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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.

Explore the Halloween history, culture and landscape of Wiltshire!

Posted on 15th October 2016

If you’re heading to Wiltshire during the Halloween season, you will not be disappointed! With a huge array of weird and wonderful events to give you the ghoulies this year, a cottage holiday in Wiltshire is the perfect way to experience the spooky season. Whether you’re a group of friends looking for a fun way to kick off a Halloween night out or are simply somewhere between thrill-seeker and easily scared, there are many events in Wiltshire to delight all.

Stonehenge Lightning Storm

If you’re seeking a scare, the county has plenty of creepy events to quell your curiosity. Whether you love a ghost story or fancy trying out something new and different during the Halloween season, these events are sure to surprise and spook all.

Delve into Wiltshire’s weird and wonderful history

Monster Treasure Trails, American Museum in Britain (Calverton, Bath)

Explore Dallas Pratt’s ancient map collection, curiously riddled with gruesome beasts and monsters. Guests can design their very own maps of the Museum and its grounds, which are filled with spooky creatures of your own creation.

Museums at Night (Salisbury and Bath)

Running in both Bath and Salisbury, “Museums at Night” will spark the intellectual interest of guests as well as the excitement of the weird and wonderful. Salisbury’s “Tim FitzHigham as Will Kemp” event commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, featuring Morris dancing and danger in a story of a journey from London to Norwich in 9 days, attempting to discover the true nature of comedy. Bath’s “Fright at the Museum” sees gloomy spirits emerge from the museum to mill around the galleries with spine-chilling stories ready to recite to visitors.

American Ghost Tour, American Museum in Britain (Calverton, Bath)

The American Museum in Britain invites guests to indulge in an evening of eerie tales taken from some of the darkest chapters of American history. Set in the Museum’s evocative Period Rooms, the journey begins in the famous witch hunts of 17th century Salem and takes you through the most unusual events that have occurred in the U.S.

Wiltshire’s creepy cultural highlights

Dracula at Salisbury Arts Centre (Salisbury)

For theatre-lovers, this is the perfect way to celebrate Halloween. This classic story of love, blood and gore is recreated by The Last Baguette Theatre Company with 21 characters played by just 4 actors in truly impressive style. This wild quest to solve a befuddling murder will have you hooked throughout this age-old gothic horror.

Day of the Dead Fiesta, American Museum In Britain (Calverton, Bath)

Go global with the American Museum In Britain’s mesmerising Day of the Dead fiesta. Celebrating this unique Mexican tradition where families honour deceased loved ones with sugar skulls, dancing skeletons and piles of marigolds, this is the perfect opportunity to party whilst expanding your cultural knowledge. Enjoy music from the brilliant Mariachi Tequila band and leave your own offering on the altar.

Explore the eerie Wiltshire outdoors

Ampfield Woods’ Spooky Bushcraft (Romsey)

To truly get away from it all and try something new this Halloween, Ampfield Woods’ Spooky Bushcraft sessions are the answer. Enjoy spooky songs and stories around the campfire whilst learning how to safely light a fire in the wild, making popcorn and toasting marshmallows. There’s plenty of time for ‘wild play’ in the woods for the kids and also opportunities to learn new outdoor skills.

Walking the Dead: Exploring the Stonehenge Ceremonial Landscape (Devizes)

This family-friendly guided tour is fantastic for families and groups of friends alike. If you’re interested in finding out more about Wiltshire’s incredible history, this full-day tour of the curious collections of the Wiltshire Museum is perfect. Following this, groups will be taken on a guided walk from the Durrington Walls to Stonehenge to discover the spooky history of this spiritual site.

Image Credit: Bruce Rolff (Shutterstock)

Discover world history during your perfect trip to Stonehenge

Posted on 07th October 2016

An estimated thirty million hours of labour, 200 monuments and over 240 miles of transport all contributed towards the construction of the extraordinary site that is Stonehenge. A trip to Stonehenge is a priority for many visitors during a holiday in Wiltshire, and for good reason. The remarkable area is of such significance that it has been granted rare UNESCO World Heritage status.

Stonehenge Sunrise

However, with such a high volume of visitors seeking to catch a glimpse of the ancient stones every day, it can be a challenge to witness Stonehenge in all its glory without forward planning. Not to mention the temperamental Great British weather! Of course, visiting Stonehenge is an inspirational experience whatever the circumstances, but there are certain steps you can take to ensure that your day out to Stonehenge is as atmospheric as its mythology promises.

Have an idea of the history

There is much more to Stonehenge than the sheer size of its rocks. To truly appreciate the importance of this heritage site, do a little bit of research into the area’s history before you visit. Of course, guided tours, booklets and exhibitions will give you all you need to know once you arrive, but a small amount of prior knowledge will really open your eyes to enjoy the spectacle you’re witnessing.

Stonehenge is considered one of the most archaeologically rich sites in the whole of Europe, having thus far revealed over 250 archaeological objects, each of which has enabled historians to develop a complex understanding of Great Britain’s prehistoric past. The area that is home to Stonehenge is believed to have been inhabited since around 8,000 BC, with the monuments themselves having been undertaken around 3,100 BC. Believed to have been created to facilitate ancient rituals in anything from sacrifice to astronomy, much remains to be discovered of Stonehenge’s fascinating history. However, what is certain is that the monuments are made out of Bluestone, Sarsen and Welsh sandstone, which was transported some 240 miles using rollers, sledges and rafts to Wiltshire.

A truly incredible feat of human innovation, Stonehenge will broaden your understanding of not only Wiltshire’s history, but world history. Having that little insight before you visit will allow you to ask guides all the questions you’d like to know answers to, and really quench your thirst for knowledge.

When to visit

Stonehenge Greyscale

Due to its high-profile status, Stonehenge maintains a steady level of popularity throughout the year. Whether that be organised tours or people simply popping off the A303 for a glimpse from afar, the site is often buzzing with excitement as fellow visitors mill around the stones and sights. However, if you’re looking for a slightly more secluded trip, avoid visiting in the late morning or early afternoon, as this is when many tour coaches from London arrive. If you are visiting the area independently, the best time to go is either at opening time or in the late afternoon.

Of course, as Stonehenge is located in Great Britain, weather is a central consideration. The monument sits in its original prehistoric landscape with no shelter at the Stone Circle, and so is unprotected from weather conditions. Depending on your preferences, this is an important element to bear in mind. If you are a fair weather walker, plan a visit to Stonehenge during the summer months (and remember to bring your sun cream). The rest of the year, northerly winds blow around the area, so remember to bring extra layers.

Although it may require a little extra planning, Stonehenge is quite spectacular in the rain or on cloudy days, as a dramatic atmosphere fills this ancient arena. Budding photographers may therefore find the winter months the most appealing time for a visit.

Getting to Stonehenge

To make your visit to Stonehenge as seamless as possible, pre-planning your journey is essential. There are various ways to get to Stonehenge, and choosing the best route depends on the level of flexibility and simplicity you desire. Situated near the town of Amesbury and the city of Salisbury, Stonehenge can be found just off the A303 road.

For international visitors, the area is located 70 miles southwest of London Heathrow Airport, and from London visitors can take the M3 and A303 to Amesbury before going west to find the monument nearby. Driving to Stonehenge allows maximum flexibility and independence, as you can arrive and leave whenever you wish, avoiding the larger crowds if desired.

The closest train stations to the site are Andover and Salisbury, from which you can catch a bus or taxi to Stonehenge itself. No public buses run to the location, but direct buses offering audio tours are available. These are called The Stonehenge Tour, and prices begin at £14. Alternatively, you could get a car tour where the driver will tell you all about the history of the site as they lead you around. This option is particularly good for those with accessibility requirements.

If you’re travelling from further afield and don’t fancy navigating your way to Stonehenge, several coach tours operate from areas like London, visiting the site en route to destinations such as Salisbury or Bath. Or, for those who would like to explore the surrounding area in a unique, active way, you can cycle to Stonehenge from nearby Amesbury.

What to do at Stonehenge

Stonehenge Visitor Centre

Image Credit: Sam.hill7 (Wikimedia Commons)

Stonehenge has a plethora of brilliant things to do and see for all ages. Of course, at the top of the list is a walk around the Stone Circle itself, where you can take in the millennia-old architecture of communities who spend thousands of years building these pioneering structures.

The Stonehenge Cursus is a mysterious monument that can’t be missed, with a 3km-long earthwork situated just north of the main monument. Its original purpose remains unknown – perhaps you can formulate some of your own suggestions. King Barrows Ridge is also a must-see at Stonehenge. On the course of the Avenue, this area provides stunning views over the Stonehenge bowl that are perfect for photography and simply taking a moment to reflect.

There is also a lesser-known twin to Stonehenge that is often overlooked, but more than warrants a visit. Woodhenge is a Neolithic site nearby, which is supposed to have been built around 2,300 BC, probably as the remains of a large burial mound. Just to the north are the Durrington Walls, which have been revealed as the site of a significant Neolithic village, where numerous ancient religious activities were carried out. These impressive walls are the largest henge – or earthworks – monuments in the United Kingdom.

However, it’s not just the history that makes Stonehenge an outstanding site. The area itself is of extraordinary natural beauty. As a prehistoric chalk grassland, the area is a rich environment, providing abundant habitats for a diverse array of animals and plants. You may be able to spot the rare chalkhill and Adonis blue butterflies, skylarks and stone curlews, as well as families of foxes, badgers and hedgehogs.

There are also plenty of activities to keep young children entertained during a visit to Stonehenge. The site’s exhibition centre features plenty of hands-on experiences, with relics and items that can be interacted with, plus fascinating installations such as a forensic reconstruction of a man who lived at the circle 5,500 years ago. The ‘Standing in the Stones’ installation is an immersive experience, where visitors can sit inside a simulated Stone Circle with a 360-degree view of the site as it transforms throughout the seasons. Reconstructed Neolithic huts are also open at Stonehenge, allowing you to find out exactly how the site’s ancestors lived. Of course, for those looking to really take in the history of Stonehenge, the museum is full of hundreds of archaeological finds and information.

Numerous events run at Stonehenge throughout the year, from children’s technology demonstrations to late night Christmas events and the highly sought-after exclusive access sessions where ticket-holders are able to actually go into the inner Circle and get up close to the stones. Every year, the stones also open to neo-pagans and druids for the Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice and Spring and Autumnal Equinoxes.

Eating and drinking


With so much to take in at Stonehenge, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Luckily, there are plenty of options for refreshments in the area. The English Heritage centre beside the monument has a small café, located in a glass pod where visitors can enjoy traditional British dishes such as pasties, soups and other regional produce.

Alternatively, why not make the most of the surroundings with a picnic? It will probably be the most scenic you’ll ever experience. Further afield, Amesbury and Durrington are home to several traditional pubs, cafes and restaurants where you’ll be sure to find something to suit your tastes.

Respecting the site

To ensure that Stonehenge remains a site available for all to enjoy into the future, a central aspect of any visit to the monument is awareness and respect. Ongoing conservation efforts are engaged in preserving the archaeological findings at Stonehenge and the monument itself, and visitors are usually unable to go into the inner circle in order to protect the ancient relics.

As an article in The Guardian explains, even when special passes are granted, requests are made to keep the site safe. Writer Mike Gerrard recalls a security guard saying:

“Please don’t climb them or try to chip anything off them, and don’t carve your name on them like Sir Christopher Wren did. You haven’t got a metal detector, I take it? We get all sorts here, you’ve got to be careful. OK, off you go… enjoy them.”

Enjoyment is, of course, key. However, to get the most out of your visit, try to be aware of the cultural relevance of Stonehenge to groups such as neo-pagans and druids, for whom the site is a vital part of their identity and lifestyle. Don’t leave any rubbish in the area – alcohol has recently been banned at solstice celebrations due to littering. A healthy respect for the site will deepen your connection with the area’s atmosphere and mystery.

If you’re considering a visit to Stonehenge, why not consider making a holiday of it and staying right in the heart of the atmosphere in a Wiltshire holiday cottage? A long weekend is the perfect way to experience the monument and its surrounding points of interest, as well as enjoying the beautiful Wiltshire landscape in all its glory.