This sum­mer marks an ex­cit­ing mo­ment for lux­ury travel in the UK with the open­ing of Eng­land's first ever tour­ing route, des­tined to be­come one of the pre­mier routes in Europe, and prob­a­bly the world

British Travel Journal - - EDITOR BUYS - Words | Jules Mit­tra

Eng­land's first ever tour­ing route, des­tined to be­come one of the pre­mier routes in Europe, and prob­a­bly the world.

FORM­ING A BROAD cor­ri­dor on ei­ther side of the his­toric King's Road' (known as the

`A4' to­day), the Great West Way links two of Eng­land's fore­most his­toric port-cities; Lon­don in the east, and Bris­tol in the west. This road has been one of the most im­por­tant routes in Eng­land for al­most two mil­len­nia. At around 125 miles in to­tal length, the Great West Way passes through, or close to, some of the most spec­tac­u­lar and fas­ci­nat­ing landscapes, lo­ca­tions, at­trac­tions, his­tory, ex­pe­ri­ences and cul­tural high­lights that Eng­land has to of­fer. From the pre­his­toric to the ul­tra-mod­ern, from ru­ral idylls to ur­ban jun­gles, the Great West Way of­fers cu­ri­ous, in­quis­i­tive trav­ellers the op­por­tu­nity to go way be­yond the rou­tine tourist ex­pe­ri­ence and con­nect with Eng­land more pow­er­fully and au­then­ti­cally than ever be­fore. For those with the req­ui­site re­sources, time and in­ter­est, it's the per­fect way to dis­cover Eng­land, in lux­ury, un­ham­pered and at a pace that is re­laxed and im­mer­sive. With so much on of­fer, cre­at­ing the per­fect itin­er­ary for you won't be dif­fi­cult, but here's mine...

Start­ing in Lon­don, the Great West Way be­gins in the heart of the his­toric City. As it heads west out of the city through Rich­mond and Twickenham, it passes

Buck­ing­ham Palace, well out­side the city when first built, past the Ritz, be­fore es­cap­ing the cap­i­tal through Wind­sor and the sub­urbs and satel­lite towns that or­bit Lon­don's west flank. An ideal start­ing point for ex­plor­ing the Great West Way, es­pe­cially for those hav­ing just ar­rived from over­seas, is The Lan­g­ley, a re­cently opened 5-star ho­tel just on the out­skirts of Lon­don, only 10 miles from Heathrow. Des­tined to be­come one of Eng­land's most pres­ti­gious coun­try ho­tels and orig­i­nally the Duke of Marl­bor­ough's hunt­ing lodge (ie the Churchills), The Lan­g­ley re­calls the char­ac­ter, charm and el­e­gance of an im­pe­rial age whilst of­fer­ing the com­fort, ser­vice and fa­cil­i­ties of a con­tem­po­rary 5-star ho­tel. The rooms are sump­tu­ously yet taste­fully dec­o­rated, the spa com­plex is stun­ning, and the ho­tel boasts a sig­na­ture res­tau­rant, bar and ex­quis­ite af­ter­noon tea. How­ever, for food lovers, He­ston Blu­men­thal's Fat Duck is just a mere 20 min­utes away and of­fers one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ences in the world, and one that peo­ple travel across the world to ex­pe­ri­ence. As such, book­ing far in ad­vance is a ne­ces­sity.

As­sum­ing an overnight stay at The Lan­g­ley, a visit to Wind­sor and its fa­mous cas­tle may be an es­sen­tial stop for some. Per­son­ally, Eton, on the op­po­site

bank of the river Thames and con­nected to Wind­sor by a pretty foot-bridge, is a more en­tic­ing, en­chant­ing and less crowded prospect. Home to Eton Col­lege one of the world's most pres­ti­gious and old­est schools, both the town and the school are fas­ci­nat­ing places to visit. Call the Col­lege up ahead and it is of­ten pos­si­ble to find times to visit the school or at least parts of it, in­clud­ing the 1400s King's Chapel, of­ten guided by one of the schol­ars, re­plete in his top hat and tails.

How­ever, the town is also worth pe­rus­ing, if only for a stroll along its Vic­to­rian streets with stores that seem to have stood still in time: gen­tle­men's out­fit­ters with dis­plays of fine hats, rid­ing-coats and as­sorted gen­tle­manly at­tire, sweet shops with jars of hard­boiled mar­vels.

It may be ob­vi­ous but trav­el­ling by car along the Great West Way pro­vides the most flex­i­ble and sim­plest way of ex­plor­ing the route; how­ever, there's no need for the trans­port to be any less in­ter­est­ing than the route it­self. Whether you'd pre­fer to self-drive or en­joy the views from the back seat, there are plenty of op­tions for hir­ing a clas­sic Bri­tish car for the trip from com­pa­nies such as `Be­spokes', or `Vin­tage Clas­sics'.

As­sum­ing Wind­sor and Eton are morn­ing stops, the af­ter­noon should of­fer some­thing dif­fer­ent. One such op­tion would be a visit to Silch­ester. Silch­ester has to be one of the most in­cred­i­ble hid­den gems along the Great West Way. Once a sig­nif­i­cant Ro­man town, it was aban­doned in the early 400s fol­low­ing the Ro­man army's sud­den de­par­ture, re­called in a vain at­tempt to save Rome from the bar­bar­ian hordes. Silch­ester's walls were too long, and the site lacked a nat­u­ral de­fen­sive lo­ca­tion or ad­e­quate wa­ter sup­ply, so its in­hab­i­tants seem­ingly aban­doned it in favour of more se­cure Ro­man towns such as Bath and Lon­don. To­day its walls, gate­houses, road plan and even am­phithe­atre are still vis­i­ble, with the rest of the site left to graz­ing cat­tle and sheep.

It's an ex­tra­or­di­nary place to visit; quiet, peace­ful and evoca­tive, and a great stop be­fore mak­ing the short hop over to near-by Heckfield Place for an­other night of di­vine lux­ury.

Con­tin­u­ing the jour­ney west the fol­low­ing day, the route along the King's Road/A4 pro­vides passes you by his­toric town af­ter his­toric town and achingly beau­ti­ful coun­try­side. Fans of Down­ton Abbey may want to stop by High­clere Cas­tle; it's a busy stop to­day but a drive from that point to Marl­bor­ough takes in some of the most spec­tac­u­lar coun­try­side in the south of Eng­land.

Be­fore ar­riv­ing at Marl­bor­ough, the vil­lage of Great Bed­wyn of­fers a myr­iad of in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ences. First is Wil­ton Wind­mill, a rare ex­am­ple of a main­tained wind­mill, with pri­vate guided tours avail­able and bags of flour to take home. For fans of the in­dus­trial era, one of the UKs most sig­nif­i­cant in­dus­trial trea­sures - the world's old­est work­ing steam en­gine at Crofton Beam En­gines, is close by. De­signed by Watt, the man who spurred the in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion with the first ef­fi­cient steam en­gine, this en­gine has been pump­ing wa­ter up for the nearby canal for over 200 years. En­joy a pri­vate, guided tour be­fore stop­ping for lunch at the award win­ning Three Tuns Free­house.

Whilst Stone­henge is recog­nised the world over, just twenty miles north of it lies an­other pre­his­toric UNESCO world her­itage site that to me at least, is more awe­some, mys­te­ri­ous and magical. Ave­bury Stone Cir­cle is the largest stone cir­cle or `henge' any­where

in Europe. Lo­cated within a gen­tle bowl of hill lines, its scale and lo­ca­tion is truly awe in­spir­ing. By way of com­par­i­son, Stone­henge's di­am­e­ter is ap­prox­i­mately 98 me­tres, whilst Ave­bury's is 347 me­tres across. And although we are fairly con­fi­dent about Stone­henge's pur­pose, Ave­bury's re­mains a mys­tery. Touch its im­pe­ri­ous stones and walk along its enor­mous earth-banks, built up out of the chalk spoil taken from the deep, wide ditches be­neath and gaze upon the pre­his­toric monuments that dot the land­scape all around it. Aside from the stone cir­cle it­self, Ave­bury also boasts sev­eral other fas­ci­nat­ing pre­his­toric fea­tures nearby; the 2.5km stone av­enue that links Ave­bury to the an­cient Ridge­way path, Sil­bury hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe built over gen­er­a­tions, sim­i­lar in size to a con­tem­po­rary Egyp­tian pyra­mid, and fi­nally, West Ken­net Long-bar­row. This an­cient burial cham­ber was first con­structed over 5500 years ago and re­mained in con­stant use for over a thou­sand years. Step in­side to dis­cover re­mark­able Ne­olithic burial cham­bers and the de­tri­tus of mod­ern-day druids and pa­gans who still en­ter the tomb to leave vo­tive of­fer­ings of can­dles, corn dol­lies and rib­bons in hon­our of the spir­its. It's a com­pletely ethe­real ex­pe­ri­ence. If a change of scene is re­quired, per­haps a sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence like tast­ing some of the fine lo­cal pro­duce would be de­sir­able? Cheese­mak­ers, Dis­tillers, Ar­ti­san food pro­duc­ers can be found dot­ted across the re­gion, but per­haps un­ex­pect­edly, so can wine-mak­ers. Eng­land, not tra­di­tion­ally known for its wines, is fast de­vel­op­ing as a wine pro­duc­ing na­tion. Its south­ern chalk soils are per­fect bed­ding ground for cham­pagne style va­ri­etals and the warm­ing cli­mate is rapidly mak­ing south­ern Eng­land a Goldilocks zone for such wines. It's still very much a cot­tage in­dus­try, but out­stand­ing vine­yards are emerg­ing across the Great

West Way re­gion. One such vine­yard is a'Beck­ett's Vine­yard. Stop by for a pri­vate tour of the fa­cil­i­ties, vines, process and of course, a wine tast­ing. As a con­trast to the lux­ury ho­tel, a great al­ter­na­tive is a stay at a pri­vate rental. The Three Dag­gers Spa Barn. The Three Dag­gers was orig­i­nally a sim­ple coach­ing inn on the road at Ed­ing­ton, Wilt­shire, but to­day, un­der the stew­ard­ship of a wealthy and pas­sion­ate owner, it boasts one of the finest restau­rants in the area, as well as its own craft beer brew­ery (which can be vis­ited pri­vately), a first-class farm shop filled with lo­cal pro­duce and de­li­cious del­i­ca­cies and pick­les no longer in com­mon use. Most im­por­tantly how­ever, is the ac­com­mo­da­tion it­self. The Three Dag­gers has its own rooms, but also of­fers one of the most sump­tu­ous, pri­vate and well-equipped pri­vate hol­i­day rentals any­where in the re­gion. The Three Dag­gers Spa Barn is a com­plex of build­ings for pri­vate hire that sits high above the road and inn be­low, look­ing across to the vale be­yond. The vista is breath­tak­ing; stun­ning hill-lines, fields, vil­lages and dis­tant tow­ers and church spires fill the view. En­joy a lit­tle tran­quil­lity, qui­etly read­ing un­der soft light, on a comfy sofa whilst gaz­ing across the view from the com­fort of the glass-fronted barn that serves as the com­mu­nal liv­ing

“Silch­ester has to be one of the most in­cred­i­ble hid­den gems along the Great West Way... It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary place to visit; quiet, peace­ful and evoca­tive”

Pic­tured above: Eton High Street; Pic­tured be­low: Eton Col­lege; Pic­tured op­po­site page top to bot­tom- right: High­clere Cas­tle sig­nage and ex­te­rior; West Ken­net Long- bar­row; Great Bed­wyn, and the Ave­bury Stone Cir­cle

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