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.
Wiltshire is a beautiful county at the edge of the South West Peninsula. Its landscape is contrasting, with woodlands, river valleys and clay vales – but often it’s known for having open chalk hills – known as “downland” – such as Salisbury Plain. Famously, Salisbury Plain is home to one of the most historically important places in the world. That is, of course, the World Heritage Site – Stonehenge.
Wiltshire is a place of significant ancient history, and it’s worth visiting for this alone – but it’s also a modern cultural hub. There’s always lots to do, and Christmas in no exception. To save you some googling here’s a round up what’s on in Wiltshire this Christmas.
The aroma of bread baking is the loveliest in the known universe. Then again, are there aromas in space? There’s no air, so…
Bread is one of those things that defies seasonal shifts and time. This means it’s not, not Christmassy. Kneading dough and baking bread are also warming activities perfect for dark, wintry afternoons.
If you fancy learning the basics why not try this course.
Alongside producing superb quality Aberdeen Angus Beef and fruit and veg, Hartley Farm helps supply its own farm shop – with a butcher, delicatessen and a vast choice of wines and craft beers.
The Hartley Farm Christmas market is a fine way to while away a couple of hours with a glass of mulled wine, some delicious Wiltshire produce and Christmas performances.
“You bought how many artisan cheeses? 26?”
Christmas through the ages, all under one roof.
For this year’s festive season, the National Trust are decorating the rooms in Mompesson House to reflect Christmas in different eras. This brilliant idea will have you walking between a Regency Christmas in the dining room and a 1950s one in the library, as you snack on a mince pie or two.
Apologies, this isn’t festive at all. It’s intriguing, impressive and downright weird though. If you’re interested in crop circles or think you could be – this is your moment.
Are they created by farmers with planks of wood, for a laugh – or as geometric representations of the thought processes of an extra-terrestrial intelligence?
This multi-media exhibition, first created for the Wiltshire Museum is a comprehensive lowdown on crop circle history and latest news.
For more info – please click here.
The Longleat Estate made history, becoming the first place outside of Africa to have a safari park. It’s also the focus of the BBC TV series ‘Animal Park’, hosted by Ben Fogle and Kate Humble – that’s been running for almost 20 years.
Longleat’s ‘Festival of Light’ is 1,000 lanterns in the dark, illuminating parts of a fantastic journey through time and space, spread over 30 acres of parkland.
Intrepid visitors will stumble across brand new creatures, worlds and awesome structures on an epic aeronautical adventure.
For more info – please click here.
This year’s exhibition at Fisherton Mill, is about giving your Christmas shopping a fresh sense of curiosity and wonder.
The exhibition will feature a range of contemporary arts and crafts, designed to be playful, make you think and baffle you – including optical illusions.
“Is the cat inside or outside the toy box and is it actually a box anyway, or a flat wall panel?”.
This is a direct quote from the website, and it sounds hilarious – in a good way.
Why not check out the website.
If you’re ready to climb 322 steps to the top of the tower, with breaks, you’ll be able to look out onto the night-time city scape of Salisbury and the multi-colour illuminated art installations in cathedral close.
Look out for the neon display “I will turn darkness into light”.
A twilight tour of Salisbury Cathedral tower is a lovely way to end a day spent wandering around the Salisbury Christmas market.
For more info – please click here.
Now in its sixth year, the Christmas market is a wonderfully atmospheric addition to the ancient streets of Salisbury. It follows a German lead and has 70 wooden chalets with all sorts of Christmas treats – from handmade furniture to luxury food and drink.
It’s a perfect accompaniment to a festive shopping spree in Salisbury. Plus, everything is unique, desirable, made in Britain and intended to support our home economy.
Christmas at Bowood, in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside is a magical experience. Our boutique hotel, spa and golf resort is nestled within 100 acres of pristine, landscaped gardens – which are beautiful when tinged with winter frosts.
If you catch a chill whilst exploring our grounds, why not settle by a crackling log fire with a glass of something, or enjoy a festive afternoon tea? You could also visit our spa for a revitalising treatment. Golf warms the cockles too.
At Bowood, we love Christmas. That’s why we’ve filled our festive calendar to the rafters. Here’s a handful not to miss –
Up for a festive knees up? We also have party nights throughout December. In advance, we wish you a merry Christmas!
Thanks for reading.