Tours, talks and trails
Date Posted: 15/05/2011
From historic houses to scenic cycling circuits, we sum up a selection of guided tours to appeal to every taste.
At the Eden Project in Cornwall, groups can request a tour with members of its guide team. Each tour lasts one hour, covers one Biome and the project asks for a minimum of one month’s notice to check availability. The tours are seasonal, and from June onwards groups can enjoy the Summer Outdoor Biome Tour, which explores Cornish landscapes, plants for a warmer climate, and the Global Garden allotments. On rainy days this can be changed to a Rainforest Tour. Autumn and winter tours are also available, or groups can opt for general tours of either the Rainforest, Mediterranean or Outside Biomes. The tour will include an overview of Eden’s history and can include projects, architecture or art. Tours cost (in addition to entry) £50 for up to 25 in a group and £100 for up to 55 in a group.
The Gower Heritage Centre in the Gower Peninsula in Wales is a visitor attraction and rural life museum based around a working 12th century water-mill. Guided tours are offered alongside guided and themed walks around the Gower Peninsula, including Three Cliffs Bay, or a guided coach tour of the Gower Peninsula itself, which was the first area in the UK to be declared a designated area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The attraction also provides a cream tea Gower tour where a fully qualified guide will accompany visitors on their own coach, to point out the highlights of Gower. Explore the heights of Cefn Bryn and the historic ‘Arthur’s Stone’ to the breath-taking beauty of Rhossilli beach and the Worm’s Head, returning to the Gower Heritage Centre for a traditional cream tea or Welsh Cawl.
Every Thursday in September, experience the grounds of Bristol Zoo Gardens in style with a guided tour of its award-winning botanical gardens. During a 45 minute guided tour, the gardening team will take you all around the grounds, finishing the day off with an afternoon tea. Additional one hour walks and talks are tailored specifically for groups and are led by experienced guides. You can choose from a number of topics, including ‘Conservation and Endangered Species’ and ‘The History of Bristol Zoo’. Discounts are available of up to 32 per cent on entry prices for groups of ten or more; group organisers receive free entry, and special arrangements are in place for coach drivers.
From August, the RSPB and Just Go! holidays will be joining forces to help get people out and enjoying nature. The new RSPB Breaks offer the chance to enjoy some of the wonders of the UK’s natural world, as well as other great attractions, as part of a coach holiday experience. One of the tours, ‘Saunter along the South Coast and Sailing the Solent’, will be calling in at RSPB Radipole Lake in the centre of Weymouth. A guided walk will lead people through the reedbeds and lagoons in search of some of the reserve’s more elusive residents, from bearded tits to bitterns. Other trips available include exploring south Wales, roaming the Royal Norfolk coast and discovering delightful Derbyshire. Tours start at £219.99 for five days, including four nights’ bed, breakfast
and dinner, and entry to all the attractions.
Capital Sport has been offering gentle cycling and walking tours to groups for over 25 years now. Its guided day tours of London, Oxford, Windsor, Stratford and Canterbury aim to cover the must-see points in each area, along with some hidden treasures. The company is now also offering group guided cycling, walking and river holidays, covering the Cotswolds, the Thames area, Stratford, Bath, Stonehenge, London, Oxford and Windsor. All tours include hand selected accommodation, breakfast, dinner, bikes, luggage transfers and guides to bring each area to life. Whether cycling, walking or cruising down the river, it promises tours to suit all abilities.
The Lord’s Tour in London promises to take you behind the scenes at the self-proclaimed home of cricket. The expert-led visit will begin in the Pavilion, where groups can walk through the legendary Long Room, and imagine themselves striding out to bat at a Test Match like so many legends of the game before. Further highlights include the MCC Museum, home to the Ashes Urn, and the award-winning architecture of the Media Centre. Inside this futuristic building you can see where Sky Sports, Test Match Special and the written press report on the game. Groups of over 20 people can benefit from an adult rate of £13 per person, with Blue Badge Guides, tour leaders and coach drivers going free. Tours can be tailored to suit each individual group.
The Hungate excavation claims to be the biggest ever archaeological dig in York city centre. Highlights of the dig include uncovering part of a 1,700 year old Roman cemetery, uncovering new information on what Viking Age life was like 1,000 years ago and how people used the land in medieval times. Scheduled tours of the site start from DIG, which is based at the medieval church of St Saviours on St Saviourgate. Guided tours cost £1 per person. Tours include the chance to watch the team excavating, and opportunities to experience the work of an archaeologist in special DIG Live! Workshops.
The city of Norwich is currently offering Blue Badge walking tours of discovery, which can be tailored to suit a group’s interests. Tours last 90 minutes and offer a variety of themes including ‘City of Centuries Walking Tour’, ‘Tales of the Riverside’, ‘An Elizabethan Progress’ and ‘Footsteps of Nelson’. New for this year are the ‘Norwich 12’ series tours offering four tours, each taking in three of the most important heritage buildings in Norwich.
Secret London Walks is run by registered London Blue Badge Guide Diane Burstein. Secret London Walks aims to show visitors the hidden nooks and crannies of the capital away from the usual tourist trail. Walking tours include ‘Legal London’, ‘Bohemians and Bluestockings - Literary London’, ‘Aristocrats and Artists - Historic Holland Park’, ‘Silks to Spices - Historic Spitalfields’ and ‘Theatrical London’. If you don’t see the area or subject you require, Diane will be happy to create a bespoke walk for your group. The cost until 1st April 2012 is £130 per guide so if, for example, you have a group of 25 people this works out at £5.20 per person.
In central Dublin, The Old Jameson Distillery visitors’ centre is located inside the original Jameson distillery that dates back to 1780. The distillery has been lovingly restored and recreated as the old distillery on a smaller scale. Guided tours aim to bring the whiskey making process to life through every step of the development, from malting and storing barley, to mashing and fermentation, to distilling and maturation. All visitors receive a signature Jameson drink at the end of their visit, and volunteers are selected per tour to partake in a tasting; comparing the difference between Scotch, American and Irish whiskey.
As it was once home to the author Jane Austen, the city of Bath has dedicated walks that show where she lived, places that were named in her books and how living in the city affected her life and writing. These are organised by the Jane Austen Centre and run all year round. Alternative tours of the city include ‘Bizarre Bath’, a popular walking tour that takes an irreverent look at the city (from April to October) or Ghost Walks of Bath, offering real-life stories of macabre goings-on, hauntings and the tragic events of yester-year (tours run all year).
Groups can join tour guides in the Royal Albert Hall, London as they take you on a lively journey through this iconic building. There is no upper limit to the size of group, but groups larger than 20 will be divided between two or more guides. The Front of House Tour costs £8.50 per person and comprises an extensive look at the Hall’s Front of House areas and offers the opportunity to view the magnificent auditorium from the comfort of a private box. The Hall and Albert Memorial tour costs £12 per person and combines the Front of House tour with an inspection and explanation of the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park. Group rates include tea, coffee and biscuits. The hall also offers group catering packages for prebooked groups.
The Musical Museum in west London houses a collection of automatic musical instruments including some as diverse as tiny musical boxes, self-playing violins and the Mighty Wurlitzer cinema organ, which rises up from beneath the stage in the concert hall. The museum offers groups a guided tour of the collection, including instrument demonstrations. Tours for pre-booked groups can be offered from Tuesday to Sunday, and light refreshments are provided.
A touch of history
This year sees a veritable cornucopia of new themed visits introduced at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford. ‘A Walk in the Past - The Park and Gardens at Blenheim Palace’ is a historical garden tour of the palace grounds, concentrating on the way the park and formal gardens have changed over time. The ‘Art of Warfare’ talk and tour focuses on a set of tapestries commissioned by John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough in the early 18th century. Your guide will explain the commissioning and making of the tapestries and discuss the wealth of detail in each panel, covering actual events that occurred in the battles they commemorate and the methods of warfare at the time. Further tours are available, see the website for details.
Holker Hall in Cumbria has developed a range of guided tours especially for groups, including three options inside the hall together with a Fine Arts Tour that explores the history of the building with particular emphasis on its paintings, prints and objects d’art. Alternatively, for those groups wanting to discover the history and development of the gardens at Holker, it has several one to two hour tours available. Depending on the season, the tours focus on the colours, textures and scents of the woodlands, borders and formal gardens. There is a small charge for a tour in addition to the admission rate and they should be booked in advance. The minimum number on a tour is ten and it recommends a maximum of 25.
There are five specialist tours currently on offer to visitors at Arundel Castle in Sussex, each concentrating on a specific area of the castle. These are separate to the normal guided tours. The Medieval Tour takes in the oldest parts of the castle from the 12th century Keep, to the Fitzalan Chapel containing the tombs and memorials to the Earls of Arundel and Dukes of Norfolk. The Furniture Tour looks at the impressive collection of 16th to 18th century furniture collected by the family over time, including the bedroom suite made especially for Queen Victoria when she visited in 1846. Specialist tours are £25 per person and last two hours.
Set in 130 acres of manicuredmature parkland and gardens, Port Sunlight Village, on the Wirral in Merseyside, has over 900 Grade II listed buildings, which are brought to life by the people who live and work in this well preserved conservation area. Now managed by Port Sunlight Village Trust, of which Port Sunlight Museum and Garden Village is a registered trademark, the village offers groups a full day of historical interest. Head to Port Sunlight Museum where you will find out how the village began, meet model characters such as the founder William Hesketh Lever, architect Lomax Simpson, school teacher, Emily Birch or a ‘Sunlighter’ resident, Ellen, from the early years. Then pick up a trail to find out more about the surrounding area with tea rooms and cafes in
English Heritage is offering groups a new ‘Glitz and Glamour’ package to take in both Eltham Palace and Rangers House in London. The day starts with a 90 minute guided tour around Eltham Palace, and includes free time and a buffet lunch at nearby Ranger’s House. Lunch is followed by a 90 minute tour around the house to view the 700 works of art that it contains. Inclusive packages cost £29 per person or £14 for English Heritage members and a group leader, including entry fees, guided tours and lunch. The price does not include transport. The minimum group size is 11, with a maximum of 50.