The Vale of Pewsey is the ideal location to stay in when you visit Wiltshire. Why? Because, not only do you have a wealth of important historical places and landscape settings in the Vale, but you can so easily access significant places that are outside the Vale.
With an accommodation choice ranging from glamping in gypsy caravans, to camping, caravanning, self-catering and some of the most exquisite B&B’s, the Pewsey Vale provides a base from which you can explore the World Heritage sites as well as the more intimate, less well-known routes and places as well.
This blog provides a few suggestions for a couple of days’ activities when you visit the Pewsey Vale and is based on a whistle-stop tour we did with some American friends - we hope you enjoy it!
You will be pleased to hear that you don’t have to start too early to fit in all of these highlights!
We set off at about 9.30am after breakfast and drove through some of the lovely lanes en route to Stonehenge. Parking was very straightforward and, once parked, we took the shuttle bus down to the Stones. Having driven past them many times on the A303, I have to say they are very impressive close up and well worth the visit. What was also very interesting were the Neolithic Houses – or should I say the people who were guiding there - who were able to provide us with answers to our many questions about how people would have lived and worked at the time Stonehenge was built.
We spent about an hour and a half at Stonehenge and then drove back towards the Pewsey Vale to the villages of Bottlesford and Woodborough. These two small villages provide a great place to stop for lunch as, depending on the day of the week and how you feel, you can eat either at the thatched delight that is The Seven Stars Inn in Bottlesford or at Woodborough Garden Centre’s bright and airy café.
The Seven Stars Inn has an extensive lunchtime menu as well as local beers and ciders, with a lovely terrace and garden if the weather is fine and a log fire for when it isn't.
So after a leisurely lunch (and of course a bit of shopping!), it was back into the car to continue our journey northwards to Avebury (plenty of parking, but it does get full at certain times of the year and at weekends).
I think you have to visit Stonehenge at least once in your lifetime, but Avebury is just that bit more of a visitor experience – you can touch the stones and walk around them and so it perhaps is more true to how people would have interacted with the stones when they were first moved there. Guided tours are available and Avebury Manor is well worth visiting, but if you do both of these, you probably won’t have time for some of the other treats.
Back into the car to head a couple of miles southwards and a visit to Silbury Hill – the largest man-made mound in Europe and dating back to 2400BC. There is (limited) parking and the information boards are very helpful, however you can’t actually access the hill as the area is protected. But you do have a good view of it and it’s worth taking a few minutes to marvel at it.
Then we were off again, heading eastwards along the A4. Although it’s an A road, the countryside and views are fabulous and it’s a lovely drive.
After about 6 miles or so, you will enter the market town of Marlborough, past Marlborough College and into the centre of the town. Marlborough has the second widest High Street in Britain and the widest in England – mainly due to a series of fires that took place in the 17th century. As a result, the buildings are Georgian and Victorian making a very striking town centre, with lots of independent shops. Depending on the time of year, daylight hours and the traffic, you may have time for a stop in Marlborough – parking is in the High Street or behind Waitrose. The Merchant’s House – a 350 year old restored silk merchant’s house - is well worth a visit.
Back into the car and we took the A4 out of Marlborough heading eastwards and about 3.5 miles out of Marlborough, there is a right-hand turning into Savernake Forest (signposted to Crofton Beam Engines and Wilton Windmill).
Savernake Forest is an ancient hunting forest dating back to the 10th century and was much frequented by King Henry VIII. It is believed that it is at Savernake that he met Jane Seymour, with Wolf Hall being just a couple of miles away. Savernake holds the record for the longest tree-lined avenue – Grand Avenue – which is 3.9 miles long and is absolutely dead straight. You can drive through the forest via Grand Avenue, but the potholes are quite extensive so it takes a bit longer than you think it will. The beech trees in the forest are beautiful and if you are visiting in spring time, the whole forest floor is covered in bluebells – very striking particularly when the sunlight is filtering through the trees.
Built in 1821 as a result of local watermills ceasing to work because the watercourses had been harnessed for the Kennet & Avon Canal, Wilton Windmill is the oldest working windmill in the South West of England. It still produces wholemeal, stone-ground flour which is available at many local outlets. The Windmill is only open for guided tours on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays from 2pm to 5pm from Easter to the end of September, but the site is open all year round. The Windmill is magnificent from the outside and the views are spectacular. It is at this moment that you really appreciate you are in the middle of the North Wessex Downs – this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty encompasses the Vale of Pewsey which makes up about one third of the total area.
From the Windmill, you can walk or drive down into Wilton. Just be warned that you should not leave anything in the car as unfortunately, even in these most beautiful of surroundings, thieves operate at all times of the year.
We then followed this circular walk which takes you along Wilton Water – an extensive man-made lake used for topping up the Kennet & Avon Canal and home to lots of wildfowl in the environs – along the Kennet & Avon Canal and past Crofton Beam Engines.
Crofton Beam Engines is the pumping house for the Kennet & Avon Canal and houses the oldest working beam engine in the world (although modern electric pumps are used on a daily basis nowadays). You need to check their website for opening times, but they are open most days during the spring, summer and autumn and have an excellent café with home-made cakes. They also have steaming days when you can see the engines in action. It is a most magnificent building from the outside, even if you don’t manage to see the inside.
A right turn takes you up the Roman Road and if you just stop for a moment at the top and look back into the valley and across to the Windmill, you can see the story of the Industrial Revolution in just that one small area – Wilton Windmill, Crofton Beam Engines, Kennet & Avon Canal and the Great Western Railway – and what is really amazing is that they are all still working and doing the jobs they were originally built for.
Carry on up to where the Roman Road meets the lane and turn right to go back into the village of Wilton – and stop for a late lunch perhaps at The Swan Inn.
So, just a couple of days’ of walking and driving in and around the Vale of Pewsey and we lost count of how many things we had seen of historical importance and the variety of landscapes that we had passed through.
Our American friends were blown away by how much they saw in two days and although there was still much more for them to see, we had run out of time.
We think you will blown away too – but take our advice and make your break in the Vale of Pewsey more than two days!