Guide To Holidaying In Wiltshire
A guide by Julia Buckley
It's not for nothing that Wiltshire's one of Britain's most highly sought-after addresses. With its smart towns and breathtaking panoramas, it has charisma in spades.
Most of the county lies on chalk, which lends Wiltshire its characteristic sweeping downs and wide valleys. And with 7,500 paths for walkers and cyclists, even the most enthusiastic ramblers will have their work cut out. One beautiful walk to try is the 3-mile stretch between Norton Bavant, near Warminster, and Scratchbury Hill, an Iron Age hillfort.
In fact, on foot is one of the best ways to see the county, enabling you to get right into the landscape which has inspired man since prehistoric times. Wiltshire is home to no less than eight monumental white horses, carved into the chalk hillsides, as well as Silbury Hill, Europe's largest man-made prehistoric mound; the Long Barrow at West Kennet, Britain's biggest burial chamber; and the world-celebrated stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury.
Nobody knows the significance of any of these monuments. What we do know is that there are few places in the world to match the spiritual power of Wiltshire; and it's perhaps no coincidence that the area around Stonehenge sees regular occurrences of crop circles.
Wiltshire's towns are somewhat more down to earth. Marlborough and Salisbury are the elegance incarnate, with Salisbury housing one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta and the world's oldest functional clock. Meanwhile its cathedral - which boasts the tallest spire in England - served as artistic inspiration for Constable. Art lovers should make a beeline to Wilton House and its impressive collection of Van Dycks - there's an adventure playground there as well, to reward youngsters' patience.
Salisbury originated as the Iron Age hill fort of Old Sarum - which can still be visited today. Swindon, unfortunately, has no such esteemed genesis. A thoroughly modern town with every other building housing a pub, it's really worth visiting only for its Museum of the Western Railway.
If you're looking for all-out prettiness, head to North Wiltshire for the chocolate box Castle Combe, which claims to be England's cutest village. South towards Trowbridge is the National Trust village of Lacock, whose abbey was used as a location for the first Harry Potter film.
Architecture aficionados should make their way to Britain's oldest borough, Malmesbury, for its Norman abbey; and Bradford on Avon, to see its church - one of the country's most complete Saxon buildings. Meanwhile, market town Devizes contains one of the largest castles in southern England as well as the Caen Hill locks - a 3-mile stretch of 29 canal locks rising nearly 240 feet.
If you want to get closer to nature, make a trip to Westonbirt Arboretum near Trowbridge, which contains 18 miles of walks; the world-famous safari park at Longleat; or try the White Horse Trail - a walk encompassing all eight chalk horses.
If you're a boatie, why not try sailing down the Kennet and Avon Canal? Working up an appetite will provide you with the very best excuse to indulge to the full at breakfast time. A Wiltshire breakfast, made with local produce, is the perfect way to recharge those batteries for the return journey - although it's so good, you'll be reluctant to leave. At least now you'll know why everyone wants to live there.
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