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WOMAD festival comes to Wiltshire for 2017

Posted on 13th March 2017

WOMAD is a festival like no other, promising to entertain and alter perspectives while being both inclusive and informative. Due to be hosted at the glorious Charlton Park on the last weekend in July (27th – 30th), it is definitely something everybody should be marking in their calendars, whether you’re spending the week in a Wiltshire holiday cottage and just manage a day, or are a local looking to soak up the whole weekend. We have picked some of the more unusual events on offer that make this festival so special. WOMAD 2008 main stage

The Human Books revel in the art of conversation, as you ‘check out’ a person for half an hour and learn about their lives while moving away from the absorbing technology that defines this era. Go global with both the music and the food and discover new passions. The street food on offer is no meagre burger van, but instead offers an intense trip for the taste buds, as everywhere from South America to India is represented in cuisine, with both vegetarian and vegan options as a nod to the inclusivity that defines this festival.

The Global Market allows you to take a piece of WOMAD home, full of stalls selling everything from traditional clothing to instruments made from recycled materials. Like any bazaar, it is tantalising and a joy to discover.

Children under the age of thirteen are treated to free entry as well as many activities specially designed to include them, making this a truly family-orientated festival. The Arboretum combines discovery with nature as you are invited to try your hand at playing different instruments from a multitude of countries, as well as hearing your favourite performers talk about their own culture. All of this and more is nestled deep in the woodland.

There is also a spa for those looking for a little pampering to complement the bohemian lifestyle of WOMAD. It offers everything from massage and acupressure to the unique sound baths and, as with everything at the WOMAD festival, it is housed either outside or in tents.

This unusual festival has various counterparts across the world, featuring festivals in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and Chile. So if you feel you would enjoy a weekend that will take you across the world from the comfort of your Wiltshire cottage holiday, WOMAD is a festival to watch out for.

Image Credit: York Tillyer

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)

Looking back to the Big Freeze as snow falls across Wiltshire

Posted on 18th January 2017

Snow at Liddington, Wiltshire

The UK has been hit with some particularly wintery weather this week, as forecasts for towns across the country predict snow. Reports have cited everything from flurries to ‘thundersnow’, and in the past couple of days Wiltshire itself has become covered in a blanket of white. But, far from despairing, Wiltshire residents have been making the most of the seasonal turn by getting out into the countryside.

Some areas saw overnight snowfall on the 12th, with the Swindon Advertiser describing “a sprinkling in Swindon, Devizes and Trowbridge with Corsham and Chippenham missing out almost entirely.” The snowfall is being caused by a polar air mass that originated over northern Canada, which is spreading south across the UK creating everything from a flutter of non-settling sleet in the South West to heavy showers Scotland and Ireland. The Met Office described the weather as a “real taste of winter”, which is set only to increase in the coming days.

Although the smattering is small, residents across the county are making the most of the unusual weather. In fact, presenters Ben and Mel from Heart Radio even went out in Wiltshire on Friday morning to participate in that age-old activity of making snow angels, as can be seen in this video.

Whether the snow will become heavy enough to cause disruption is yet to be seen, but for now locals are enjoying the weather by getting out for winter walks and having miniature snowball fights outdoors. 

In the past, Wiltshire has seen significant periods of weather that would more typically be expected in a more Alpine environment. The year of 1963 is dubbed as ‘Wiltshire’s Big Freeze’, and although the blizzards occurred over fifty years ago, older residents still tell stories of their memories today. Just after Christmas, on the 29th and 30th of December, six inches of snow fell. Families had to dig themselves in and out of their homes, yet in the streets snowmen were built, snowballs were thrown and many more snow angels were born on the whitewashed pavements.

The freeze lasted through January, with some snow still on the ground in March. Several areas reported amazing levels of snowfall, with 16 inches cited in Trowbridge. As the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre explains:

“Some people in villages dug out sleds and skis from their attics and brought food and fuel into their villages; it was estimated that millions of small birds only survived because of food put out in gardens. Foxes, squirrels, and other wild animals apparently became ‘tame’, appearing in gardens in search of food”.

Whilst it is highly unlikely that we will see anything close to the conditions on 1963 in the near future, this story is a testament to the spirit of the Wiltshire community. With a reasonable and charming scattering of snow set to cover Wiltshire in the coming days, now is the perfect time to enjoy wintery jaunts and warming log fires on a Wiltshire cottage holiday!

Image Credit: Brian Robert Marshall (Wikimedia Commons)