Few counties can rival Wiltshire for its ancient history, outstanding natural beauty, picturesque market towns and villages and its stately homes and gardens.
Wiltshire boasts some of the most iconic attractions in the south of England – the World Heritage sites of Avebury and Stonehenge, the cathedral city of Salisbury, Stourhead House and Gardens, Longleat with its safari park, and Lacock and Castle Combe, vying for the title of Wiltshire’s most beautiful village.
Wiltshire is often seen as a county you pass through on the way to the West Country but it is very definitely an area to explore on its own merits. Within two hours’ drive of London, Wiltshire is easily accessible making it ideal for short breaks as well as family holidays. Hideaways has for many years specialised in letting holiday cottages in Wiltshire. Our Wiltshire cottages are located right across the county, all within easy reach of the many treasures that Wiltshire has to offer.
Undoubtedly the most well known prehistoric monument in Britain. In varying forms the circle has existed on the bleak expanse of Salisbury Plain for over 4,000 years. A world Heritage site, protected and managed by English Heritage.
The Avebury Complex
Avebury Stone Circle: One of the largest monuments visible today, built by the late Neolithic people around 2500BC. The Ridgeway: a prehistoric trackway used by the Stone Age People. Silbury Hill: the highest man-made mound in Europe. Despite modern excavation this impressive hill has kept its secret. West Kennet Long Barrow: an excellent example of a chambered tomb, the entrance guarded by large standing sarsen stones. Probably constructed about 3250BC.
Originally an Iron Age Hill Fort, Old Sarum was subsequently fortified by the Saxons and Normans of strategic importance probably into 15th century. William Cobbett described it as three cheeses of varying sizes, laid upon one another. Were it not for these mounds it is doubtful if Salisbury would be in existence today.
The city of New Sarum, a harmonious blend of ancient and modern, can justify the claim to be one of England’s most attractive cities. It lies among the chalk hills of Southern Wiltshire with its entourage of delightful villages dotted among the gently rolling downs of the surrounding countryside. Five river valleys, the Avon, Nadder, Wyle, Ebble and Bourne converge at Salisbury. Salisbury’s magnificent cathedral marks an essential stopping place on every visitor’s journey. Built in the Early English style, it has the tallest spire in Britain at 404ft and is surrounded by the largest cathedral close in Britain. Visitor attractions in the close include the Salisbury and South West Museum, the Medieval Hall and Mompesson House, one of the finest examples of Queen Anne town houses in England. Salisbury city centre is great for shopping – its market was granted its first charter almost 800 years ago – and has a good selection of pubs and restaurants, including the 14th century Haunch of Venison.
Stately Homes & Gardens
Wiltshire is a county of great houses. Some of the loveliest, set in the grounds of great beauty are listed below.
The home of the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years. “The most beautiful house in England” according to James I. Wonderful 17th century state rooms by Inigo Jones and world famous collection of paintings. Beautiful grounds crossed by the River Nadder.
The Elizabethan home of the Marquess of Bath and a superb example of Renaissance architecture with parkland landscaped by Capability Brown. Longleat’s Safari Park remains a huge tourist attraction.
An 18th century house in the Palladian style. Magnificent gardens, laid out by Henry Hoare with classical temples, specimen trees and shrubs surrounding the lake in a magical setting.
An ‘Elizabethan’ mansion with Georgian features. Exceptional furniture and art collections.
On the banks of the Avon, and combining architectural styles from 13th to 19th century. Original cloisters and chapter house remain. Also home to the Fox Talbot museum of photography.
18th century Bowood House stands in a beautiful park laid out by Capability Brown. Magnificent displays of spring flowers, roses and rhododendron walks.
Old Wardour Castle
The ruins of the castle stand in a beautiful lakeside setting. Built in 1392, the castle was badly damaged during the Civil War when the owner, Lady Arundell, with a small band of men, held a large Parliamentarian force at bay for a week.
Outdoors in Wiltshire
Wiltshire has scenery to lift your spirit and excite your curiosity. The southern three fifths of the county is made up of the rolling chalk hills of Salisbury Plain and the Marlborough Downs, crossed by trackways, which were known to travellers even before prehistoric Stonehenge, Avebury and Silbury Hill were erected. The green humps of burial mounds constantly remind you of the distant past. Seven white horses and military emblems cut in the turf are surprising punctuation marks in the smooth flow of the downland ridges.
Almost half of Wiltshire’s countryside falls within two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, The North Wessex Downs and the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs. These areas are a haven for wildlife and wild flowers and a paradise for walkers. Marked footpaths and trackways are numerous and include The Ridgeway, commonly regarded as Britain’s oldest road (in use since 3000 BC) and the ancient Ox Drove, once used for driving cattle to Wilton and Salisbury. Keen cyclists are well served by the 160 mile Wiltshire cycleway, which crosses some of the most beautiful scenery in the county.
Wiltshire’s countryside is also suitable for many other sporting activities – riding and trekking on its many tracks and bridlepaths, narrow boat trips on the Kennet & Avon Canal, fly and coarse fishing on its rivers and lakes, golf at numerous, excellent courses and hang gliding and hot air balloon flights above its open chalk downland. Please contact the local Tourist Information Centre for details of these activities.
Towns & Villages
One of the charms of a Wiltshire journey is its small towns, each with a strong character of its own. The towns listed below are of special interest.
An ancient settlement on the River Avon with a Saxon church, Great Tithe Barn and a 17th century bridge with lock-up.
A friendly, historic town where the traditional English technique of curing ham and bacon was invented. A great base for exploring the nearby World Heritage site of Avebury, Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow.
An attractive market town on the Kennet and Avon Canal with an historic market place, surrounded by some fine Georgian houses. Home to the Wiltshire Heritage Museum and Wadworth Brewery.
The oldest borough in England created in 880 AD, on the edge of the Cotswolds. Malmesbury Abbey — partly a ruin but with the very impressive nave still in use.
A former staging post between London and Bath with a particularly wide High Street, where a twice-weekly market takes place. Very good choice of shops, places to eat, art and antiques.
Possibly the ancient capital of Wessex. At the centre of the sheep trade for centuries. Well known for the Wilton Royal carpet factory, its Italianate church and of course, Wilton House.
Wiltshire’s villages are too numerous to mention but many are well worth visiting. Of particular note are: Castle Combe, with its honey coloured stone cottages, voted England’s prettiest village; Edington, with its impressive Priory church; Lacock, a National Trust village with carefully preserved buildings, Lacock Abbey and Fox Talbot Museum of photography; Wilton (the smaller version) with its windmill and last but by no means least, the many picturesque villages in the Vale of Pewsey and along the Ebble, Woodford, Wylye and Nadder Valleys, close to Salisbury.