The Wonders of Wiltshire

Wiltshire is a ‘hidden jewel’ in the crown of the United Kingdom, the lovely countryside and the historical places to visit are often by-passed by people travelling to the south coast.  Visitors to Bristol and Bath often ‘miss’ the wonders of Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral, people drive to the Cotswolds, but just a few miles away are the stunning towns of Bradford on Avon and Lacock.  If you have the time to stop at these interesting, beautiful places I am sure you will not be disappointed.

Glynis with Isambard Kingdom Brunel We joined our ‘coach party’ to visit Wiltshire.  Going by coach it is perfect for sitting back and enjoying this lovely area.  This was a short trip but we certainly packed in a great deal for our weekend visit.  Whether you want a longer or shorter coach tour visit for more information of how to make the most of your coach tour.  Many coach tour operators feature short breaks to the Wiltshire area and Magna Carta Trails has just been launched so check out the web site for ideas and information for your visit.  Shearings Coach Holidays are planning a tour in 2015 to visit Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral in the year of the 800 year anniversary of the Magna Carta.  Going by coach is a great way to see this wonderful area, you will visit places that you may pass by if you are driving yourself or can not find a parking space or are worried about how much the parking is, pick up your coach put your bags on board and off you go.

Stonehenge in the rain Our trip started at Royal Wooton Bassett, the place that our fallen soldiers come home to to receive a ‘hero's’ welcome.  This town has deserved its ‘Royal’ title presented by the Queen in 2011, it is a lovely town to visit, with its market square and beautiful buildings.  We stayed at the Marsh Farm Hotel, on the outskirts of Royal Wootton Bassett,  an excellent hotel for visiting the area, this attractive hotel, has comfortable rooms and is disabled friendly, good parking and an excellent breakfast with home produced products.  Our next stop was in Swindon – famous for the ‘magic roundabout’ – a roundabout that was difficult to get off, a central roundabout that has six roundabouts off it!!! – but now this railway town is more famous for its Great Western Railway Steam Museum.  The museum is set in a beautifully restored building of the former Swindon railway works.  The Museum tells the story of men and women who built, operated and travelled on the Great Western Railway.  The pioneering engineering genius of Isambard Kingdom Brunell  is most evident throughout the museum, railway carriages, that feature life like models, a signal box to try, step on board the engine or in the carriages, one said to be used by Queen Victoria.  It is disabled friendly and the cost is £ 6.50 for seniors.  

Salisbury Cathedral Shrouded in mystery and steeped in legend the enigma of Stonehenge has kept people guessing and wondering how and why it is there.  Many people pass by on the A303 on their way to the south west – Stop – it is well worth it.  The new world-class visitors centre is very impressive, with an exhibition of displays which tell the story of this prehistoric monument.  The visitors centre is about a mile from the Stones to walk to and on a lovely day would take about 20 minutes.  However, if you have difficulties walking or just prefer to go by either bus or the small shuttle bus carriages that are fine but rather over crowded, and yes, it does get crowded.  Visit early if you can to avoid some of the 1 million people that visit the site over a year.  In with the price of the ticket is a walk-man, play it in the museum but then wait until you get to the stones to let it explain the features and structures of the stones.  Entrance to the site is managed through timed tickets, and advanced booking is recommended, the shop and most of all the cafe – after all that information – is a very welcome break!  We also visited Old Sarum, the iron age earth works with remains of a Norman Castle in the middle.  This was the original site of the first Salisbury Cathedral and sets the scene for the wonderful Salisbury cathedral that is down in the lovely town of Salisbury.  Other sites that can be visited include Avebury Stone Circle, near Marlborough.  This world heritage site has the largest stone circle in the world, dating from 4,500 years ago, the area is steeped in history and intrigue.

Salisbury Cathedral Coaches cannot get too near Salibury Cathedral so a short walk is necessary, but well worth it, walk around the cloisters, enjoy the grandeur of the nave and see the famous Magna Carta signed by King John in 1215 which is celebrating 800 years next year, have a coffee or lunch in the restaurant and then continue to view this beautiful building.  This Anglican Cathedral has the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom and don’t miss the oldest working clock in the world dated back to 1386.  The stunning ‘living water’ font is a beautiful piece of art, the peace and the beauty of this cathedral is stunning.  The Cathedral which is set in eight acres of lawn and surrounded by historic buildings and museums.  On Chorister’s Green, in the Cathedral Close is Mompesson House, you may recognise it, the house was used as a set for the filming of Sense and Sensibility in 1995, the cost is £6.30, not disabled friendly.  Almost next door is the home of the former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, who passed away in 2005.  The Arundells is now preserved as a museum by the trustees of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation.  The opulence and grandeur, linked with comfort and homeliness is a pleasure to enjoy, the art work is unique and interesting some pictures done by Winston Churchill and L.S.Lowry to name a few ‘names’.  Magna Carta close-up His cartoon collection is well known and Sir Edward was very proud of this corridor where the collection is kept.  It is a treasure trove of beautiful artefacts collected over the years by Sir Edward, but for me the beauty of the gardens that lead down to the river would have made the Arundells for me an absolute pleasure.  The house is disabled friendly but only on the ground floor, the cost is £10.00 but no concessions.

Wiltshire has a wealth of good hotels and guest houses visit the Wiltshire web site to find some hidden ‘gems’.  One of these is the Pear Tree at Purton, a beautiful hotel and is the home of Swindon’s first and only home grown wine. the food and service is excellent and of course the wine!  Coach tours usually stay at bigger hotels and bigger doesn’t always mean better, but in the case of the Hilton near Swindon it does ‘what it says on the tin’, it has 171 rooms a superb restaurant a health club and a swimming pool.

Bowood House Stately homes are abundant in the Wiltshire area, contact Visit Wiltshire to find out more about the wealth of history and interest around the area.  We visited Lydiard House and Walled Garden, it has its own church and a park with BBQ and picnic field and a Lake Side walk.  Bowood Hall and Gardens is set amongst the tranquil undulating ‘Capability’ Brown parkland.  The home of the Marquis of Lansdowne, opened to the public in 1975, Bowood has gone from strength to strength and is now a magnificent building set in award winning gardens.  Delights within the park include the Cascade, Doric Temple, rhododendron walks and a fantastic adventure playground.  Our coach also took us to Lacock Abbey Cloisters and Fox Talbot Museum.  William Henry Fox Talbot was the inventor of photography and an interesting museum is dedicated to his work.  The Abbey was used as a nunnery in the 12th century and the building reveals some interesting facts of how the nuns would have lived, the cloisters and the eerie sound of nuns singing as you walk around.  This area has an up to date interest for Harry Potter fans as the cloisters were used for some of the filming.  As you move through the house the conversion to a dwelling for the Talbot family is very impressive, ask the guides situated around the house for all the information you need they are pleasant and very helpful.

The Garden and back of the Arundells Our ‘coach party’ – well it is not always a ‘party’ for some people, many people like to travel in the privacy of their own cars, but they don’t know what they are missing, until they have tried it.  Pickups from your own home are available, your luggage is sorted and put on the coach whilst you sit back and relax, no worries about motorway driving, where to park, how much, and best of all is that you can see all the beauty of the area you are driving through whilst someone else takes the ‘strain’.  Look at places you may have missed if driving and stuck in traffic!!  Visit good hotels and meet like minded people, find new friends, or just relax and watch the world go by, with one or two eyes open!!.

The United Kingdom has many beautiful places to visit, Wiltshire has its share of rocks and stones, but hidden ‘gems’ are around every corner but as with any precious ‘stones’, they are to be savoured and enjoyed and returned to again and again to find more ‘jewels and stones’ in this part of our kingdom, we intend to return and ‘stay awhile’.

You may also find interesting:
•  Anniversary of the Magna Carta

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Glynis Sullivan

Traveller and writer for Silver Travel Advisor

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