The Great West Way

The Great West Way is a famous touring route which snakes its way through 125-miles of stunning countryside between London and Bristol.

It is based upon one of the first Great Roads commissioned by the medieval Kings of England, which themselves followed well-established trading routes between the key centres of commerce and power.

Our luxury hotel and spa, located on the breath-taking 2000-acre Bowood Estate, sits on the ancient route, between Marlborough and Chippenham, so provides a perfect base from which to explore large swathes of the Great West Way.

Passing through Berkshire, Wiltshire and Somerset, taking in some of the UK’s most iconic sights and beauty spots, the Great West Way offers a winning combination of history, culture and rural splendor.

Here, we take a look at just some of the highlights of this amazing ancient route between our capital city and Atlantic coastline, starting from London and working our way westwards.

Windsor Castle

One of the Queen’s three official residences, Windsor Castle gives visitors an insight into royal life through the centuries. It is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world with a history stretching back more than 900 years to William the Conqueror. Windsor has now been home to 39 British monarchs. You can marvel at the grandeur of the state apartments, walk up the aisle of St George’s Chapel where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wed in 2018 and take a tour of the extensive grounds

Henley on Thames

The centre of British rowing, this charming market town straddling the River Thames overlooked by the luscious greenery of the Chiltern Hills, makes a wonderful day out. First mentioned in the 12th century, Henley boasts an extensive range of historic buildings and with a broad range of independent shops and great restaurants and cafés, it is a great place to meander aimlessly. It is famous for its Henley Royal Regatta which sees the best rowers from across the globe compete on the river. You can head to the River and Rowing Museum to find out more about the annual boating event or take a tranquil walk along the river.

Highclere Castle

Best known around the world as setting for Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle is actually home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, whose family have lived there since 1679. The current castle was extensively rebuilt during the 18th and 19th centuries and now stands as one of the most impressive examples of Victorian architectural grandeur. Visitors can go behind the scenes of the ‘real Downton Abbey’ with a look at the opulent state rooms and living quarters, learn about the stately home’s links with Tutankhamun or wander the gardens and 1000-acres of stunning parkland which is dotted with follies and woodland.

Avebury

With a Neolithic stone circle dating back almost 6000 years which encircles much of the village, Avebury is part of the same World Heritage Site as Stonehenge. As well as walking among the ancient standing stones which make up the biggest stone circle in the world, you can visit the 16th century manor house with rooms decorated to reflect different periods through which the residents lived – Tudor, Queen Anne, Georgian, Victorian and 20th century. You can also head to the Alexander Keiller Museum to learn more about the archaeology and history of this prehistoric sacred landscape.

Stonehenge

A slight detour south onto the Salisbury Plain is worth it to marvel at one of the most iconic historic monuments in the world, Stonehenge. The giant standing stones dating back five millennia that make up the mysterious and ancient circle at Stonehenge are awe-inspiring when viewed in person. A grand new exhibition and visitor centre presents 250 ancient artefacts and a model of a 5,500 year-old man, representing the builders of Stonehenge. You can also explore the replica Neolithic houses and examine the tools and everyday objects of our ancient ancestors.

The Bowood Estate

This will be easy if you’re staying with us. Right on your doorstep is one of the most beautiful and fascinating estates in the west of England. Bowood House, a fine example of Georgian architecture, sits surrounded by 100-acres of ‘Capability Brown’ landscaped parkland. Still home to the Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne, Bowood House offers lots to interest and entertain visitors with lavish interiors rich in art and antiques, extensive formal gardens, rambling parkland and an adventure playground to keep the little ones happy.

Lacock

Step back in time with a visit to the perfectly preserved historic village of Lacock. A popular filming spot which has provided the backdrop to many movies including Harry Potter. Lacock is like an architectural time capsule with no buildings younger than 200 years old while the oldest building dates back to the 13th century. Lacock Abbey sits at the heart of the village in its own grounds and visitors can explore its medieval rooms and cloisters. A nearby museum celebrates the achievements of its most famous resident, William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the fathers of modern photography. Once you’ve done your sightseeing grab a bite to eat in one of the rustic pubs or twee tearooms.

Bath

A bustling city of wonderful Georgian architecture on the banks of the River Avon, with some of the best preserved Roman remains in Britain, all ringed by the green Somerset hills, Bath is a joy for any visitor. Named a World Heritage Site in 1987 in recognition of its vast array of Regency properties including the Royal Crescent and the Circus, the city is perhaps best known for the Roman-built thermal baths after which it is named. It is also a favourite with Jane Austen fans as the setting for three of the author’s books. With museums, galleries, tours, shops and restaurants a plenty, Bath really does have something for everyone.

Bristol

Bristol is a city of many parts, steeped in history but a hotbed of diverse contemporary culture and creativity, from its street art and great music scene to its many culinary delights. There is a huge amount to see and do: explore the city’s heritage at sights like the incredible SS Great Britain or M Shed, meander the golden streets of Clifton to admire Brunel’s suspension bridge across the Avon gorge, head to Bedminster to admire some of the world’s most incredible street art, grab a coffee or drink in achingly trendy Stokes Croft or take a walk around the harbourside. Bristol rivals many far bigger cities for fun and excitement.

There are of course countless other wonderful places to visit along the Great West Way – this is just a taster to help you start planning. Once you start investigating the many wonders of the route west from London, you will find yourself spoilt for choice.

10 things you didn't know about Bowood

If you are a member or guest of Bowood, then you’ll be all too familiar with our efforts to really get to know those who walk through our doors.

It’s true. We share more than just our magnificent location with all who visit. We care about our guests and aim to establish long-standing relationships with all of them.

We keep no secrets.

That said, there are still lots of remarkable things to discover about Bowood that you don’t yet know about.

Here we unveil 10 facts you didn’t know about Bowood that simply add to the charm of the hotel. Read on to find out about them:

1. All of the interiors within the hotel have been designed by Lady Lansdowne.

Those guests or members who have checked in to one of our hotel bedrooms maybe already be aware that every elements of their room has been handpicked by Lady Lansdowne, an established interior designer.

Many of the patterns on the upholstery and curtains has been taken from textiles and artwork which can be found at Bowood’s Eighteenth Century Country House & Gardens in the otherside of the Estate.

2. Some of the original artwork from Bowood House & Gardens is on display in the Hotel.

Bowood is a historical and artistic gemstone. There is so much culture and heritage in our hotel, it is hard to see it all in just one visit.

The artwork is definitely a priority sight.

Our in-house curator ensures guests know all there is to discover about Bowood’s original artwork.

A couple of pieces to take a look at are:

a. The Portrait of the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne. It is a three-quarter-length image of Marquess who is seated and wearing black morning dress combined with red Academic robes.The portrait is signed, inscribed and dated ‘H Riviere 1900./ Head copied from unfinished/ portrait head by Frank Holl’ . By Henri Rivière (1864-1951). 1900.

Henry, the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne was intellectual and had an important political career. This is apparent from the painting from his academic attire. Described by Queen Victoria as “very clever and amiable”, the portrait is a reflection of his significant political posts, including Governor-General of Canada which he was appointed for in 1883 and the Secretary of State for War (1895-1900).

b. A series of paintings by James Morrison in The Library from 1990/1991 showing Tullybeagles – the Lansdowne Scottish house.

c. A modern oil copy of Kitty Fisher by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Reynolds was (still is) one of the most famous British portrait painters. Kitty Fisher was a famous mistress of famous and wealthy men. She was famous, not for talent, but for simply being a beautiful courtesan.

d. An engraving of Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, by Charles Turner. Margaret was a very close friend of Princess Charlotte and Lord Byron. Her daughter married the 4th Marquess.

e. A bronze bust of the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne by Kevin Gannon, located in the bar.

3. Bowood was opened by HRH Duchess of Cornwall

HRH Duchess of Cornwall cut the ribbon and unveiled a plaque when the hotel was opened 10 years ago. As a member of the Royal Family, wife of Prince Charles, it was a pleasure to welcome The Duchess on our opening day, only a decade ago.

4. Bowood is an eco-friendly hotel.

Bowood pride ourselves on being kind to the environment. The hotel’s central heating is powered by a biomass burner. The wood chippings used to power the burner are scrap wood sourced from the Estate Forestry.

5. A popular place for marriages.

It is not surprising with our romantic suites and beautiful setting that many couples choose to start their married life at the hotel. In fact, over 400 couples have got married at Bowood.

6. The opportunity for deer spotting

The number of wild deer roaming freely around the estate is vast. They can be seen in herds, grazing and relaxing on the Academy golf course from pretty much every window on the south-facing side of the hotel.

Visitors from the London area who spend time at Richmond Park will definitely feel at home around the Deer at our hotel.

Guests often admire these elegant creatures and feel they add to Bowood’s unique ambiance…

7. Brick Kiln

Many years ago, the Estate builders used to dig clay from a pit on the left hand side of the second golf hole to make bricks to build cottages on the estate. The woods where the builders dug this clay are now called Brick Kiln. Some of the cottages are now home to some of the hotel team members including our General Manager.

8. Brown Hares

We have a thriving population of brown hares on the golf course.If you ever pay the hotel a visit, why not follow the public footpath and go ‘form-finding’?

9. Hotel entrance - Golden Gates

In January 1841, Isambard Kingdom Brunel completed the London to Chippenham section of the Great Western Railway. From then on, the Third Marquess of Lansdowne travelled to and from London by train. Before this railway was built, the main entrance to the estate was from the east, through Pillars Lodge.

On completion of the railway, Lord Lansdowne commissioned Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, to build a new lodge on the western perimeter of the park at the point closest to Chippenham station. In the centre of these gates, which you enter through today, are the gold crossed L’s. The name “Golden Gates” was, as a result, an obvious choice.

10. We’ve welcomed 143,809 guests to Bowood

107,857 people have stayed in a double room at the hotel and 35,952 guests have stayed in a single room. That’s 143,809 guests in total.

If you would like to join the thousands of guests who have stayed in the hotel, then book a room on our website. And we look forward to welcoming you.