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The fun side of foraging

Posted on 25th May 2017

Recent news has brought to light the sheer amount of food waste in both homes and retail, leading to a market U-turn in attitudes towards left-overs. From Asda’s wonky vegetable boxes to the increase in left over recipes, we are moving away from mass production and looking to become more self-sufficient with our food.

blackberries ripening

There has been a similar increased interest in foraging. While many people remember scouting hedgerows for blackberries for grandma’s apple pie, few people have done more than that since. Restaurants have been busy jumping on the bandwagon of wildly grown goods and appealing to those who want to reduce the air miles as well as the food waste. Native is such a restaurant based in London that aims to allow their customers to appreciate nature. Native is uncompromising on their ethos and looks to inspire others to similar goals.

“Native looks to provide its guests with an original dining experience that encapsulates the country’s best wild food that is native to the UK through a combination of innovative cooking and country thrift. Our food looks to unite the country’s best foraged foods and game in a laid back, full flavour adventure through the British seasons.”

While you may want to direct your new-found enthusiasm to your nearest scrap of woodland, foraging requires knowledge and an inherent respect for natural spaces. While enjoying a Wiltshire cottage holiday, what better way to ease yourself closer to your foraging future than with a beginner’s course into the edible aspects of nature? The Wild Side of Life has different courses throughout the year and based in Wiltshire to initiate you into the lifestyle.

Whether it is a few wild flowers added to a salad or a meal of morels, we can all add a little more of nature’s bounty into our diets, and foraging for the ingredients can be as much fun as eating them.

 Image Credit: Living in Monrovia

Wiltshire’s wild side – the best wildlife parks and attractions

Posted on 27th March 2017

Wiltshire certainly has a wild side, as it boasts a number of fascination wildlife parks and attractions that you and the whole family can enjoy.

Wildlife parks and attractions in Wiltshire

The wildlife parks are great to visit all year round, no matter what the weather, so if you and your family are heading on a Wiltshire cottage holiday this year then here are some of the top parks and attractions you can visit during your stay.

Wild attractions and parks

Longleat Safari and Adventure Park 

Longleat Safari Park

One of the UK’s best and most iconic safari parks, Longleat is located in the heart of Wiltshire. 

This safari drive through takes you closer to wild animals than ever before as you pass through a lion paddock, hunt down the resident wolf pack, see the enormity of the white rhino and elephant and get an up-close look at friendly deer and cheeky monkeys.

You can also feed giraffes and meet zebras as well as go on a jungle cruise on the lake to visit Gorilla Island, watch playful sea lions and hand feed lorikeets. If you want even more animal encounters then the bat cave and Ray Bay are well worth a visit too.

Children can spend hours exploring Longleat’s Adventure Castle as different areas of the playground have been designed for different age groups. There’s a giant ball pool, softball cannons, a splash pad, a lion heart castle and an interactive art wall to name just a few.

You can also explore the famous house and work your way through the hedge maze. 

Forest Falconry

Forest Falconry

There’s just something spectacular about seeing stunning birds of prey spread their wings and glide through the air.

At Forest Falconry, near Landford in Wiltshire, you can explore 12 acres of woodland and meet 50 species of birds of prey, including eagles, owls, hawks and falcons. During your visit you will help train and fly these majestic birds.

Bush Farm Bison Centre

Bison can be seen at Bush Farm Bison Centre

It is pretty special to see bison in the UK and at Bush Farm Bison Centre you can learn all about this mammoth animal and get within touching distance of them.

The farm is tucked away in the woods at the southern tip of West Knoyle, but it offers a great day out for you and the family as there are other animals like raccoons, elk, rhea, chipmunks, praire dogs and guanaco you can see.

There are lots of lakes on the site that you can walk to and a 30-acre ancient woodland you can explore as well as a museum room and a gallery. The gallery is full of Native American artefacts such as buffalo robes and paintings.

Monkey World

Orangutan

Opened in 1987 as a refuge for confiscated chimpanzees that were stolen from the wild, Monkey World now homes the largest group of chimpanzees outside of Africa with more than 250 primates of 20 different species living at the centre.

You can walk around the beautiful woodland and watch the primates playing in their families just like you would in the wild.

You will be blown away by the orangutan crèche, which is the only one in Europe and offers a home to orangutans from around the world.

The centre combines conservation with education as it runs half-hourly talks about man’s closest living relatives. There are also picnic sites, cafes and a large children’s play area boasting slides, swings and climbing frames.

Roves Farm

You can see farm animals at Roves Farm

If you want to see a traditional British farm with a twist, then Roves Farm is a must-visit.

The attraction is a great family day out offering you free tractor rides around the 166-hectare site, and a large variety of farm animals like sheep, cattle, pigs, goats, donkeys and Shetland ponies. You can also handle chicks, rabbits and guinea pigs in the pet’s corner.

The attraction is great to visit all-year round as it is home to indoor attractions like an indoor heated play barn and kids craft sessions as well as outdoor attractions like an outdoor play area, den building activities, walks and animal races.

Wild animals you can see in Wiltshire

Wiltshire has a rich diversity of habitats and as a result, you may come across a number of species during your stay in one of our rural Wiltshire holiday cottages.

Birds

Skylark

There are a number of different birds that you can see across Wiltshire’s farmlands.

Common sightings include grey partridge, yellow wagtails, quails and tree sparrows, but if you decide to go for a walk in the evening you could see a barn owl on the lookout for some food.

If you are staying in Salisbury then the Salisbury Plains are home to a variety of birds including endangered species like the skylark, linnet and stone curlew.

Butterflies

There are 40 species of butterfly in Wiltshire

According to the Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre butterfly fauna in the county is one of the richest in the UK as over 40 species of butterfly have been known to breed in Wiltshire.

There are even species that are only found in the county such as the silver-spotted skipper, silver-studded blue, grayling and pearl-bordered fritillary.

Mammals

Red deer live in Wiltshire’s forests

There is a large population of different mammals living in Wiltshire.

Some are seen all across the country as well-known mammals like hedgehogs, badgers, moles and foxes are commonly seen all over Wiltshire.

However, the county is also home to a number of protected mammals such as the dormouse and the brown hare.

There are even 13 different species of bats and they can be found at old working mines such as Box Mines.

If you are walking along Wiltshire’s rivers then keep your eye open for otters and water voles, while a stroll through a wooded area could see you come across roe and red deer and grey squirrel.

 

Where to spot the first signs of spring in Wiltshire

Posted on 26th February 2017

After many months cooped up inside and the indulgences of Christmas and Valentine’s Day, we are all ready to get out in the country and walk off our recent excesses. What better way to invigorate your body and get rid of the cobwebs than with a walk in one of Wiltshire’s glorious gardens? If you are all set to enjoy a spring break in a Wiltshire holiday cottage, then we highly recommend visiting one of these gardens to prepare you for the sunnier days to come. Here is where you can spot the first signs of spring emerging across Wiltshire.

Abbey House Gardens, Malmesbury

Abbey House Gardens, Malmesbury

Image Credit: Heather Cowper (Flickr)

This 12th century abbey was once a site of religious real importance in the UK, being third only to Canterbury and Winchester. Though the gardens have followed the latest fashions and adapted throughout history to fit with what was in vogue, the herb garden that would have been in the gardens centuries ago still remains today. The Abbey House Gardens offer two very different experiences in spring, with swathes of bright spring bulbs present among the beautifully structured knot garden. While those with an eye for a classic garden design will enjoy the juxtaposition of blowsy tulips against conservative hedges, for those looking for a more natural arrangement should continue down into the park’s wild garden. Among the acers and tree ferns, fritillaries and narcissus can be seen breaking through the undergrowth in characteristic clumps.

Broadleas Garden, Devizes

Broadleas Garden

Image Credit: Broadleas Garden

In the spring, this garden is reminiscent of Cornish gardens in all their temperate glory. A lush valley is cleverly planted with azaleas, camellias and magnolias, with spring bulbs scattered in a beautifully haphazard manner beneath and between them. For those looking for a more formal garden, they can be found closer to the house. If you are looking for wildlife as well as flowers, then you are in luck. Broadleas not only houses its own orchard and bee garden, but bee hives border the south east corner, lending a lively vibe to the gardens.

Bowood House and Gardens, Derry Hill

Bowood House and Gardens, Derry Hill

Image Credit: Geoff Doggett (Publicdomainpictures.net)

Bowood house is a stunning backdrop, but the true star of the show is the gardens. Set in a space of hundreds of acres, there guaranteed to be something for everyone to enjoy. While the owners have made an effort to engage a younger audience with an adventure playground, a pre-booked garden tour is a must for those who wish to know this garden more intimately. Not only does this give you access to the 4 acre private walled garden at the rear of the house, but it also informs you of how the landscape was developed. A woodland garden shows off the spectacular spring colours in a natural setting, while those on the hunt for a more structured Eden can find solace in the Terrace Gardens and Doric Temple.

Mompesson House, Salisbury

Mompesson House, Salisbury

Image Credit: Bob&Anne Powell (Wikimedia Commons)

Mompesson House is starting its season with a springtime discovery trail. Open from the 11th March 2017, this trail is family-friendly and gives you a helping hand in spotting the early signs of spring. While this is most definitely a town house, it has an exquisite walled garden that is in keeping with the 18th century atmosphere of the house. For those not looking for a long ramble, or who are not quite confident in the weather this early in the year, it is the perfect opportunity to enjoy both nature and history side by side.

The Courts Garden, Holt

The Courts Garden, Holt

Image Credit: Mark Kent (Flickr)

This is a garden of perfection, in both size and layout. The Courts Garden has four different events to revel in the joy of the coming season. Their Spring Flowers event beginning the 25th February that glorifies the flowers that define this time of year, while Snowdrops at the Courts Garden is dedicated to the most delicate of the spring bulbs. Tulips at Courts Garden starts a month later, allowing the flowers in question to truly show off their colourful display while The Artists’ Garden Spring Family Trail ensures that visitors see this season with different eyes as they follow the artist around this special route. Beyond the events, the Courts Garden still has much to offer, including lily ponds and formal gardens, all of which begin to awaken for the spring at this time of year.

National Nature Reserve, Cricklade

National Nature Reserve, Cricklade

Image Credit: Brian Robert Marshall (Geograph)

For those with little interest in formality when experiencing the natural world, the town of Cricklade is the perfect choice. Cricklade National Nature Reserve is situated in North Wiltshire and is charming with its historic buildings and typically English pubs. Situated between the River Churn and the River Thames, the north meadow was initially a hay meadow that has since become a site of Specific Scientific Interest due to one spring bulb that flourishes here in almost impossible numbers. The Snake’s Head Fritillaries are at their best during the second and third week of April, and attract a large number of visitors to the area, so much so that a special Fritillary Watch Website has been created. While 2016 was a disappointing year for these flowers due to the late flooding, there are high hopes for 2017.

West Woods, Marlborough

West Woods, Marlborough

Image Credit: Brian Robert Marshall (Geograph)

Another site that lacks both house and formal gardens, the West Woods are part of Savernake forest and are famed for the swathes of bluebells that appear during May. This piece of Ancient forest has been replanted with beech, ash and birch trees, which allow gorgeous spring sunshine to dapple the woodland floor and play among the bulbs on the famed bluebell weekends. The West Woods are accessible from many other ancient sites in the area, making them an ideal pitstop within a longer country walk at this beautiful time of year.

Nature-friendly stepping stones to restore chalk grasslands

Posted on 16th February 2017

Grasslands are among Europe’s most threatened ecosystems and have an enormous impact on everything from habit diversity to atmospheric conditions. The RSPB had an initiative to restore 200 hectares of chalk grasslands in the Winterbourne Downs reserve, and recently a final 26 hectares of rich grassland area has been converted, reaching the RSPB target.

Summer Wild Flowers

The Winterbourne Downs reserve has seen gradual changes in the last ten years as the RSPB have made improvements to the habitat for both flora and fauna. However, recently, the adaptations have been occurring in close proximity with the addition of a chalk scrape and two new dew ponds.

It is hoped that the chalk scrape will provide nesting habitat for stone curlew and lapwings that prefer open nesting grounds with low levels of vegetation. The dew ponds are set to mimic those previously created to hold water for livestock, but as agriculture alters, these dew ponds are becoming scarce. Not only are these set to attract native birds that have been losing habitat, but also to encourage insects. A butterfly bank has been created, south-facing and with a small inland cliff that will also support mining bees.

With the extensive alterations, the RSPB is already noting the different species seen across the Winterbourne Downs reserve. If you are staying in a Wiltshire holiday cottage and looking for an outdoor experience, visit the Winterbourne Downs reserve and have a look at the efforts they are making, especially during the spring and summer months, when the wildflowers are at their best and the wildlife at its busiest.

The reserve is between the villages of Newton Tony and Allison, a few miles east of Salisbury, and is easily accessible by car and public transport.

Image Credit: K B Photography (Shutterstock)

Experience every shade of autumn on a walk through Savernake forest

Posted on 05th November 2016

As much as you might miss the sunshine of the summer, no one can deny that the British autumn season can be truly spectacular. A rainbow of colours are unleashed on hedgerows and forests around the country around this time of year, but few compare to the splendour of Savernake Forest in Wiltshire. November is the perfect time to visit the Savernake Forest, as the trees are just beginning to change into their glorious autumnal colours. If you’re planning a Wiltshire cottage holiday for an autumn getaway, a trip to this ancient forest is a must.

Walking in Savernake Forest is to walk through geological history. As Wiltshire Walks explains: “Savernake (or ‘Safernoc’ as mentioned in a Charter of 934), is well over 1000 years old, and is the only privately-owned forest in England. It is 4500 acres in size, although in the mid-18th century Savernake extended to some 40,000 acres.” Within this vast acreage of woodland, many of the ancient Oak trees are over 600 years old. One, named Big Belly Oak, is thought to be as old as the forest itself – up to 1100 years standing!

To experience the Wiltshire autumn season in all its glory, here is our guide to walking in the Savernake Forest in colours.

Burnt orange leaves

Burnt Orange Leaved Trees

Image credit: Judy Dean (VisualHunt)

The many sessile oak trees in the Savernake Forest mean that an abundance of fiery orange hues are unleashed during the autumn months. According to The Woodland Trust, “The Big Belly Oak is one of the most famous trees in the country; the 11+ metre girthed Sessile Oak can be found in the Royal Hunting Forest of Savernake in Wiltshire and has allegedly been around since the time of William The Conqueror.” This grand tree stands proudly in the forest, gaining hundreds of visitors each year. There is no better place to see those iconic orange hues than on the oaks at Savernake.

Golden Beech trees

Golden Beech Trees

Image credit: Brian Robert Marshall (Creative Commons via Geograph)

Beech trees are another British species that are traditionally associated with autumn due to the shades they take on during these transitional months. From November, you can expect to see the forest’s many beech trees assume a soft, golden hue, giving a warm glow to all that they surround as the morning sun shines through their leaves. A plethora of ancient chestnut trees in the woodland add bright sunshine hues to the scene.

Intense reds

Red Maple Leaves

Image credit: Rottnapples (VisualHunt)

Scattered among the golden tones of orange and yellow, several flaming red trees and bushes add intensity to the scenery in Savernake Forest. From the rust-coloured pedunculate oaks to the blood-maroon shades of the stunning maples and the sycamores with their eye-catching assortment of greens, yellows, oranges and the deepest reds, the forest appears almost ablaze in the autumn months. The presence of red deer, which can occasionally be spotted by discerning walkers, adds to this effect. Savernake Estate says, “All main deer species are present in Savernake Forest, including Red, Roe, and ever-increasing numbers of Muntjac, though the biggest numbers are made up by the most native of all British Deer – the Fallow.”

Beautiful browns

Brown Wild Mushrooms

Image credit: Clearwater1967 (VisualHunt)

As the leaves fall to the ground and lie there to nourish the soil, subtle shades of brown line the pathways you will walk along during your visit to Savernake Forest. This, taken in alongside the curious shapes of the monumental tree limbs of ancient trees such as ‘Cathedral Oak’ and ‘The King of Limbs’ brings the natural shades of brown in the Forest together as the perfect backdrop to the vivid colours of the remaining leaves. At ground level, look out for unique varieties of mushrooms and fungi which range from cream to brown and even bright oranges.

Luscious Greens

Green Foliage

Image credit: ToucheD (DeviantArt)

Of course, among the warm-hued larch tree species, Savernake Forest is home to a variety of deciduous trees that keep their leaves throughout the autumn and winter, bringing refreshing green colours to any landscape. A few pines feature in the skyline as well as oak varieties which largely maintain their green hues, along with ferns and grass species that hint continuously towards the coming spring.

To experience the kaleidoscope of colours that is Savernake Forest, take a look at the routes suggested on Wiltshire Walks for advice on all of the best paths to follow to find these flame-coloured trees. There is no better way to spend a crisp morning than leaving the warmth of your Wiltshire holiday cottage and heading out into the warm shades of this ancient forest.