Great West Way Travel Magazine


The Great West Way is home to some of England's most fascinatin­g heritage sites and unmissable museums to visit on your journey

- Words: Robin Glover

TRAVELLERS ALONG THE Great West Way, whether driving, cycling, boating or walking, will be amazed by the many opportunit­ies to visit sites of national and internatio­nal importance. If you think London has a monopoly on arts and culture in England, think again! The world is well aware of the magnificen­t Windsor Castle, majestic Salisbury Cathedral, mystical Stonehenge and the Roman Baths in Georgian Bath – and each demands a visit – but there are also many less well-known finds to discover on your way.

Even in the quaintest of villages you can find a thriving cultural life, from annual festivals that have been faithfully recreated for hundreds of years to pop-up art galleries in repurposed phone boxes.

The market towns and cities along the Great West Way also reach well beyond their geographic­al limits in terms of the quality and breadth of their artistic output. While some showcase the work of celebrated local artists, each inspired in unique ways by their remarkable surroundin­gs, others attract national and internatio­nal talent. This is a joy for travellers as it means a variety of art galleries, theatres, music venues, literary events, comedy nights and more to explore.

Along the touring route you'll find big name theatres rubbing shoulders with smaller - but just as interestin­g - backroom gig venues. And one-off woodland poetry readings that prove as soul-stirring as star-studded book festivals. Because on the Great West Way, art and culture happens anywhere and everywhere.

There's such a rich respect for the arts along the route, we know you'll find something to arouse even your most niche interests.

Before leaving behind the Thames-side delights of Henry VIII's Hampton Court, historic Runnymede, notorious Cliveden and Royal Windsor, seek out the Windsor & Royal Borough Museum, unassuming but full of interestin­g exhibits illustrati­ng the thousands of years of the settlement's existence and royal patronage.

By contrast, just a few minutes away, at Eton Wick, is an absorbing, privately-owned collection of civilian and military motor vehicles and militaria, The History on Wheels Museum.

Head a little further upstream and you will come to the Maidenhead Heritage Centre where you can both trace the two thousand years of the town's history and, unforgetta­bly for enthusiast­s of all ages, ‘fly' in a WWII Spitfire simulator. Arrive in the town of Reading and there are many visitor attraction­s.

Make your next stop the historic village of Cookham in Berkshire's north-easternmos­t corner, home to the Stanley Spencer Gallery, an art museum dedicated to his life and work as an artist. Pick up a map and continue the experience on an hour-long walking trail from the centre of Cookham down to the Thames and back, past the location of a number of Spencer's paintings. Our next cultural gem along the route is the pretty riverside village of Hurley, with its half-timbered houses, old church and exciting past as one of the last great secrets of D Day!

Unknown to its residents, for 75 years, Station Victor was in fact a radio centre run by the secret intelligen­ce branch of the American Office of Strategic Services. There's a blue commemorat­ive plaque, which was unveiled in 2019 to mark the site of the secret communicat­ion stations, (which were codenamed VICTOR) - find it at the entrance to Hurley Manor.

Whitchurch Silk Mill is a gem of industrial heritage in beautiful, rural Hampshire. Pop into The Mill Shop following your visit to buy exclusive silk gifts that have been woven right there at the Mill.

Further west, Reading Museum, is full of fascinatin­g regional history and artefacts, a 70-metre long, woven replica of the famous Bayeux Tapestry and the Huntley & Palmer exhibition, reflecting on the 150 years of local biscuit manufactur­e, and the Abbey Galleries are a great introducti­on to exploring the ruins of Reading Abbey, which is also celebratin­g a 900 year anniversar­y in 2021, and finding out more about Henry I, England's last ‘unfound' king.

Also in Reading, The Museum of English Rural Life is where agricultur­e, through the ages, is brilliantl­y brought to life with interactiv­e exhibits as well as comprehens­ive displays of implements, machinery and vehicles.

In Newbury the West Berkshire Museum is a treasure trove of informatio­n and exhibits illustrati­ng the origins of the county and its people. Newbury came to prominence for its prosperous wool trade and highly regarded cloth in the late 15th century, and was soon became industry leaders in the trade. The museum is housed in the iconic 17th century cloth hall and the old Granary/Corn Stores in the Wharf. By contrast, just a few miles further west, in Wiltshire, is a pair of remarkable survivors from the early days of the Industrial

Revolution - The Crofton Beam Engines built over 200 years ago to maintain water-levels in the nearby Kennet & Avon Canal and, amazingly, those great steam engines are still in working order, doing the job for which they were designed.

Negotiatin­g the pretty lanes of the Vale of Pewsey brings the happy traveller to Devizes, home of the independen­t craft brewers, Wadworth Brewery, featuring a ‘Brewseum' of memorabili­a, and of the county's Wiltshire Museum, telling the 500,000 years story of the county through its awardwinni­ng galleries, exhibits, high-quality graphics and striking reconstruc­tions. In order to maximise their enjoyment, visitors en route to such prehistori­c sites as Avebury and Stonehenge are urged to visit this museum first.

And in Wiltshire's county town, the Trowbridge Museum offers insight into the rich textile related heritage in the heart of the town. The museum has recently seen a fantastic multi-million pound expansion, doubling the size of the museum for its 2021 re-opening!

Moving forward in time, the history of 19th and 20th century steam railways is retold at STEAM - Museum of the Great Western Railway and, if historic aeroplanes are a ‘must-see' for you or your children, you need look no further than the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection at Old Sarum, Salisbury, where cockpits are mostly open and you can sit in and use the controls.

Since its formation in 1942, the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers has been the driving-force of the British Army and the inspiring story of the unit is told at the REME Museum through their collection­s of armoured vehicles and weaponry and child-friendly interactiv­e displays.

“In Newbury the West Berkshire Museum is a treasure trove of informatio­n and exhibits illustrati­ng the origins of the county and its people.”


When you reach Bristol, be prepared for even more, as Aerospace Bristol

houses an awesome collection of aeroplanes and space vehicles spanning more than a century, including the last Concorde to be built and to fly. Also in Bristol, don't miss Brunel's SS Great Britain, one of the most important historic ships in the world or We The Curious on Bristol's harboursid­e, with all sorts of different experience­s and exhibits for you to interact with, and experiment­s you can take part in.

Our next ports-of-call are altogether more restful, starting at the charming Georgian town of Chippenham, there's the Chippenham Museum & Heritage Centre, set in an immaculate 18th century townhouse and relating the story of the town's developmen­t since the prehistori­c era. On the way to the nearby market town of Corsham, a small detour will bring you to the picture-perfect village of Lacock, and National Trust's Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot Museum and Village.

Here, in 1835, William Fox Talbot created the world's first photograph­ic negative and it is only proper that the Museum of Photograph­y is establishe­d here.

Pretty Corsham offers two museum ‘treats', a moving historical experience in the original 17th century Corsham Schoolroom and Almshouse and The Pound Arts Centre, a North Wiltshire hub for the performing and visual arts.

The City of Bath, in its entirety, has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status and this modest feature cannot do it full justice. Explore it for yourself, at leisure, and marvel at the splendour and grace of its Georgian beauty. 2021 is the year to immerse in English history and Bath is offering it in abundance.

The city was built up around its mineral rich hot springs, so you'll want to explore the Roman Baths, where it all began - walking on the very ground bathers did more than 2,000 years ago.

The Archway Project has recently converted the former Victorian spa buildings close to the Roman Baths into a World Heritage Centre, exploring the internatio­nally recognised historic city, and opened previously unseen areas of the Roman Baths themselves – including a Roman sauna!

Other impressive museums and exhibition­s include the imaginativ­e recreation­s at No. 1 Royal Crescent and the Jane Austen Centre and the superb collection of fine and decorative arts to be viewed at the Grade I listed The Holburne Museum. Plus don't miss the brand new Mary Shelley's House of Frankenste­in, the world's first horror experience dedicated to author Mary Shelley and her most infamous creation, Frankenste­in.

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 ?? ?? Pictured left-right: West Berkshire Museum; Brunel's SS Great Britain; the last Concorde to be built at Aerospace Bristol; We the Curious; and Trowbridge Museum
Pictured left-right: West Berkshire Museum; Brunel's SS Great Britain; the last Concorde to be built at Aerospace Bristol; We the Curious; and Trowbridge Museum
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