- Ivy-clad chocolate box inn
- Twisting lanes of Bath's Longleat estate
- Great Brit-inn
- Tisbury’s walkers’ wonderland
- Period-detail family retreat
- Walled gardens in Wiltshire
- Epicurean country pile
- Woodland, hedges and herbs
- 17th-century country living
- Wonderful Wiltshire
- Chalky downs, mystic menhirs
- Country life
- Market-hopping and rural rambles
Nothing falls flat in this gorgeous setting of sweeping hills and verdant vales, where folklore, myth and mystery lurk around every curve of the road.
The county of chalk and cheese loaf bristles with history and local legends. Commune with the ancients at Stonehenge and the Avebury Circle, forage in farmers’ markets and scale the cathedral spires in the magnificent mediaeval city of Salisbury, unfurl your picnic rug by the River Avon or wend your way through the enchanting cottages and cloisters of Lacock. Grazing uplands are flanked by the dairy farms that fleck the dales, and villages of oyster-coloured Cotswold stone bed down on the hill verges, making the most of the springs that emerge between chalk and clay. It’s also the cantering grounds for over a dozen white chalk horses etched into the hillsides. As much as we shy from superlatives, Wiltshire really couldn’t be much lovelier.
Wiltshire natives long ago acquired the intriguing nickname ‘Moonrakers’. Far from all being unwitting extras in a 1970s Bond film, the name originates in a peculiar tale of brandy, smugglers and cheese. One night, the town of Devizes was dealt a surprise visit by the excisemen. Local smugglers stowed barrels of brandy in the pond, raking its surface to keep the kegs hidden. When challenged, they claimed to be extracting a cheese that had rolled into the water, pointing at the reflection of the moon. The excisemen took them for moonstruck yokels and rode out of town.
- Always worth booking if you’re outside the larger cities. Your hotel can advise on the best firms.
- Tipping culture
- 10–15 per cent is standard, but most restaurants will habitually add 12.5 per cent to the bill.
- Packing tips
- Walking boots and your most attractive anorak will serve you well in all of the South West, a picnic rug for lolling by the River Avon, a windbreaker for the notoriously blustery Stonehenge, and a cheese knife with which to demolish the treats you pick up in market towns.
- Recommended reads
- Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles has its dramatic finale at Stonehenge. Wordsworth was inspired by this wild and windswept terrain to write A Night on Salisbury Plain, a rather grim and shadowy poem that captures the intensity of the place. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie Lee’s sequel to Cider with Rosie, charts a journey from his home village, through Wiltshire, to London.
- Regional specialities
- Wiltshire is no county for abstinent men. It’s very proud of its cuisine, most of which falls into two categories: pork and cake. Wiltshire cured ham is mild, moist and marvellously tasty. Season it with a dash of Tracklements beer mustard, made in Malmesbury. A tasty local accompaniment to the traditional tea and biscuits is the lardy cake, a sugary, spiced (and, surprisingly enough, lardy) fruit bun that also traces its origins back to the region. Devizes pie is only for the strong of stomach. It traditionally contains calf’s brain, pickled tongue and hard-boiled eggs.
- Pounds sterling (£).
- Time zone
- Dialling codes
- Country code for the UK: +44. Salisbury: (0)1722; Swindon: (0)1793.
- Do go/don't go
- Spring and summer are England’s most straightforwardly lovely seasons and June to September offers your best hope for glorious sunshine. But the South West is typically milder and wetter than the rest of the country, and a cathedral town like Salisbury, admired from a snug pub fireside on a crisp winter’s day, has enticements all of its own.
Don't go home without...
...a quick ogle of the Westbury White Horse, a chalk figure cut into the escarpment on the edge of the Bratton Downs, said to commemorate King Alfred's victory at the Battle of Ethandune in 878.