THE GREAT WEST WAY
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
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