Great Country Houses of Dorset: A Private View

This tour has already taken place and is now here as an archive
James McDonaugh

This tour is a unique opportunity to explore some of Dorset’s greatest private houses and to be shown around by some of their present owners. You will enjoy the beauty of one of England’s most unspoilt counties - home to Thomas Hardy. Most of your visits are to private homes rarely or never open to the public. The span of England’s history which you will cover is immense, from the Romans through to the 20th century. The stunning variety of art and architecture will lead you to early Saxon churches, England’s oldest continually inhabited home, the earliest collection of Spanish art in England, numerous Old Masters and some of England’s finest 18th century country house interiors.

Your lecturer

James McDonaugh is an art history lecturer and leads tours for academic bodies in the UK and America including the Art Fund, The Courtauld Institute of Art and Historic New England. James has an MA in Philosophy and Theology from Oxford, a diploma in Art History and an MA in Architectural History from The Courtauld Institute of Art. He led the hugely successful study tours to Istanbul for The Course in October 2009 and to Ancient Greece in 2011. He has also organised our tours to Ecuador/Peru and Syria. James will lecture throughout (he grew up in Dorset) but he will also be joined by noted local experts. He runs his own business, Art Tours, for private clients.

Your Hotel

Plumber Manor view website »

Plumber Manor is a Jacobean house and one of the finest country house hotels in Dorset; the only manor house in the UK that is still owned, by the same family who built it in the early 1600s and now run it as a hotel. The service and food are excellent and Plumber Manor is recommended by Michelin, The Good Food Guide, The Good Hotel Guide, the Best Loved Hotels and Johansens guides. It is also a member of the Pride of Britain consortium.

Kingston Lacy

The price includes:

  • Lecturing by James McDonaugh
  • Services of site experts and guides
  • All transport by coach with on board facilities (as indicated in the itinerary) including pick up and drop off in London
  • All site entrance costs
  • Hotel porterage on arrival and departure
  • Accommodation for 3 nights at Plumber Manor
  • The cost of 6 private visits
  • All meals with wine, including 4 lunches (3 privately) and 3 dinners (1 privately)

The price does not include:

  • Personal spending

This tour is organised by Art Tours Ltd who are responsible for all the arrangements. Please refer to Art Tours Booking Terms and Conditions which can be found on their website The itinerary is subject to change should local conditions or unexpected restrictions occur. It has also been arranged many months in advance and the private visits may be subject to amendment.

Book your place

Places are limited so please book early. For further information:

Mary Bromley
020 7266 7815
E Mail:
The Course, 105 William Court, 6 Hall Road, London NW8 9PB

Great Country Houses of Dorset tour outline

Day 1 / Friday 28 September

London - Dorset

9.30 am
Participants meet at London, Victoria and drive in a luxury coach to Dorset. While on the coach, James will give an introduction to Dorset and its history
12.45 pm
Lunch at the ‘Museum Inn’ one of Dorset’s finest country pubs in the pretty hamlet of Farnham
2.30 pm
Private visit to the gardens of Cranborne Manor : originally built as a hunting lodge in 1207 and later acquired by the first Earl of Salisbury in c.1605. It was completely rebuilt from 1610-1640 and during the period c.1700-1860 it was used by two tenant farmers, the present gardens being their farmyards. Further repairs were done by the 2nd Marquis of Salisbury and the Cecil family have lived there ever since. The gardens, originally designed by John Tradescant, are some of Dorset’s most beautiful and you will have the very rare privilege of having them all to yourselves.
4.30 pm
Informal tea in the Great Hall at Cranborne Manor
5.00 pm
6.00 pm
Settle into Plumber Manor
8.00 pm
Welcome drinks (champagne)
8.30 pm
Dinner at the hotel (3 course dinner, wine and coffee)

Day 2 / Saturday 29 September

Kingston Lacy & Crichel House

9.00 am
Depart by coach
10.00 am
Private visit to Kingston Lacy : home of the Bankes family for more than 300 years, this striking 17th-century house contains some of the most lavish interiors of the National Trust’s properties. The outstanding art collection includes paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian and Brueghel, with the largest private collection of Egyptian artefacts in the UK. You will also visit the beautiful grounds, which include a restored Japanese tea garden.
12.30 pm
1.00 pm
Lunch privately at Crichel House
2.30 pm
Private visit to Crichel House with a tour from a member of the family: this is one of Dorset’s most beautiful stately homes and is never open to the public. You will have a unique opportunity of visiting the beautiful interiors and grounds. The house was built in 1776 in Palladian style. There are important interiors by Wyatt and Kauffman, and portraits by Reynolds, Gainsborough and Lawrence as well as Italian paintings and an excellent collection of English, Italian and French furniture.
4.30 pm
Visit the garden & grounds: these include a walled garden, Tudor style boat house and lake
5.15 pm
6.15 pm
8.30 pm
Dinner at the hotel (3 course dinner, wine and coffee)
Kingston Lacy House
Kingston Lacy interior

Day 3 / Sunday 30 September

Sherborne Castle & Inwood

10.00 am
10.30 am
Private visit to Sherborne Castle: built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594, Sherborne reflects a glorious variety of decorative styles from over 400 years of English history. It has been the home of the Digby family since 1617, and in 1753 ‘Capability’ Brown created one of his finest landscapes with a 50-acre lake, magnificent specimen trees, borders and sweeping lawns. You will tour the house privately, including the old 13th century castle and then visit the gardens. The tour will be lead by the expert archivist.
12.30 pm
Tour the gardens independently
1.00 pm
Private lunch in the ‘Orangerie’ at Sherborne Castle - this is a beautiful early 19th century building, which you will have to yourselves
3.00 pm
Visit Sherborne Abbey: England’s most beautiful small ‘cathedral’ and its grandest parish church. This is one of the architectural delights of England with one of the most beautiful late gothic interiors in the country as well as fascinating Saxon remains from the 8th century.
4.30 pm
5.30 pm
Return to hotel
7.15 pm
Private visit to Inwood House: champagne and with a tour given by the owner Count Richard de Pelet: this little known Victorian house and estate straddles the Somerset/Dorset border and is filled with magnificent treasures including complete 18th century rooms, possibly from the London houses of The Duke of Cumberland and the Cadogan family. There are also interesting pieces from the Grosvenor family collections, including an excellent collection of pictures and chinoiserie decorative arts.
8.30 pm
Private Dinner at Inwood (3 course dinner, wine and coffee)
10.30 pm
Return to the hotel
Sherborne Castle
Sherborne Abbey

Day 4 / Monday 1 October

Smedmore House - London

9.30 am
Depart by coach
10.30 am
Private visit to Smedmore House: with a tour given by the owner and noted historian Dr Philip Mansel. This splendid house sits in a dramatically beautiful setting and in the words of Lord David Cecil is "breezy friendly and romantic, fresh with the smell of the sea". Dramatic views of the coast contrast with the intimate walled gardens whose layout has changed little since 1620 when the house was built by the present owner’s ancestors.

Optional visit to Clavell’s Tower: visible for miles around, the tower provides one of the few man made interventions in the wide sweep of Kimmeridge Bay. This part of the Dorset coastline has been awarded World Heritage Site designation. The Tower was built in 1830 by Reverend John Richards Clavell of Smedmore as an observatory and folly, with three storeys and a distinctive Tuscan colonnade. Thomas Hardy courted Eliza Bright Nicols here and used it as a frontispiece for his Wessex Poems.

12.30 pm
Private lunch at Smedmore House
2.30 pm
Depart for London
5.30 pm
Return to London, Victoria
Smedmore House
Smedmore House