Wiltshire is the Gateway to the West Country.
Take a look at what’s nearby…
Wiltshire, where the West Country starts. This is the southwest of England and is a largely rural, agricultural area.
Sophisticated townies may imagine the West Country to be full of straw-chewing, smock-wearing yeomen, sheep and nice little weekend cottages – ha! They can laugh if they want to – we’ve got Stonehenge, Bath, the White Horse (in fact 13 White Horses), Land’s End, Dartmoor, Cheshill Beach, fresh air, clotted cream, green hills, real cider.
Oh, and LOTS of sheep.
Cool places to visit:
It could be a solar calendar, it could be a Neolithic temple, it could be an Arthurian relic, it could be a big pile of rocks. Either way, it’s jolly impressive and a fascinating day out.
The White Horse at Uffington
Running right through the middle of Wiltshire is the Ridgeway, a 5000-year old route which once stretched from the Dorset coast to the Wash in Norfolk. As its name suggests, the Ridgeway follows a route over high ground, keeping out of the wooded, boggy country in the vales below the springline. Because of its history of continuous use, it usefully links a load of groovy historical sites. One of the first on the modern (shorter) version of the ridgeway is the White Horse – a highly stylized figure, 374 feet long, cut out of the turf. It is thought to represent a Celtic god or tribal symbol. For centuries, however, local people have maintained that it is the dragon slain by Saint George on the nearby Dragon Hill.
Another stone circle and one of the finest Neolithic monuments in Europe. Most of the surviving structure consists of earthworks (a 420 metre ditch and bank, enclosing 11.5 hectares or 28.5 acres) inside which there are 3 rings of standing stones. The village of Avebury lies inside the monument. It’s not as iconic as Stonehenge so it’s not such a big-ticket tourist draw, but we reckon it scores significantly over its southern neighbour in that:
(a) you can walk in and around the earthworks and stones and (b) it’s got a pub (the Red Lion).
This is the tallest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe. Composed principally of chalk, it was built about 4600 years ago on top of a natural hill. It stands stands 130 feet (40 metres) high and is 167m (550ft) in diameter at the base and 30m (100ft) wide at the summit. That’s about as much as is known for sure about it. Have a pint at the Waggon and Horses in nearby Beckhampton and think on…
Nearby we also have…
West Kennett Long Barrow and Waylands Smithy
which are both ancient burial mounds with stone-lined chambers, and…
– two parallel rows of standing stones, 2.5 kilometres long, leading out from Avebury.
All these timeless mysteries, plus an abundance or fresh air and freely available cider, probably explains why we’re also the crop circle capital of the world.
Wiltshire is a landlocked county but anywhere along the nearest coastline is worth seeing – especially the Jurassic Coast of Dorset where you’re guaranteed to find stegosauruses just lying around on the beach. Well, you’ll certainly see ammonites and other cool fossils in the rocks. The stegosauruses are kinda seasonal…
Cornwall has Land’s End which is indeed where it all ends. It’s a bit overblown cos it’s neither the most southerly point of Great Britain (which is the Lizard, just round the corner) nor even the most westerly (which is up in Scotland), but it is at least the most south-westerly. Anyway, Cape Cornwall just up the coast is said to be much nicer and less crowded.
If you really want to see wild waves and killer seas, try Hartland Point in North Devon where you can still (just) see the wreck of the Johanna which ran aground on New Year’s Eve 1982, having turned right instead of left at the lighthouse. D’oh!
While you’re there, Clovelly is lovelly – an impossibly cute fishing village built nearly vertically up the cliff. They still have to use donkeys to shift stuff up and down the High Street. There’s a nice harbour and beach and (if you’re passing) the Red Lion does good food and drink. As you may have noticed by now, “Red Lion” is far and away the commonest pub name in Britain…
It’s been known for its therapeutic waters since the locals first started herding pigs and hitting each other with rocks. Nowadays it’s a Georgian wonderland – tasteful classical architecture everywhere (even the McDonald’s has columns). You can stroll round the geothermal Baths which date from Roman times and “take the waters” (tastes like a cup of someone else’s bathwater, but interesting all the same). Other top attractions: the Abbey, the Royal Crescent, the Circus. Good shopping, nice cafes and restaurants and a fun place to spend some time.
Bath’s more industrial neighbour to the northwest. Vibrant, busy but still pocket-sized. Plenty for the foodie, the culture vulture and the engineering fan to enjoy. There’s a very happening independent restaurant and music scene, while Brunel’s suspension bridge at Clifton and his SS Great Britain remain a powerful testimony to the engineering prowess of short men in tall hats.
In its heyday it was Brunel’s capital – headquarters of the Great Western Railway. Now, despite its Victorian and industrial heritage, the kindest thing most people can find to say about it is that at least it’s not Slough. Or Staines.
To its credit, however, it can boast one of the most innovative traffic routing concepts in the world – the Magic Roundabout. No trip to the West Country is complete without a circuit or two of this monster from the dark nether reaches of a traffic planner’s imagination….