Wiltshire Heritage Guide
From stately homes to landscape gardens, countryside walks to historic churches, it is safe to say that Wiltshire has a little bit of something for everyone. I'll admit to a bit of bias - Wiltshire is home to more of my favourite places than just about anywhere else in the UK. Let's start with one of those places, Avebury Henge, near Marlborough.
The huge stone circle at Avebury is unique in that many of the cottages of the village of Avebury are located within the standing stones that make up the circle. An excellent museum in the village tells the story of the excavation and exploration of the circle. But don't stop there, Avebury is just one of a number of fascinating ancient sites in the surrounding area.
Just a few miles away is Silbury Hill, the largest purpose-built structure in Europe, More material was used to construct this enigmatic conical mound than was used in the Great Pyramid - and no one has yet established why it was built! Almost directly across the road from Silbury Hill is West Kennet Long Barrow, one of the finest chambered tombs in Britain.
If ancient sites are your cup of tea, then you've come to the right county, for just north of Salisbury is the most famous stone circle in the world, Stonehenge. No one knows why this astonishing stone circle was built, though conjecture ranges from a communal meeting place to extraterrestrial launching pad!
A few miles south of Stonehenge, and just outside the city of Salisbury, is Old Sarum, site of the first Salisbury Cathedral. The site is protected by high earthen banks enclosing a wide grassed area that once held a cathedral and a medieval castle. Tension between the monks of the cathedral and soldiers of the castle meant that the cathedral moved in the 13th century to its present site.
The approach to the present Salisbury Cathedral has been voted "Britains favourite view" in a national poll, and it is easy to see why the soaring spire of the church, rising above water meadows where cattle still graze, is a sight that evokes the best of traditional England.
If grand architecture does not excite you, why not take in a peaceful village, or two, or three, or .... Wiltshire is blessed with numerous attractive villages, including Castle Combe, which has been called "The prettiest village in England." The setting for the original film version of Doctor Dolittle, Castle Combe maintains an air of timeless calm, in part because visitors must park at the top of the hill and walk down into the centre of the village.
Another contender for the title of the prettiest village in Wiltshire is Lacock, where the entire village has been purchased by the National Trust and is maintained with an eye to limiting the incursion of modern civilisation. Lacock is the home of Lacock Abbey, a former monastic house that became a stately home after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. Lacock is known as the home of Francis Fox-Talbot, one of the innovators responsible for the development of modern photography, and a museum of photography lies just outside the gates of the Abbey.
Stately homes abound in Wiltshire. I've mentioned Lacock, but not far away is Bowood House, one of the finest stately homes in Britain, set in 2000 acres of landscaped grounds by Capability Brown. Near Warminster is another treat, Longleat House. The home of the extrovert artist the Marquis of Bath, Longleat is a children's delight, featuring a variety of family attractions in addition to the world-famous Longleat Safari Park. The house itself is a magnificent example of country house architecture, set in a lovely bowl in the Wiltshire hills.
Wilton House, located just west of Salisbury, is well worth a visit. The family seat of the Earls of Pembroke is famous for its Double Cube Room (60 x 30 x 30 feet), and the sheer magnificence of the furnishings. The house was begun in 1543, with contributions at various points by Inigo Jones, James Wyatt, and William Kent.
From stately homes to quiet countryside, excellent walks are to be had along the Kennet and Avon Canal, where the towpath has been turned into an attractive waterside trail. For longer excursions, take the Ridgeway Path, which starts near Avebury and stretches north-east into Buckinghamshire. The Ridgeway has been used as a trail for thousands of years, and the path passes close to a number of ancient sites.
There you have it, a quick overview of Wiltshire. I hope that this will give you some ideas to help you begin exploring the many and varied delights of the county. You won't be disappointed!