Explore Southeast England with Politics & Prose
$4,400, based on single occupancy. There are no single supplements to pay.
Next fall, join a group of like-minded travelers to explore the castles, estates and gardens in the Southeast of England. We’ll be visiting several National Trust sites, as well as other famed gardens and historic towns. Our base will be the popular Georgian spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent. It’s been attracting visitors for over 400 years, ever since a mineral water spring was discovered here, bringing royal visitors looking for eternal health.
The Southeast of England has one of the country’s richest concentrations of historic homes and gardens. We’ll visit homes in counties Kent, Sussex and Surrey, ranging from castles to manor houses, and gardens that illustrate the highly-coveted fame of English gardens. These estates are extremely difficult to reach except by driving on narrow roads, so this is a perfect way to see places you might otherwise not be able to visit.
Most of the homes and gardens we’ll visit are National Trust properties, which means that these sites are well preserved and maintained, and staffed with knowledgeable guides to enhance your experience. And you’ll receive a year-long membership in the Royal Oak Society, the National Trust’s sister organization for people who don’t live in Britain.
The Spa Hotel
An Elegant Hotel in Royal Tunbridge Wells
Our home for the week will be the historic Spa Hotel located on several acres at the edge of Royal Tunbridge Wells. You’ll enjoy its two restaurants, pool, gym, spa and tennis courts if you wish. And, of course, there’s always the option of afternoon tea in the well-appointed lobby.
Each day we’ll depart by mini-van or small bus to visit some of the noted houses and gardens nearby. For Henry James fans, a highlight of the trip will be visiting his home in the charming town of Rye. Each evening, we’ll get together before dinner to talk about our days, have a bit of book talk, and sip a glass of wine. Afterwards, we’ll break into small groups to walk or taxi to restaurants, or take advantage of eating in the hotel. You’ll have a restaurant list to help you decide where to eat.
As with all our trips, you’ll have two experienced trip leaders with you at all times. The trip is limited to no more than 18 people, so you’ll never walk around in a huge group, or be driven in a big tourist bus. We’ll generally eat most of our lunches at National Trust properties.
September is a wonderful month to visit Southeast England. Temperatures are warm, days are long, gardens are in bloom, children are back in school, and tourists are no longer out in full force. It’s a great opportunity to take yourself back in time as you walk through medieval homes or make your way through lush gardens.
September 18 -25, 2019
Please note that we may make changes to this itinerary in response to unexpected closings, road conditions, weather or other unforeseen events.
Tuesday, September 17
Depart from home (airfare not included) to either Heathrow or Gatwick airports in London. We’ll provide you with information about how to get from the airport to Royal Tunbridge Wells.
Wednesday, September 18
Arrive in Tunbridge Wells. You can relax at the hotel, just walking in the grounds or having a cup of tea. If you’re up for it, join the group for a one-hour private guided walking tour to learn the history of the town and discover the famous Pantiles (an elegant colonnaded walkway of shops, galleries, and cafes) and Old High Street.
6 p.m. Meet at the hotel to officially greet one another and discuss the week’s activities.
Thursday, September 19
Meet in the lobby for the drive to Chartwell, the family home of Winston Churchill. A group of friends bought it for him in 1922, with the proviso that it become a Trust property at his death. Churchill lived here for the rest of his life. You’ll see the home as it was when he resided there, as well as the spectacular view of Kent, which he said was the reason he wanted to live here. Churchill enthusiasts staff each room; ask a question and you’ll get a very engaging conversation. Note that the grounds will be open when we arrive, but the house opens at 11:30am.
You can have lunch in the café (yummy desserts!), and take time to explore the many trails around the extensive gardens (both floral and vegetable), lawns and woodland areas. In the afternoon, stroll over to Churchill’s art studio. It contains the largest collection of his paintings, many of which he did at Chartwell or on his travels abroad.
3p.m. Return to Tunbridge Wells.
6p.m. Wine and conversation at the hotel
Friday, September 20
Today we visit two places renowned for their gardens. Each is unique in its design and plantings. We start by driving to Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, where we will see the garden “rooms” created by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson in the 1930’s. While Sackville-West grew up at Knole, she could not inherit it because she was female; she bought the ruins of Sissinghurst and constructed these gardens. They are said to be quintessentially English.
We arrive early to have a private tour of these gardens before they open to the public, and then you’ll have time to stroll around the gardens yourself – including the vegetable gardens off a country lane. If we’re lucky, we’ll have a chance to meet Adam Nicholson, author and TV presenter, and grandson of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson.
After lunch at Sissinghurst, we continue to Great Dixter House and Gardens. The house has a long history, with some parts dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. It was restored in 1911, leaving some of the medieval features intact, by the great British architect Edwin Lutyens. The house was restored by businessman Nathanial Lloyd, whose son Christopher Lloyd, writer and horticulturist, then created the spectacular gardens. Today, these gardens still reflect his vision – ever changing and always surprising.
4:30p.m. Return to Tunbridge Wells
6 p.m. Wine and conversation at the hotel.
Saturday, September 21
Today we visit nearby Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. The oldest part of the castle dates to 1270. In 1462 it became the home of the Boleyn family. It came into the possession of Henry VIII in 1539. Its long interesting history, the grounds, and its vast collection of artifacts make for a wonderful visit. The castle has three floors of antique furniture, Anne Boleyn’s prayer books, instruments of torture, and many Tudor paintings.
The castle also pays tribute to American William Waldorf Astor, who restored it between 1903 and 1908, after moving to England from America, which he said was “no longer a fit place for a gentleman to live.” It was in the Astor family until 1983.
You’ll have time to explore the extensive grounds and gardens, and the castle itself opens at noon. You can explore the castle on your own using the information boards in each room, a purchased guidebook, or a multimedia headset.
After lunch on the property, we’ll return to Tunbridge Wells, where you can go into town to further explore the places you saw on your Wednesday tour, the little shops, bookstores, etc. Or just relax at the hotel, walk the property or have high tea there.
2 p.m. Return to Tunbridge Wells
6 p.m. Wine and conversation at the hotel.
Sunday, September 22
We’ll spend today at two National Trust properties, one going back to the 14th century, and the other begun in the 15th century. One is a quintessential Middle Ages home, and the other, very Elizabethan.
First we drive to Ightham Mote (pronounced “Item Mote”), where you’ll be transported back in time, as this medieval manor house, beautifully reflected in its moat, comes into view. It’s one of the oldest and loveliest homes from this time period. One of its legends says, “Cromwell’s soldiers, intent on looting it, lost their way in the tangled countryside, and ransacked another house of less interest instead.” So we’re the beneficiaries of that mistake.
After a leisurely lunch at the café (all lunches are on your own), and maybe a stop in the National Trust gift and garden shop, we’ll drive to Knole, one of the most famous houses in England – and reputedly the largest. Writer Vita Sackville-West grew up here and used it for the setting of her novel The Edwardians. Virginia Wolf drew on the history of the house and its residents for her novel Orlando.
Knole has been the home of the Sackville family, who still live here, since the 16th century. It’s known for its vast art collection (lots of Reynolds, Gainsboroughs and Van Dycks) and silver furniture – and its medieval deer park. Inside, the rooms are paneled in period dark woods, much as they have been for centuries.
A major conservation project is ongoing at Knole, so we don’t know how many of the rooms will be open at any given time, but a portion of the enormous house and its artworks is always on view. Every room is a treasure-trove of art and history.
4:30p.m. Return to Tunbridge Wells
6p.m. Wine and conversation at the hotel
Monday, September 23
Today we drive down toward the coast to Rye, a medieval town known for its creative community and antique shops. In the morning, we’ll visit Lamb House, the Georgian home of writer Henry James from 1897 to 1916. James wrote three of his best known novels while he was here. Later, the writer E. F. Benson also lived here, and wrote about the house and garden in his Mapp and Lucia novels. Colm Toibin’s novel The Master depicts James and his life in Rye, living at Lamb House, and frequently hosting other writers and intellectuals as guests. For a special treat, you can have a cup of tea in the garden.
Exploring Rye, you’ll find numerous quaint cafes for lunch, antique shops, galleries, and a trip to the Rye Heritage Center, where you’ll see an informative sound and light show/diorama.
3:30p.m. Return to Tunbridge Wells
6pm Wine and conversation at the hotel.
Tuesday, September 24
We spend today at the National Trust property Polesden Lacey, with its opulent house known for its lavish 20th century interior. It will remind you of Downton Abbey with its period décor and history.
The late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, spent her honeymoon here as the guest of the notorious society hostess Mrs. Ronald Greville. The rooms, collections and gardens all reflect Mrs. Greville’s status in Edwardian society. The many National Trust room guides help bring this period in English history to life. Both a café and coffee shop are available for you to take breaks as you learn and explore.
This house, as well as others, did service during World War I by providing a place for wounded military officers to recover from their injuries. You can imagine them sitting in the canvas lounge chairs overlooking the expansive lawn. Bring a book; you’re invited to take a chair for yourself as well.
3:30p.m. Return to Tunbridge Wells
6 p.m. Our final wine and conversation evening at the hotel.
Wednesday, September 25
Depart to the airport for your flight home.
Here's what's included:
- Seven nights at the beautiful Spa Hotel in Royal Tunbridge Wells
- Full breakfast every morning in the hotel
- One-year membership in the Royal Oak Society
- Transportation to the houses and gardens every day
- Admissions for all houses, gardens and private tours
- Wine social every night in the hotel before dinner
- Restaurant recommendations for Royal Tunbridge Wells
What’s not included: lunches and dinners, transport to and from the airport, your flight to London and back home, transport from and to your airport, or anything else not listed under “What’s included.”
Please be sure to read all the Frequently Asked Questions and Terms and Conditions. If you have more questions, you can contact either of the trip leaders directly:
Or, at Politics & Prose:
There are no single supplements to pay. Each person has his or her own room.
Ready to Pack Your Bags?
You can reserve your place on the trip with a $575 deposit, payable by check, made out to Wild Blue Yonder (Wild Blue Yonder, 1001 Spring Street, Suite 623, Silver Spring, MD 20910). If you’d rather pay with a credit card via PayPal (there’s a 3% surcharge), let us know (email Sheila at SCampbell@wildblueyonder.biz) and we’ll send you a PayPal invoice.
Physical Requirements for This Trip
Although this trip is not strenuous, you will be walking on uneven pavement, rough garden paths and grassy hills. None of the manor houses we visit have lifts; you must be able to climb several flights of stairs, and walk at least a mile on hilly ground without a rest.
A Few Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Who should come on this trip?
Anglophiles, of course. This is a perfect trip to take by yourself; you’ll make new friends and will always have people to do things with. Or come with a friend or spouse or partner. The trip is also perfect for any small group that wants to travel together but doesn’t want the hassle of planning it all in advance.
Q. Do I have to pay a single supplement?
No. This trip is priced based on each person having his or her own hotel room.
Q. I’m coming with a spouse or partner, and we want to share a room. Do we both have to pay the full rate?
For people who share a room, we offer a discount of $150 each. We’ve priced the trip primarily for people to have their own rooms, because English hotel rooms just aren’t as large as those in the U.S. Of course you can share a room if you prefer.
Q. How many people will be on the trip?
The maximum number of people is 18, so you won’t feel like you’re part of a huge group. Our groups are typically 12 – 16 people, and we have two trip leaders.
Q. When is the trip?
The trip begins on Wednesday, September 18, and ends on Wednesday, September 25. Since most flights to England are overnight, you’ll probably fly out from your home city on Tuesday, September 17, to arrive Wednesday morning in London. We’ll provide you information about how to get to Royal Tunbridge Wells from the airport.
Q. What flight should I take?
At this writing, a number of airlines fly nonstop from Washington Dulles to London Heathrow: American, British, Delta, United, Virgin Atlantic, Austrian, Lufthansa and Iberia, among others. We particularly like the flights on United/Lufthansa or British that arrive around 10:30am. If you take a flight that arrives very early in the morning, your hotel room will probably not be ready when you arrive.
Q. Why do you call this a “trip” and not a “tour”?
We’ve included the things we like best about group travel, including the convenience of having someone plan daily itineraries. But there are lots of things we dislike about tours, so here’s how this trip is different:
- You’ll never board a big tour bus.
- You won’t be seated at long tables for big group meals at “We accept bus tours” restaurants.
- You won’t have early morning calls to leave the hotel.
- You only unpack and pack once – we’re not touring, but staying in one hotel where we can really get to know the area well.
Q. Tell me about the trip leaders.
Sheila Campbell of Wild Blue Yonder has been organizing informal groups of travelers for years – often on hiking trips in France, England, Italy and Spain. She’s managed trips for Politics & Prose for six years. She lives in Washington, DC, where she has been a volunteer at the National Gallery of Art for many years. She spends a couple of months a year in Europe, mostly in England, France and Italy.
Barbara Wendell has also traveled extensively and worked and traveled as part of her job as a focus group facilitator. She is very experienced in working with groups. She lives in Annapolis, MD, where she is involved with tourism as a docent and volunteer with Historic Annapolis.
Q. What is the Spa hotel like?
It’s a beautiful 70-room “grand hotel” that first opened in 1880. It still has its graceful dining room – and of course you can have afternoon tea in the lobby. There’s a new bistro for casual dining. The comfortable sleeping rooms have been recently upgraded. Do not, however, that some rooms are not air conditioned, though this should not be an issue in September. It does have a spa, in case you need a massage or facial.
The hotel is located on the edge of Royal Tunbridge Wells. You can walk to nearby restaurants, or take a bus or taxi to the city’s famous Pantiles shopping and restaurant area.
Q. Is there internet access at the hotel?
Yes, free wifi comes with your room.
Q. What will the weather be like?
It’s hard to tell. September could be cool and sunny, or cool and rainy. Or maybe a hot. Our advice is to come prepared for just about anything. Bring clothes suitable for summer or fall weather, an umbrella, a light jacket and – most important of all – very comfortable walking shoes.
Q. What to wear?
You needn’t dress up for this trip. Wear your most comfortable clothes for walking. Just about every place we go will be casual.
Q. Why aren’t lunches and dinners included in the price?
Restaurants that accept tour groups are usually the last places we want to eat. On many days, we’ll be at a property with a National Trust café that features local favorites. They’re quite affordable, and you can decide when you want to break for lunch
In Tunbridge Wells, you’ll be able to choose from both casual and nicer dinner places.
We often make lunch the biggest meal of the day and eat lighter at night. But you’ll choose where you’ll eat, when and with whom.
Q. Do you require us to buy travel insurance?
We strongly encourage you to buy travel insurance, both for trip cancellation and medical coverage and evacuation. Please read our Terms and Conditions carefully to see our cancellation policy. Also be aware that trip insurance companies are very strict about what they will and won’t reimburse you for, so read their policies closely. You generally have to purchase trip insurance at the time you pay your deposit.
Terms & Conditions
Please read this information carefully, as payment of a deposit represents your acceptance of the following Terms and Conditions.
Trip prices include hotel accommodations on a single or double occupancy basis, breakfast at the hotel, daily transportation to locations as outlined in the itinerary, entrance fees to museums and houses with the group as listed in the itinerary, evening social events to plan the next day’s activities, and the services of the trip leaders as outlined in the trip description.
Not included in the trip price are entrance fees to museums and other attractions not expressly included in the itinerary; taxis or other forms of city transportation, public transportation in Royal Tunbridge Wells; airfare and airline baggage fees; lunches and dinners; hotel, restaurant or airport tips; costs of passports and visas; personal expenses such as beverages, laundry or room service; internet wifi except as established in the trip description; airport transfers or any other services not specified in the trip description.
Please note that we cannot guarantee any special requests for hotel rooms.
Registration and Payment
The payment of your deposit confirms your reservation. Deposits may be paid by check made out to Wild Blue Yonder, Inc., or credit card via PayPal. There is a 3% surcharge for PayPal.
Your deposit is refundable for two weeks from the date it is received by Wild Blue Yonder, except for deposits made less than 60 days before a trip departs; those deposits are completely nonrefundable. Two weeks after the receipt of the deposit by Wild Blue Yonder, deposits are not refundable for any reason and will be forfeited if you cancel your trip reservation. Cancellations must be made in writing by either letter to Wild Blue Yonder or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Cancellations become effective on the date they are received by Wild Blue Yonder.
Once your reservation deposit has been paid, you will receive a confirmation email and further information to help you plan your trip.
We reserve the right to cancel any reservations that are not paid in full at any time after the final payment is due. If you make your reservation after the final payment due date, payment in full will be required immediately.
Full final payment is due June 10, 2019.
Cancellations and Refunds
For any cancellations made before June 10, you will forfeit your deposit but will be refunded any other payments you have made. If you must cancel your trip, the effective date of cancellation will be upon our receipt of your notification, which must be made in writing either by email or letter. No refunds are possible after June 10, 2019.
We strongly recommend that you purchase trip cancellation insurance when you pay your deposit for this trip.
Changes to Your Reservation
If you would like to stay on for longer than the official days of the trip, we will make reservations for you at the hotel. We will not charge you for any changes to your reservation before June 10. After that date, if you make any changes to your reservation, a $100 per person administrative fee will apply. Changes are subject to availability and cannot be guaranteed. If your reservation changes from double occupancy to single occupancy, you will be charged the single occupancy rate.
You are responsible for securing your own passport, valid for at least six months after the completion of your trip. Your passport must also have at least two blank pages for entry and exit stamps.
Health and Medical Issues
We welcome all travelers, but you must be in good health to participate in our trips. This trip requires a reasonable amount of walking – up to a mile, possibly uphill or on uneven pavements or cobblestone streets and streets without curb cuts. You must be able to climb several flights of stairs and board buses on your own. We regret that we cannot provide individual assistance if you require the use of a wheelchair or have other personal needs; in such cases you must be accompanied by a companion who will assist you, and you will have to incur the costs of taxis or other special transport you might need.
If you are unable to navigate this amount of walking, you will not be able to participate fully in the trip, and we suggest you choose another type of trip. We cannot provide individual alternatives to the planned group activities. If your fitness level does not allow you to keep up with the group and/or travel on public transportation, you will be responsible for planning your own activities and for any additional costs incurred (for instance, but not limited to, personal taxis, train tickets, and entrance fees).
We strongly recommend that you purchase both trip cancellation insurance and traveler’s medical and evacuation insurance for your trip. Should you have to cancel your trip after you have paid in full, we cannot offer refunds other than specified above, because we will have already paid the costs of your trip to our vendors.
Please note: Medicare is not valid outside of the United States.
Arrival and Departure Dates
It is your responsibility to make sure you arrive on the specified trip start date. We cannot refund part of your trip if you arrive late or leave early, unless you have notified us of your different start or end date by June 10, 2019.
The liability of Wild Blue Yonder and Politics & Prose, individually or jointly (referred to hereafter as Trip Planners), is strictly limited. In no event will the Trip Planners be liable for amounts in excess of the amounts payable to the Trip Planners in accordance with the terms hereunder, nor will Trip Planners be liable for any consequential indirect or incidental damages arising from this agreement. Trip Planners purchase accommodations, transportation and other services from independent suppliers not under our control. We serve only as agents for these suppliers in securing trip arrangements, and therefore will not accept responsibility and liability for wrongful, negligent or arbitrary acts or omissions of these independent contractors, their employees, agents or representatives.
Trip Planners are not liable for injury, damage, death, loss, accident, or delay that may be caused by events not within our control, including but not limited to, without limitation, acts of terrorism, war, strikes, defects of any vehicle, adverse weather conditions, natural disasters or the negligence or default of any third party, nor for personal accidents.
In consideration of, and as part payment for, the right to participate in the trip, the undersigned, on behalf of himself, his dependents, heirs, executors, administrators and assigns, agrees to release Politics & Prose, Wild Blue Yonder and their officers, employees, representatives or agents, and the tour operator and its officers, employees and agents, from liability for personal injury, death, property damage or loss suffered by any person in connection with this tour, even if caused by the negligence (but not the reckless, willful, or fraudulent conduct) of tour staff or other related persons or entities. In addition, by registering for this trip, the applicant certifies that he or she is mentally and physically capable of full participation in this tour. By registering for this trip, the participant agrees to all of the Terms and Conditions herein.
Trip Planners reserve the right to correct errors in advertised prices. We reserve the right to cancel an advertised trip, decline to accept a reservation or remove a person from a trip if it is determined by us to be in the best interests of the health, safety or general well-being of other trip participants. Should you be removed, you will not be entitled to any refund for unused or missed services or costs incurred as a result of termination of your travel arrangements, including, without limitation, return travel, accommodations, meals and incidentals.
We will make every effort to conduct our trip as planned, but we reserve the right to make itinerary and other changes as necessary. If unforeseen circumstances require us to change a hotel, we will make every effort to select alternative accommodations of the same quality. The forgoing terms and conditions and all aspects of the relationship between Trip Planners and you shall be governed by the laws of the State of Maryland.
We love to read books about or set in the areas where we’re traveling. Here are some books you might like to read before you go.
The Master by Colm Tóibín
Highly acclaimed novel about the life of author Henry James.
Mapp and Lucia books by E.F.Benson
This series of books, beginning with Mapp and Lucia, are comic novels about two women in the British upper-middle class, set in Rye.
The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West
Semi-autobiographical critique of Edwardian aristocratic society, as well as a reflection of Sackville-West’s childhood spent at Knole.
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Story of an English butler in the years leading up to World War II. Darlington Hall in the book is representative of the country estates that flourished at that time.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
Set in 1914 in Sussex and Rye, the book’s characters deal with the onset of the first world war.
The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory
Set in the court of Henry VIII, the story of the sisters Mary and Anne Boleyn.
The Spoils of Poynton by Henry James
A delightful novel which details a family’s struggle over the its manor house and its furnishings.
The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross
The story of Elizabeth, the matriarch of the Royal family, and a history of Britain in the 20th century. Elizabeth and King George VI, then Prince Albert, Duke of York, honeymooned at Polesden Lacey, the manor house of socialite Mrs. Ronald Greville.
Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard
An account of Winston Churchill’s time in South Africa fighting in the Boer War, this book gives you great insights into the character of Churchill as a young man.
The Churchill Factor: How one Man Made History by Boris Johnson
A very readable, informative and entertaining biography of Churchill, written by the journalist, ex-mayor of London and ex-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
The Six: the Lives of the Mitford Sisters by Laura Thompson
The stories of the scandalous and stylish Mitford sisters in England before and after WWII.
The Disinherited: a Story of Family, Love and Betrayal by Robert Sackville-West
The baron who still lives at Knole writes about scandals in the family.
Queen Bees: Six Brilliant and Extraordinary Society Hostesses between the Wars by Siân Evans
The lives of six society hostesses, including Mrs. Ronald Greville of Polesden Lacey.
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Wild Blue Yonder plans, organizes and leads group trips for bookstores, historic associations and other corporate and not-for-profit entities. All our trips are designed for the specific interests of the groups for whom we work.