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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)

Wiltshire adventurer awarded a Knighthood by the Queen

Posted on 09th January 2017

Wiltshire adventurer David Hempleman-Adams has recently been endowed with national prestige after he was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List. Having been made a Night Commander of the Victorian Order, Sir David was recognised by the Queen for his services to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, which he has been a trustee of for 10 years.

David Hempleman Adams

Image Credit: Stuart V Conway(BBC)

Born in Moredon, Swindon, Hempleman-Adams forged his adventurous career at just 14 years old, completing the bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Since, he has summited Mount Everest twice, led over 30 expeditions to the Arctic and completed a historic solo balloon flight to the North Pole.

Although he has achieved so much in his 60 years, local figure Sir David cites his initial trip to the Brecon Beacons with the Duke of Edinburgh award as being his “lightbulb moment”. It was this experience that fostered his passion for exploration that would lead him to this position. Not only has Sir David travelled to some of the most challenging environments in the world, he also became the first person to complete the “adventurer’s grand slam” of climbing every continent’s highest mountain, a feat reserved for only the finest expeditioners.

Currently residing in Box, Wiltshire, Sir David told reporters that he was “astonished” to have been given a knighthood, and suggests that igniting the interest in discovering the world is a feat achieved by the local groups involved in the Duke of Edinburgh Award. He said:

“When I climbed Everest I was skilled and experienced, and the same with the Poles – it was just another day in the office – whereas that first time I went down across the Brecon Beacons I was very scared.”

“It is an extraordinary scheme and I owe my life to it, really.”

Hempelman-Adams has long been a person of note in the Wiltshire areas, having maintained close ties to the county throughout his career. In fact, during his 1993 ascent of Everest, Sir David wrote, “I would kill for fish and chips and a pint of (local ale) Arkell’s”. It is quite extraordinary that his incredible journey began in Wiltshire, and that it holds such fondness in the life of someone who has experienced some of the most fascinating countries in the world. So, next time you’re relaxing on a Wiltshire cottage holiday, remember to get outside and experience the fantastic local landscapes that led Sir David to where he is now.

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.

Tour of churches and pubs make for great combination in Wiltshire

Posted on 15th September 2016

Thanks to a campaign by Visit Wiltshire, the “Saints and Sinners” trail is inspiring people to visit the county.

Ruins of St Leonards Church, Sutton Veny

The tourism organisation has paired historic churches in Wiltshire with a number of great local pubs. Many of the churches and pubs alike are steeped in history and go back centuries.

“It might be at the end of a country lane that churches like this might be as well known as other places,” Visit Wiltshire’s Florence Wallace told ITV. “And therefore by highlighting those we can hopefully make sure people stop and see the beautiful historic importance of places like this.”

The entire tour can be downloaded here.

All Saints’ Church in Alton Priors is on the tour. With Norman features, this simple medieval church has fantastic views of the Alton Barnes White Horse. The tour also includes the 14th century church of St Mary’s, Old Dilton.

After looking at the various churches, participants on the trail can visit a paired pub or two. Local pub owners who are included in the tour love the idea of being connected to the famous churches.

“We have people going through to Dorset, through to Devon, through to Cornwall but increasingly people are becoming aware of the fact that Wiltshire has something within itself that is as interesting as anywhere else around can offer”, said Charles Luxton, who owns The Beckford Arms in Tisbury.

His pub has been paired with St Leonard’s Church – a partial ruin of a church – in Sutton Veny. In all, there are four historic churches and four great country pubs on the tour. For those enjoying a cottage holiday in Wiltshire, it is the perfect way to explore the region.

Image Credit: Trish Steel (geograph.org.uk)

Make your cottage holiday delightful in Cranborne Chase

Posted on 14th September 2016

Locals in Wiltshire describe Cranborne Chase as a bit of a time portal. Maintained as a Royal hunting ground since the time of the Plantagenets, these woodlands are now an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The area is home to ancient churches, burial grounds, quiet country pubs and some of the best scenery in the UK. Perfect for hours, if not days of exploration, it is the ideal destination for those enjoying a cottage holiday in Wiltshire.

Ivinghoe Beacon

Image Credit: Pointillist

The area covers 380 square miles and three different counties: Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire – where there are dozens of Hideaways cottages to choose from. In all sorts of weather, Cranborne Chase offers a one-of-a-kind experience. Visitors can walk or cycle, see bison and elk, and enjoy some great pub food.

Here are some tips on enjoying Cranborne Chase:

Attractions to Visit

Although the countryside is the major attraction in the area, there are a number of other attractions to tempt you as well. They are all perfect for a picnic lunch or taking some great photographs to help you remember the trip.

Bush Farm Bison Centre

This farm and animal centre celebrates some traditional American imports to the English countryside. Visitors to the Bush Farm Bison Centre can see bison, red deer, elk, raccoons, prairie dogs and chipmunks.  The farm offers more than 30 acres of lakes and oak woodlands to explore. They have plenty of picnic and play areas. In the farm shop, they have a display of Native American art, as well as artefacts and historical facts about the bison.

For more information, visit their website.

Larmer Tree Gardens

These gardens were created by General Pitt Rivers in 1880 and are a perfect example of Victorian country extravagance. This attraction offers a large main lawn and laurel hedges and comes complete with an on-site café and gift shop. When in bloom, the gardens offer a visual feast of camellias, rhododendrons and woodland flowers.

Visit their website for more information and events.

Old Wardour Castle

Cranborne Chase is home to the ruins of this 14th century castle. Set on beautiful property on a lake, Old Wardour Castle is a great place for exploration and relaxation. The original castle was partially destroyed during the Civil War. It became a favourite ruin for area visitors as the landowners eventually built the New Wardour House nearby.

The site is maintained by English Heritage.

Wardour Castle

Image Credit: Chalkie

Cycling and Walking in Cranborne Chase

Cycling in the Chalke Valley is spectacular. Surrounded by amazing views, there are a number of great cycle paths and routes through Cranborne Chase.

Boyton and the Ginger Piggery to Hindon

Starting from The Ginger Piggery, this challenging cycle route includes riding through open spaces, enjoying the shade from ancient woodlands, and visiting the villages that connect the Wylye and Nadder valleys. The route ends in Hindon, a medieval village and former location for country fairs, markets and trading.

Ludwell, Win Green and Gallows Hill

This ride offers great panoramic views from the top of Win Green. A moderately difficult ride, it includes a trek through historic villages, plenty of chances to see local wildlife and more. It also has some thrilling descents through the Wiltshire countryside.

Gore Clump

Image Credit: Eugene Birchall

The Cliff of the Swallow

This 9-mile walk can take up to six hours to complete, but it is well worth the effort. It takes walkers through steep paths, fields and lets you enjoy the truly, idyllic country lanes. On the walk, you will pass through the villages of Swallowcliffe, Sutton Mandeville and Fovant. There are ancient churches, the ruins of Iron Age forts, and the area’s many hills and downs. The walk is circular.

Burcombe and the Punch Bowl

For a slightly easier walking challenge, this 3-mile walk can be completed in a couple of hours. It covers field paths, quiet country lands and gentle hills. It starts from the small riverside village of Burcombe and takes walkers through the chalk downs. This walk lets visitors truly appreciate the Nadder Valley portion of the area.

For more information on all routes in the area, as well as a cycling and walking maps for the journeys already described, visit the AONB website for Cranborne Chase.

Field in Cranborne Chase

Image Credit: Jim Champion

Food and Drink in Cranborne Chase

No matter how you have occupied yourself in Cranborne Chase AONB, the trip is not complete without a visit to the pub for a pint and a bit of nosh. Perfect at the end of the day – or even halfway through your adventures – there is a great variety of pubs and restaurants to choose from.

The Crown Inn – Alvediston

This thatch-covered pub was built in the 1400s and is family run. With roaring fires in the winter and a giant beer garden in the summer, it is a great place to rest after your days of adventure. The Crown Inn also offers some amazing views of the Chalke Valley.

The Swan – Stoford

The Swan is a family-run coach inn in the Cranborne Chase between Salisbury and Stonehenge. It has a beer garden that overlooks the River Wylye and offers delicious traditional pub fair. With riverside seating and a welcoming bar, The Swan can be a great part of your cottage holiday.

Fox and Hounds – East Knoyle

Also dating back to the 1400s, this thatched pub is beside Blackmore Vale. They feature locally sourced food and offer lunch, dinner and a great pub business. Gluten-free meals are available as well. Visit their website for more details.

Fox and Hounds Pub East Knoyle

Image Credit: Phil Williams