After breakfast we check out of the hotel and depart for Minterne House, home of the Churchill and Digby families since 1620. Here we will be privileged to enjoy a personal guided tour of the house with the current Lord Digby, providing a fascinating insight into the 1000 year history of these influential families. Following a light lunch we will join Lord Digby for a tour of the gardens, which feature an eighteenth century Serpentine park with lakes, a stream and a woodland garden. A particular feature of the gardens are the splendid rhododendrons and magnolias provided by plant-hunting expeditions to the Himalayas.

Following our visit we return to our original departure points, where we expect to arrive in the late afternoon.

What's Included

  1. Brightwater Tour Manager
  2. Local Travel - Private a/c coach
  3. Meals - All meals included with water (wine with dinners)
  4. Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in program; tips included
  5. Hotels - Accommodation in hand-picked hotels.

Book Now


To book your tour without flights from the US, please call our team on 888-591-0830

2021 Tour Details

$1,075
  • 4 Days
  • 23rd Apr - 26th Apr 2021
  • Code: BHHD210423
  • Available
  • without flights
  • sgl supp: $240
$1,075
  • 1 Days
  • 3rd Sep - 3rd Sep 2021
  • Code: BHHD210903
  • Available
  • without flights
  • sgl supp: $240