Please note that the dates for these tours may vary from the guide below. No tours will be offered until international borders are open.
Cathedrals and Abbeys of England Tour
"I never weary of great churches. It is my favourite kind of mountain scenery.
The Medieval churches of England represent a phenomenal achievement. At the Reformation there were some 46,000 of them, in addition to thousands of monastic churches, cathedrals, chapels and abbeys, all raised during a few centuries by a population that numbered around that of present day New Zealand, less than 5 million.
About half survive to this day in a reasonable state and we intend to visit them.
For those who would like to immerse themselves in the history of England, through the grandeur of its cathedrals and abbeys, or to view the intricate architectural achievements to be found within these special places, then, this tour is a must. Travelling between our visits we will pass through market towns, small villages, woodlands and farmland. All this while we sit back, relax and enjoy our journey. We may even be able to have our lunch breaks in the cafes within the cathedral precincts. Much to see and more to do. Each evening at dinner, in our hotels, we will be able to relive the day and look forward to boarding our air conditioned coach next morning to transport us to that next adventure and I am sure that we will have many surprises on the way.
Join me as we traverse across England and visit many of those incredibly beautiful edifices that have survived over the past centuries and now stand in all their restored magnificence. Private behind the scenes guided tours by local experts will further provide us with an insight into the construction, an appreciation for their ongoing restoration and an understanding of their significance throughout history.
Our travels will take us to visit many of the cathedrals and abbeys and include, Salisbury Cathedral above right, Pershore Abbey above left and also, Exeter Cathedral, Rochester Cathedral, Wells Cathedral, Buchfast Abbey and Truro Cathedral to name but a few.
Once we have received your booking, we will request from you information concerning any specific areas that may be important for you to visit. We will do all we can to comply to your request, as long as the site is within the geographical boundary of the tour.
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Please note: This itinerary has been prepared on a geographical basis to allow us, over our two (2) weeks together to visit many Cathedrals and a few Abbeys. At each visit we hope to be met and receive a behind the scenes tour from a local guide to take us through the history, architecture and the development of the various orders. We will endeavour to visit the individual Cathedral or Abbey on a day that allows a guided tour as there are special days or times in the life of both the Cathedrals and Abbeys that preclude such tours. It is hoped that by having a programme as broad as appears below, there may be the flexibility to visit specific sites that are of special interest to those on tour.
Day 1 - LONDON: Tour guests arrive at Heathrow Airport and make their way to our hotel in the airport precinct. The remainder of the day and evening is free to relax and meet other guests. Dinner will be in our hotel. During dinner we will discuss our programme for the next few days. D
Day 2 - LONDON to SALISBURY: After breakfast at the hotel, our coach will depart on our way to Salisbury where we will be staying for three (3) nights and be able to visit up to 4 Cathedrals and Abbeys, a great start to our tour. On the way to our accommodation we will visit Winchester Cathedral where the beginnings of the Cathedral lie back in the 7th Century missions to England when St Birinus baptised King Cynegils of the West Saxons in 635. In 634 Cenwalh built a minster at Winchester and Bishop Haedds transferred his see there 3 decades later establishing the minster as his Cathedral. Thus Winchester became a royal and ecclesiastical centre, mortuary chests with the bones of Kings and Queens are still in the possession of the Cathedral. The Cathedral has association with the writers Izaak Walton and Jane Austen, both are buried there. Many memorials to the Regiments that have protected England both here and abroad are within the Cathedral. B/D
Day 3 - SALISBURY: We will stay close to home today as we visit the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral. "Like an intricate casket on a carpet of mown grass." This is but one description of the remarkable integrity of Salisbury Cathedral. This integrity and proportion, which we see uniquely in Salisbury amongst the mediaeval English Cathedrals, owes its origins to the initiative of Bishop Richard le Poore. In 1217 he petitioned the Pope for leave to remove his Cathedral to a new site. It is among the larger English Cathedrals and its most majestic and famous feature is, of course, its spire. It is the tallest spire in England, reaching a height of 123 metres. The construction of the spire is remarkable, being based upon an interior wooden scaffolding which remains to this day. After our time in the Cathedral we head for home and dinner. B/D
Day 4 - SALISBURY: Another great day immersed in the History and Heritage of the Cathedrals and Abbeys of the South East. Our visits today will be to Romsey Abbey and Wimborne Minster. The Christian Roots of Romsey Abbey run deep and there is evidence that King Edmund the Elder established a convent for women in 907. The present abbey was begun in 1120 as a focus of a Benedictine woman's community. The 12th Century Romanesque work has survived at all three levels. At the dissolution of the monasteries the church was bought by town which saved it from demolition. The origo of Wimborne Minster lies in the Saxon monastery founded here by Cuthburg in 705. Later, a Benedictine abbey church probably occupied the same site as the present minster. King Alfred the Great buried his brother in the minster in 871 and the Saxon church survived until it was burned by the Danes in 1013. In 1043, Edward the Confessor established a new foundation of secular canons on the site. We will be able to see the church as apart from it, none of the collegiate buildings have survived. We may stay in the area for dinner before heading back to our hotel. B/D
Day 5 - SALISBURY to EXETER: This morning we say goodbye to Salisbury as we head to Exeter and our visit to Exeter Cathedral. With the lowering of Christianity in England in the 7th Century through the work of Augustine and Theodore in the South-East and Aidan and Cuthbert in the South-West . However, it was St Boniface, educated in a monastery on the site of the present cathedral who became the most celebrated son of Devonshire by his work as a missionary in Central Germany.
Most other Cathedrals had to await the coming of the Normans but Bishop Leofric moved the see earlier to the current important commercial centre. The Normans however still left their mark with William Warelwart, the nephew of William the Conqueror becoming Bishop of Exeter. It was he who built the Romanesque cathedral. So much to see here as Exeter Cathedral is now in a splendid state of conservation. B/D
Day 6 - EXETER: Nowhere in England are the early Celtic roots of Christianity so obvious with the profusion of local saints is Cornwell. In contrast to this the Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin, in Truro, has the distinction of being the first entirely new foundation since the Reformation. The consecration was performed in 1887 by Edward White Benson, who had moved 4 years earlier from being the first Bishop of Truro to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The building's position in the centre of this small Cornish City is unique among English Cathedrals and is a powerful focus for the County with its 3 strong spires. More to see but dinner and a drinks await. B/D
Day 7 - BUCKFAST ABBEY: Today we will be visiting Buckfast Abbey and may even be able to stay overnight at the Abbey. An Abbey existed here in Saxon times and as part of a monastic reform movement in the 12th Century, it became a Cistercian monastery, which was then suppressed during the Reformation period in 1539. The buildings gradually fell into a state of disrepair until the 19th Century, when Buckfast was re-settled by Benedictine monks from France. B/D
Day 8 - COVENTRY: On our way to Coventry we will visit Pershore Abbey which is dominated by the splendid tower of 1327 and the massive buttresses of 1913 shoring up the east end. The Abbey has an interesting history. Founded by King Ethelred of Mercia's nephew and refounded by King Edgar in 972. Much of the land was confiscated when Benedictine rule was introduced in 976. The land was later given to Westminster Abbey by King Edward the Confessor. Today, the interior is stunning. Following our visit we continue on to Coventry. B/D
Day 9 - COVENTRY: Our visits today take us to Lichfield Cathedral and then back to Coventry Cathedral. Origins of Lichfield Cathedral lie in the building of a Church in 700 at a shrine for St Chad. From 1085 until the twin spires were finished in 1327 there were many changes and additions and most are preserved to this day. Following our time at Lichfield we will move back to Coventry Cathedral and the building of the Cathedral caught the imagination of people throughout the world, seen as a phoenix rising from the ashes. Visiting is likened to a pilgrimage both unique and symbolic. Stand in the ruins and gaze upon the cross of charred timbers and the cross of nails with two words, "Father Forgive". The Christian roots of Coventry lie in the foundation of a nunnery by St Osburga.
In 1043 Earl Leofric of Mercia and his countess, Lady Godiva, founded the Benedictine priory of St Mary, which became the Cathedral of the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield. In 1918, the 14th Century Church of St Michael became the Cathedral, but lost in the destruction of WW2. Dinner in our hotel awaits us following such an inspiring day. B/D
Day 10 - COVENTRY to WOODHALL SPA: Our move today takes us across to Lincoln. There is no other Cathedral in England in such a breathtaking position. Enthroned high on the limestone cliff, it stands like a great ocean liner at anchor. Constructed to dominate the vast diocese over which the Bishop ruled. Lincoln was where the Norman conquerors in 1072 wanted their Cathedral in such a strategically important centre. Entering through the great west door is in itself, an enthralling experience. B/D
Day 11 - NORWICH: Today will be another great day enjoying the splendour of our Cathedrals. Our plan is to visit Ely Cathedral but with Ely today and Norwich tomorrow, we must remain flexible as much is happening with the Enthronement of their new Bishop at Norwich Cathedral and other issues at Ely Cathedral. However, as we get closer to the time of our proposed visits, things may change.
The "Ship of the Fens" rising from the mist is a name and an image often used to describe Ely's majestic cathedral. The cathedral took 100 years to complete after the foundations for the nave were laid in 1100. However, much earlier in 673 Etheldreda came to what was an island to set up her double monastery for both men and women. At that time the island was known for its trade in Eels, is this were the name Ely comes from?
Day 12 - NORWICH to CANTERBURY: After breakfast we head off south towards Canterbury but first, we hope to be able to arrange a visit to one of the Cathedrals and Abbeys that are between Norwich and Canterbury. One such Abbey is Wymondham Abbey and its twin towers dominate the plateau crossed by the London-Norwich road. People still speak of the strength of the Benedictine abbey founded in 1107 and completed in 1130. As normal with these very old buildings, there has been much remodeling over the years, the clerestory in mid-fifteenth century and the huge western tower was also added at that time. The hammer beam nave roof was constructed in the 15th century and the organ case was given in 1793. The eastern monastic tower is late 14th-early 15th century asnd with other isolated ruins gives the idea of the mediaeval Abbey's power and influence. B/D
Day 13 - CANTERBURY: Canterbury is incomparable, shrine to both the birth of English Christianity and also the heart of the Anglican Community. Thomas Becket's murder in 1170 by four knights of the court of Henry II that would make Canterbury, along with Compostela, one of the holiest shrines of mediaeval Europe. But its history goes well back before Becket's martyrdom. Augustine in 597 came to a city where there were already Christian Churches and even the Cathedral may have been built on the foundations of an earlier Church. B/D
Day 14 - CANTERBURY to LONDON: After a leisurely breakfast we start the run north westwards towards London. On that run in to London we intend to call in to visit Rochester Cathedral.
After Canterbury, Rochester is the oldest diocese in England. Augustine sent one of his Monks there to be Bishop in 604. The mortal remains of Paulinus the great missionary to Northumbria are still in this cathedral. Nothing is visible of the Saxon cathedral and it is the church begun by the Norman Bishop, Gundulf in 1077 of which the earliest remains are visible. Gundulf founded a Benedictine community and set to work on a new Romanesque church. Parts of his cathedral are still visible in the nave arcading.
At the Reformation, Rochester produced 2 Martyrs, one from either side of the divide. Bishop John Fisher for the Catholic cause was beheaded by King Henry V111. Bishop Nicholas Ridley was burned at the stake during the reign of Mary Tudor and became a Protestant Martyr. Ridley is commemorated by a figure in the 19th Century quire screen. The new baptistry fresco by Sergei Fyodorov in 2004 is the first to be painted in an English cathedral in 800 years.
Once we arrive at our hotel in London, the time is yours to enjoy. B
Day 15 - LONDON: This will be a huge day for us as we will be visiting both Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral. Westminster Abbey is the burial place of Kings and where the Monarch is crowned. It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of its place in National life. A community of Benedictine Monks first settled here in 960. But it was King Edward the Confessor who rebuilt the Abbey in Romanesque style, completing in 1065. He himself died a few weeks later, his shrine is still at the heart of the Abbey. One cannot begin to catalogue the tombs and memorials which find their place in this remarkable building. Alongside Kings stand memorials to countless literary figures in Poet's Corner; Sir Isaac Newton and other great scientists are remembered in the naïve and then politicians and soldiers complete the catalogue of the makers of English history.
The first Church of St Paul was established in 604, was wooden and destroyed and rebuilt many times before a Norman church was constructed on the same site 500 years later, 1087. Old St Paul's was the largest church in the British Isles and 3rd largest in Medieval Europe. The Great Fire of London finally put paid to the decaying building.
Christopher Wren's sublime new cathedral reflected the contemporary interest in classical architecture, constructed between 1675 and 1710. Wellington and Nelson are buried here. Our last night in London, maybe a visit to a local pub. B
Day 16 - LONDON: Today, after breakfast, your tour ends. B