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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)

The Flying Monk Brewery’s honest approach to ale

Posted on 15th February 2017

The Flying Monk is a local tale of Malmesbury after a brother Elmer, a monk at the local abbey was determined to emulate Icarus back in 1010. With his set of homemade wings, Elmer threw himself from the abbey tower and managed to glide a little before he was reunited with gravity in a somewhat painful manner. Though he survived the fall, his legs were broken, however Elmer was not deterred. He decided to try the flight again with the addition of a tail, but was swiftly halted when the Abbott put a stop to the second flight and Elmer’s aviation dreams.

Malmesbury Abbey

Though this may seem a tale of folly, it has been adopted by a local brewery along with a sardonic take on Elmer’s determined attitude in setting up their own micro-brewery. The Flying Monk Brewery was founded in 2013, with its first beer, aptly named Elmer, launched in 2014. Since then, three more beers have joined the line-up and the awards have been rolling in.

Kevin, the brewery’s managing director, has a refreshing attitude when it comes to marketing The Flying Monk products. In a recent interview, he commented: “Craft and artisan are the big words. What they actually mean by it is that it’s handmade. We’ve not changed what we’re doing in the industry, we’ve just changed how we label it. It’s not automated like the big commercial breweries. Everywhere you go it’s always the same four ingredients, nobody does it any differently. No-one is reinventing anything.”

This departure from the marketing buzz words sets The Flying Monk Brewery apart as much as the unusual name and tale it stems from. But it seems to be working in their favour, as their Birdman beer was awarded first place at Swindon’s CAMRA Beer Festival and Elmer was presented with the Highly Commended gong in the beer category of Taste of the West Awards last year.

Another first has graced their brewery as they roll out the world’s first black cider (according to The Flying Monk Brewery). Named Skorpion Black, it is set to create quite a stir. The Flying Monk Brewery is open to tours and tastings, so if you find yourself on a Wiltshire cottage holiday, be sure to spend a day enjoying everything this unique Micro-brewery has to offer.

Image Credit: Adrian Pingstone (Wikimedia Commons)

New documents put Wiltshire’s history on the map

Posted on 14th December 2016

If you’re interested in history, you’re in luck, because for the first time ever, historical maps of Wiltshire have been made easily accessible for your perusal. Thanks for the Know Your Place West of England project, countless local locations can be explored through the online database which houses materials covering Stonehenge to Swindon, Melksham to Malmesbury, Royal Wootton Bassett to Bradford-on-Avon and much more.

Renaissance map of Wiltshire, UK

Curious minds will be fascinated to see how Wiltshire has changed over time with these documents, which comprise a mapping resource enabling users to explore their neighbourhood through old maps, archive images and linked information. Over 2171 square miles of Wiltshire is ready to be discovered on the resource, featuring some of the county’s most famous landmarks, including the stone circle at Avebury and the Great Western Railway Works in Swindon with everything in between depicted in intricate detail.

As Wiltshire Council explains, “Alongside historic maps supplied by the British Library and National Library Scotland, you can freely explore Historic Environment Record data from Wiltshire Council.” They continue:

“You will also be able to upload and share your own information about the area straight onto ‘Know Your Place helping to build a rich and diverse community map of local heritage helping build a valuable research tool for everyone; from school children to family historians, planners to enthusiasts of community heritage.”

Over the coming months, more and more maps and images will be added to the tool, with museums across the county identifying itself from their collections to appear in an upcoming exhibition set to tour STEAM in Swindon, Salisbury Cathedral and the Yelde Hall in Chippenham. Charities are hoping to donate drawings and photographs, cementing the human aspect of this mind-boggling installation.

Nerys Watts, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, told Wiltshire Council: “Know Your Place West of England will be a fantastic resource, bringing together the history of this area so people can discover the ever-changing make-up of the places where they live and work.” The aim of the project is to demonstrate the rich history of Wiltshire and allow both locals and people on Wiltshire cottage holidays to connect with the changing landscape and culture of this amazing area.

Image Credit: John Speed (Wikimedia Commons)

Watch the world-famous Wiltshire Christmas Festival of Lights

Posted on 21st November 2016

If there’s one thing that stays in the mind of people young and old around Christmas, it’s the sight of beautiful coloured lights glowing on fir trees, hearths and in shop windows during the festive season. This year, if you’re looking for a way to take the excitement of Christmas to the next level with a Wiltshire holiday cottage retreat, there is no better way to do so than by visiting the world-renowned Longleat Festival of Light!

 Wiltshire Festival of Lights

Image credit: Papa Studio (Shutterstock)

As Visit Wiltshire explains, “This winter the unmissable Festival of Light at Longleat returns to transform the park into a glowing winter wonderland.” This year, it is Longleat Safari Park’s 50th anniversary and so Europe’s largest Chinese lantern festival will be even more exhilarating. This year’s event is a celebration of all creatures great and small, and will appeal to family members young and old!

The wonderful scene of Longleat’s famous lantern displays is a memory you will never forget. Their momentous giant lanterns will take centre stage with epic scenes honouring the most exciting residents of the park, such as lions and zebras. To mark her 150th birthday, iconic characters from the beloved works of Beatrix Potter will accompany the animals, so you can follow Peter Rabbit and his friends around some of the most famous scenes of the books!

But there’s more to this wonderful festival than the beautiful, intricate lights. The winter safari will be a real eye-opener, taking your mind off the Christmas rush for a moment as you ogle at zebras, rhinos, monkeys and more. As Longleat say, this is a great time to beat the crowds and see unusual sights up close:

“Keep your eyes peeled and you might even see our animals displaying some different behaviours to those they would display during the rest of the year. Our tigers and lions, who are partial to a catnap in the sunshine, are often much more active in the cooler weather.”

There are a huge range of other festive activities that make Longleat’s Festival of Light a prime destination for families on holiday in Wiltshire. Their enchanted Christmas tree show sees a grand 50ft tree made to dazzle with high-tech multimedia technology and mind-blowing projections. Step through the doors of Longleat House and into a real Edwardian Christmas, with each room decorated as it would have been for traditional Christmas celebrations during the early 20th century.

To mark 150 years of Beatrix Potter, the Great Hall will also host a special exhibition of costumes used in The Royal Ballet’s production of Frederick Ashton’s ‘Tales of Beatrix Potter’. For nature lovers, the brand new Arctic Corner is the perfect winter wonderland for kids to play in and learn something new in the process.

There is even an augmented reality experience of being an Arctic explorer to stimulate their greatest ambitions. Take a trip on The Santa Express and take in the beautiful reflections of the Half Mile Lake before reaching the grotto with a special gift for the little ones. Anything is possible during the magical Festival of Light!

The festivities begin on selected dates from 11th November, with fireworks on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. You can also save 10 per cent through online bookings.