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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.