Great West Way Travel Magazine


From the roaming deer in Richmond Park to whole areas of outstandin­g beauty amid rolling hills and green valleys, the Great West Way is one of the very best examples of England’s stunning countrysid­e

- Words: Emma Johnson

From the roaming deer in Richmond Park to whole areas of outstandin­g beauty amid rolling hills and green valleys


The surroundin­g countrysid­e of the Great West Way includes three Areas of Outstandin­g Natural Beauty - the Chilterns, the Cotswolds and the North Wessex Downs. AONBs are vast stretches of countrysid­e that have been designated for conservati­on due to their significan­t landscape value.

The Chilterns are the closest to London, stretching from the River Thames in southern Oxfordshir­e up through Buckingham­shire and Bedfordshi­re to Hitchin in Hertfordsh­ire. A living, working area of countrysid­e, nearly two thirds of it is given over to farmland, while a fifth of it is woodland. The chalk rock underlying the Chilterns gives it its distinctiv­e hillsides of velvety chalk downland. Further south, you come to the North Wessex Downs, which stretch across West Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshir­e and Wiltshire. They are home to Avebury as well as numerous other historic sites of importance, including eight white horses – carved out of chalk into the hillside and visible from miles around; Whitchurch Silk Mill – the oldest working silk mill in the UK still in its original building; and the now iconic Highclere Castle, the setting for Downtown Abbey.

Finally, further west and the route takes in the beautiful rolling hills of the South Cotswolds, home to the Slad Valley, made famous by Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie, whose hills glow golden as the sun sets. The Cotswolds is England’s largest designated AONB, and is famous for mile upon →

mile of rolling hills and quaint villages built in honey-coloured stone – including Bibury, Broadway and Lower and Upper Slaughter. If it is a countrysid­e getaway you are after then this area of the Great West Way is the perfect place to stay over for a night, or three. It is within easy access of some of the best attraction­s and most idyllic destinatio­ns along the route, and there are many beautiful hotels and traditiona­l bed and breakfast style accommodat­ion to choose from. If you do decide on a break in the Cotswolds be sure to take a look at Compass Holidays,

specialist­s in walking, cycling and activities in the area, and also visit, the official Cotswolds tourist informatio­n website for all the latest informatio­n.

The Cotswolds are also home to the beautiful Westonbirt, The National Arboretum with dozens of designated “champion trees”, the largest or tallest of their kind in Britain, and an impressive Treetop Walkway which runs through the tree canopy for 300 metres, providing a totally different look at the forest, from a unique vantage point.

Autumn is the most special time here, when hundreds of Japanese maples transform into a host of stunning colours, turning Westonbirt into a red, orange, russet and yellow wonderland.

Elsewhere, there is beauty to be found in the most diverse of places – from dazzling carpets of bluebells at West Woods just outside Marlboroug­h to nothing but silence in the designated Silent Space at Prior Park Landscape Garden in Bath. In Bristol you will find 4,500 plant species from over 200 plant families at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, or you can simply enjoy the amazing sight of thousands of rare orchids at Hartslock Nature Reserve

near Goring-on-Thames, south Oxfordshir­e.


Nothing starts your day quite so wonderfull­y as watching the sunrise with hundreds of free-roaming deer in Richmond Park. Watch as the morning mist clears to reveal a lush green expanse, rich with ancient trees and views of London in the far distance. Deer have roamed freely in this royal park since the seventeent­h century and it’s easy to get close to the herd here. Autumn is rutting season, when the stags might be seen clashing antlers, while May to July is your best chance of seeing tiny fawns, skittering alongside their mothers.

You can also enjoy free-roaming deer at the striking

Ashton Court Estate, near Bristol, a fine country mansion in 850 acres of woodland and pasture; and the spectacula­r

Dyrham Park, near Bath, where fallow deer roam around a 17th-century Baroque mansion, set in 274 acres of lush parkland.

Not too far away, the lush expanses and rolling hills of the Marlboroug­h Downs offer beautiful views and a feeling of total peace and escape. They are frequented by hundreds of native birds, including the rare corn bunting, coupled with grazing sheep and a carpet of wild flowers - harebells, cowslips and orchids amongst them. Part of the expansive Downs includes Savernake Forest, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, due to its rare lichens and fungi. Here, you’ll not only find some of the most ancient and intriguing­ly named oak trees – Bumble Oak, Cathedral Oak and the famous Big Belly Oak – but nightjars, woodpecker­s, crossbills, nightingal­es, numerous owls, buzzards, kestrels and red kites – and plenty of native Red and Roe deer.

Further south west, it’s worth taking a stroll around to try and spot Corsham’s free-roaming peacocks, who are famous for strutting down the pretty town’s high street. And don’t miss the rich host of wildlife in marshland at

Jones’s Mill Nature Reserve in the Pewsey Vale in the wonderful North Wessex Downs. Previously used as water meadows to encourage the growing of crops, this protected area is now home to kingfisher­s - a striking flash of blue and orange as they dart about the river - as well as water voles, dragonflie­s, water shrews, snipes and herons.

Heading back towards London, make sure to add the beautiful Chilterns to one of your stops, so you can spot stunning red kites soaring across the sky from October to April, and beautiful butterflie­s flitting about wildflower­s in the rare chalk grasslands throughout the summer months.


Some of England’s most famous and important heritage sites are situated just off the Great West Way, and there is none more impressive and beguiling than the entire World Heritage Site that is home to Stonehenge – an ancient and important prehistori­c monument that continues to fascinate visitors to this day. Historians are still pondering both how the stones got there and why, and its mystery remains a vital part of its appeal, which sees it attract over one million visitors a year. It is really worth exploring the whole World Heritage Site, and not just focusing on Stonehenge as there as so many hidden gems to seek out and discover.

You can also marvel at the ancient origins of the standing stones in Avebury, a Neolithic monument containing three stone circles, including the largest megalithic stone circle in the world, with a village built inside the stone surrounds. In addition, don’t miss Silbury Hill – a man-made chalk mound whose specific origins remain a mystery, and West Kennet Long Barrow, a Neolithic tomb, situated on a prominent chalk ridge, near Silbury Hill. The extensive and ancient history of this entire place continues to reveal its secrets, even in modern times, and remains one of the most fascinatin­g of English sites for archaeolog­ists and visitors alike.

Stonehenge and Avebury are both part of the same UNESCO World Heritage Site, an honour shared by two other sites easily accessible from the Great West Way. The entire city of Bath is one, a striking example of beautiful Georgian architectu­re, whose impressive crescents and cobbled streets feel both ancient and timeless. The incredible Roman Baths, the UK’s only natural hot springs, situated in the heart of the city, soothed aching muscles for over 2000 years and now feed the open-air rooftop pool at Bath’s Thermae Bath Spa.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is also a World Heritage Site, created in 1759, and boasting 330 acres of important landscape, several striking botanical glasshouse­s – including the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world and four Grade I listed buildings. Home to the largest and most diverse botanical and mycologica­l collection­s in the world, it boasts 30,000 different kinds of plants, some of which are extinct in the wild and an extensive arboretum of 14,000 trees, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in Britain. Its newest addition is a unique 17m-high honeycomb structure called The Hive, which takes you inside the world of honeybees using 900 LED lights and the sound of 40,000 bees.

All along the Great West Way you’ll find plenty of houses, parks, gardens and other places to visit. English Heritage sites and buildings are designated as important monuments to English history and are protected from developmen­t or unapproved work, so visitors are ensured an authentic and unspoilt journey back into the past. Highlights nearby include Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s former home; Donnington Castle, an impressive 14th century twin-towered gatehouse; Bratton Camp, an Iron Age hillfort complete with one of the area’s distinctiv­e white horses, a giant 17th century chalk carving of a horse, a major landmark and visible from miles around; and Harmondswo­rth Barn, a Grade I listed medieval barn near London, which ranks alongside the Houses of Parliament and Westminste­r Abbey for its exceptiona­l architectu­ral and historic interest.

If walking in nature, exploring the roads and paths less travelled, finding hidden gems and a host of native wildlife is your idea of the perfect short break, then why not plan a walking road trip down the Great West Way over the course of several days? There are a host of fantastic accommodat­ion options along the route, from bed and breakfasts in quintessen­tial villages and rental options in quaint cottages, to luxury hotels in grand houses.

You can find everything you need at GreatWestW­

 ??  ?? Pictured:
Poppy fields in early morning sunshine on the Marlboroug­h Downs, Wiltshire
Pictured: Poppy fields in early morning sunshine on the Marlboroug­h Downs, Wiltshire
 ??  ?? Pictured left to right: Fallow deer roam the parkland at Dyrham Park, near Bath; Corsham Court Peacocks; The Palladian Bridge at 18th-century landscape garden Prior Park, Bath; and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Pictured left to right: Fallow deer roam the parkland at Dyrham Park, near Bath; Corsham Court Peacocks; The Palladian Bridge at 18th-century landscape garden Prior Park, Bath; and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
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