If it’s natural beauty you’re after, then you’ve come to the right place
Things To Do
Visit Wiltshire and marvel at the mystery of the eight white horses all carved on the chalk Downs. Some, such as Westbury, are hundreds of years old while others are more recent thoroughbreds.
Visitors to the south west of England are spoilt for choice with National Trust properties and gardens. Select from magnificent stately homes like Montacute, Tyntesfield, Lacock Abbey and Dyrham Park. Or visit picturesque gardens such as Hidcote Manor, Stourhead and Tintinhull.
You’re pushing boundaries here (with the Herefordshire border), but hire a canoe for a paddle on the River Wye. It’s one of the most relaxing and exhilarating ways of seeing this impressive river that carves its way through the meandering forested gorge. Symonds Yat is one of the most popular places to hire a canoe, but there are others within the area.
Get to know your oak from your ash, or indeed one maple from another, at Westonbirt Arboretum. The Forestry Commission’s flagship collection of trees (once a private collection) is a great place for families – where kids are encouraged to play and explore the natural environment freely. You’ll often find that kids go free of charge too during the summer months.
Visit Salisbury Cathedral – it is a magnificent specimen of Gothic architecture and has Britain’s tallest spire. Not for the faint hearted is a tour, climbing 332 spiral steps, to the foot of the spire, offering stunning views across Wiltshire. 2015 celebrates the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and the cathedral displays the best preserved of just four original 1215 documents.
When To Visit
Wiltshire’s proposals include the WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) Festival, which takes place in Malmesbury in July but, for a real treat, the Iford Arts Music Festival takes place in a fabulous theatrical setting within a gorgeous private garden just outside Bradford-on-Avon. For lovers of steam, head to the Swindon Railway Festival in September. And don’t forget that Stonehenge gets rather busy around the Summer Solstice.
Of course we all know of Somerset’s June offering in the form of Glastonbury, the world’s largest green-field music and performing arts festival. But did you know that Somerset goes to town during November with a major series of Guy Fawkes Carnivals across the county?
Also in Somerset is the Royal Bath and West Show during May, and the Sand Sculpture Festival in Weston-super-Mare throughout the summer. And during winter, look out across the Somerset Levels for one of the most amazing natural phenomenon, the starling murmurations. This area is one of the best places in Britain to see these birds swirl together in a huge ball.
The Cotswolds has many quirky events to attract visitors – try the annual Cheese-Rolling event at Cooper’s Hill in May (broken bones a distinct possibility), Football in the River in Bourton-on-the-Water in August or the Bibury Duck Race every Boxing Day.
And what about the cities? August welcomes the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, Europe’s largest balloon event with over 150 hot air balloons taking to the skies. September announces the Jane Austen Festival – dig out your bonnets, empire dresses and top hats, and visit Bath.
The M4 junctions 14 to 18 serve Wiltshire well, with good, wide and relatively straight A-roads crossing the county. The A346/338 and the A350 run north to south at either edge of Wiltshire, the latter filled with roundabouts every few miles but with plenty of stopping-off points if required.
Somerset and Gloucestershire can be accessed by both the M4 and M5. From the east, the A303 crosses through Wiltshire into Somerset, the road’s reputation as being both beautiful yet frustratingly slow at times completely true! Watch out on the A39 Bridgwater to Minehead/Porlock road. It’s twisty and narrow in places, although its beauty west of Minehead, through Exmoor National Park, provides one of Somerset’s best views.
Gloucestershire’s Forest of Dean can be accessed either via the M4 and a very pretty but windy route following the River Wye, or via Gloucester and the A40/A48.