Ardgowan is a superb mansion of the 1790s designed by a follower of Robert Adam. With excellent pictures, exceptional furniture and gardens that spread out to the coast, overlooking the Firth of Clyde, the key feature of this tour is that we are guests here, in what is still a private residence. As such, it is not a hotel but a home; rugs may reveal generations of use, the bathroom may be a few yards down the corridor, the shower may be Edwardian and there is no reception desk (although staff are on hand).
If you are not put off, the compensations are plentiful; most bedrooms are the size of an average sitting room, laden with antiques and books, guests may roam at leisure through the hall, conservatory, drawing room, dining room and library or explore the rich archive. You are also free to wander in the adjoining gardens, woods and on the shoreline.
For this very special tour, Ardgowan is the base for excursions to other country houses in the vicinity, at nearly all of which special arrangements have been made exclusively for the group. In journeying between them, we pass through some heart-stoppingly lovely landscapes – lochs and sea, lowland heath and mountains, rolling farmland and forests.
The house is a textbook case of the challenges facing current owners of historic properties of the first rank. Our hosts are Sir Ludovic Shaw Stewart and the Hon. Mrs Christopher Chetwode. The latter is an art historian and a prominent figure in the field of historic buildings in Scotland. The lecturer, Caroline Knight, an architectural historian with a speciality in country houses, is her sister.
Ardgowan. The coach leaves Glasgow Railway Station at 2.15pm and Glasgow Airport at 3.00pm. Continue west to the coast of the Firth of Clyde and reach Ardgowan in time for afternoon tea. After settling in to your rooms, there is a tour of the house and gardens followed by some free time, drinks and dinner.
Mount Stuart. Cross by ferry to the Isle of Bute. Magnificent in scale and in the lavishness of decoration and furnishing, Mount Stuart was built in the last two decades of the 19th century by one of the richest men in the world, the third Marquess of Bute. The picture collection is superb. Beautifully maintained by the current Marquess, the house is surrounded by extensive gardens and woods.
Culzean, Dumfries House. A leisurely start allows time for independent exploration of Ardgowan. Then drive to the clifftop Culzean Castle, Robert Adam’s boldest creation, with oval stair hall and round drawing room with views out to sea. Also by Adam, Dumfries House, famously saved for the nation with the help of the Prince of Wales in 2007, is a perfect Palladian composition which retains unspoilt interiors and a unique set of Chippendale furniture. We have an after-hours tour followed by dinner in the house.
Ardgowan, Kelburn. The morning is spent at Ardgowan, entirely free or with the option of an in-depth tour to study some aspects of the house. In the afternoon visit Kelburn Castle, property of the Earl of Glasgow and in the same family for 800 years. Part remains a defensible tower house, and there is a lovely set of rooms of c. 1700.
Strachur, Inveraray. Take a ferry across the Firth of Clyde to the Cowal Peninsula and drive to Strachur House. The property of Sir Charles and Lady Maclean is a fascinating
18th-century mansion of middling size; its 20th-century history is entwined with the western Balkans. Inveraray Castle is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Argyll. Despite its four corner towers and Gothic windows, it is entirely 18th-century, and inside are some extraordinarily fine rooms and a very good art collection.
Glasgow. Holmwood House was designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson and was built in 1857–58 for James Couper, a local businessman. From here the coach takes you to Glasgow Railway Station by 12.30pm and to Glasgow Airport by 1.00pm or 4.00pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,310. Single Occupancy: £3,560
Private coach for transfers and excursions; ferry to the Isle of Bute and the Cowal Peninsula; accommodation as described above and below; breakfasts, three lunches and five dinners with wine, water and coffee; admission charges to all the properties visited; all gratuities; all taxes; the services of the lecture.
Ardgowan: it cannot be emphasised enough that Ardgowan is a private house, not a hotel – keys to bedrooms are not provided. Bedrooms vary in size, furnishings and facilities. While each room has its own bathroom, in some cases this is a few yards along a corridor. All have baths, some have showers over the bath as well. Towels, bathrobes and toiletries are provided. There is no air-conditioning, televisions in rooms or laundry service. There is a lift to the first floor.
A fair amount of walking is unavoidable. Coaches can rarely park near the entrance to houses and grounds are often extensive. Most of the houses visited do not have lifts. However, the pace is relatively leisurely with more free time than is usual for a short tour. Average distance by coach per day: 56 miles.
10 to 16 participants.
'A huge treat to be a guest in a grand private home.'
'We appreciated how lucky we were to be wined and dined by owners and their families.'
'This was obviously planned with great precision.'
'A holiday of a lifetime. Thank you.'
'Ardgowan House was a wonderful site.'
'The house – excellent. Lived up to expectations! Thoroughly spoilt with nothing being too much trouble.'