Days out in Wiltshire
Offering a wide range of mainly open-air activities, attractions, and family days out, Wiltshire is an ideal place to explore if you’re not worried about being exposed to the elements. With just one city to discover, the county town of Salisbury, much of the history and heritage Wiltshire is renowned for lies beyond the city walls.
But for things to do in Salisbury, you won’t find yourself at a loose end. Visiting the famous medieval Cathedral should be your first port of call. With Britain’s tallest spire and largest cathedral close, together with a copy of the Magna Carta dating back to the 13th-century, there’s plenty to take in. Tackling one of the city’s Treasure Trails is a great way to explore the wider city, or visit the historic city centre for some big brand and local independent shopping.
But exploring further afield is where you’ll find plenty to see and do. To immerse yourself in some of Wiltshire’s – and Britain’s – most ancient history, a visit to Salisbury Plain and the iconic, prehistoric monument of Stonehenge is essential, as is the stone circle, just north in Avebury. While you’re visiting Avebury, don’t miss out on seeing Silbury Hill, the largest artificial mound in Europe dating back to 2400 BC. All three of these famous landmarks are part of a World Heritage site.
For activities to get the blood pumping, taking one of the popular circular walks around Westbury White Horse will give you stunning views of the surrounding countryside as well as the 180ft (55m) tall feature carved into the chalky hillside. Go exploring off-the-beaten-track by horseriding across the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or, for a totally fun-filled family day out, you can’t beat the magic of Longleat Safari Park.
For more relaxing days out, a visit to any of Wiltshire’s small, historic market towns will uncover some wonderful names as well as places to see. Just a handful well worthy of a visit includes Bradford-on-Avon, Devizes, Malmesbury, Royal Wootton Bassett, and Wilton, all offering a chance to explore, discover local walks and soak up the historic atmosphere.
Topography, geology, and climate
With a green belt in the west (part of the wider Avon Green Belt) and sharing two areas of outstanding natural beauty, Wiltshire is undoubtedly a rural county consisting of pastoral fields, hills, and valleys. But even without a coastline, its glorious countryside landscape and land qualities still offer a diverse range of soil types.
Covering the north and west of the county, its largely fertile mix of loam and clay soils are mildly acidic, but base-rich, but do include pockets of freely draining sand and loam soils. The east features predominantly lime-rich soils interspersed with free-draining loam-based soils. But the south of the county is almost entirely made up of the shallow, lime-rich soils above the chalk and limestone Wiltshire is famous for.
Alongside the rest of the south-west counties, Wiltshire’s weather follows a similar pattern. Being of a temperate climate, the county often sees warmer temperatures in the height of summer, hovering around an average of 21ºC (70ºF). This warmer climate continues into the winter months and milder temperatures average 2ºC (35ºF).
Annual rainfall is also variable with differences between the north and south of the county. While this averages out at around 800mm (31”), with more on the higher grounds of Salisbury Plain and the North Wessex Downs, rainfall can be higher in the south thanks to its relative distance to the English Channel.
Stourhead is an 18th-century landscape garden, with a lake and woodland of 16 hectares, set within a larger estate of park, wood and farmland. The lake is surrounded by a series of classical temples and follies.
Bowood is an 18th-century landscape park and woodland of some 36 hectares, with a 19th-century terraced garden. There is also a separate 19th- and 20th-century rhododendron woodland of 20 hectares, set within a larger park, woodland and agricultural land of some 500 hectares.
Wiltshire’s parks and gardens
Alongside its ancient history and monuments, there are also plenty of places to see and gardens in Wiltshire to visit. From north to south and, of course, all across Salisbury Plain, the landscape of Wiltshire is a joy to discover, with its parks and gardens offering a relaxed day out for all expert and amateur gardeners, families, and kids alike.
- North Wiltshire
As well as being a popular wedding venue in Wiltshire, Abbey House Gardens in Malmesbury is also an attraction for gardeners the world over. The 5-acre garden sits alongside a 12th-century church, right on the River Avon and provides a feast for the eyes all year round. Colourful border displays of tulips and daffodils arrive in spring, while 2,000 roses and the circular herb garden, home to over 2,000 herbs, provide spectacle and scent through summer and beyond.
Just outside Chippenham, near the village of Derry Hill, Bowood House and Gardens sits in 100-acres of beautiful parkland, with its gardens renowned as perhaps the finest example of garden design by Capability Brown. With Italian-inspired terrace gardens, private walled gardens, vibrant herbaceous borders, and over 700 trees in its own arboretum, Bowood is a sight to behold throughout the year. Definitely not to be missed.
A few miles south in Bradford-on-Avon, lies Ilford Manor Estate. This Grade I Listed, Italian-styled garden was the former home of British landscape architect and garden designer, Howard Peto and enjoys magnificent views across the Ilford valley. This impeccably curated, hillside haven of tranquillity features glorious planting schemes in a series of terraces leading to The Cloister courtyard. While enjoying beautiful walks around the estate to take in the surrounding countryside, Ilford Manor is a must-see for both gardeners and garden designers.
- South Wiltshire
Once described as a ‘living work of art’, highly regarded National Trust property, Stourhead, near Mere on the outskirts of Cranborne Chase, presents a world-famous landscape garden. With a magnificent lake surrounded by mature Oak, Ash, Sycamore, and Spanish Chestnut trees among others, the garden’s circular walk lets you take in amazing views punctuated with stunning rhododendrons, azaleas, and pelargoniums. Don’t miss the classical temple or a chance to explore the enchanting grotto.
Heale Gardens, near Salisbury, features 8-acres of formal gardens and surrounding meadows with a stream running right through. With a superabundant collection of plants, shrubs, and flowers, including fabulous magnolia and roses, there’s a feature Japanese garden complete with bridge over the stream. Copious amounts of snowdrops near the river make for a wonderful sight in early spring.
Larmer Tree Gardens, just east of Shaftesbury, in Tollard Royal, is an incredibly popular, 12-acre English Heritage garden. As well as being a stunning wedding venue, the gardens are a joy to see at any time of the year. Between the ornate buildings, you’ll see a fabulous display of Camellias and Rhododendrons through spring, before an abundance of hydrangeas provides dazzling colour through summer. The woodland beyond also gives a fine palette of colour through the autumn. Look out for Macaws and peacocks throughout the gardens.