Wiltshire is a landlocked county in southwest England. It’s world famous as the home of Salisbury Plain – location of the Stonehenge and Avebury stone circles – plus other ancient landmarks among its valleys. Salisbury’s mediaeval cathedral is another notable local attraction. The county also boasts attractive countryside, towns and villages.
Wiltshire shares borders with Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. Its county town is Trowbridge (which replaced its predecessor, Wilton).
Historically, the region is notable for its pre-Roman archaeology. The Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age people that occupied southern Britain built settlements here. These days, Wiltshire’s economy benefits from the ‘M4 corridor effect’ attracting businesses. Swindon is host to corporations like Honda, Intel, Motorola, WHSmith, the Early Learning Centre and Nationwide; Dyson is located in Malmesbury. Manufacturing industries nowadays provide much local employment. There are sizeable British Army barracks here, too.
Wiltshire natives are locally nicknamed ‘moonrakers’. This originates from a yarn about smugglers foiling excise collectors by hiding alcohol in a village pond. Stirring the pond to disguise their barrels with ripples, the smugglers claimed they were trying to rake in a round cheese – really a reflection of the moon. The officials decided they were simpletons and left them to it.
Road: Ancient roads running through Wiltshire include The Ridgeway and the Roman-built Fosse Way and Ermin Way. Major roads like the M4 motorway, the A4 trunk road, the A350, and A417 also pass through the county.
Rail: Three main railway routes cross Wiltshire:the Great Western Main Line;Wessex Main Line; and the West of England Main Line. The main stations are at Salisbury and Westbury with additional junctions at Swindon, Chippenham and Trowbridge.There’s also the Swindon and Cricklade Railway in the Thames Valley.
Foot/Cycle: National Cycle Route 4 and the long-distance Thames Path footpath run through the county.
Water: The River Thames and Kennet and Avon Canal are navigable.
Air: Airports near Wiltshire include Bristol Airport, Gloucestershire Airport, London Oxford Airport, London Heathrow Airport and Southampton Airport. (Local airfields include Old Sarum, Clench Common and Redlands.)
Wiltshire has a definite character of classic Englishness. It’s home to numerous scenic locations for house-hunters. Salisbury is a classic country town with one of Britain’s best cathedrals, the Old Sarum ruins and a lively centre. The cute village of Avebury hosts the biggest stone circle in the world. Bradford on Avon is an attractive maze of stairways, alleys, courtyards, and waterside walks. The National Trust preserves ancient Lacock like a museum. Malmesbury is a grand old hill town. And Old Wardour and south Wiltshire offer English countryside at its best.
The Guardian reviewed the small market town of Chippenham, saying: “There's a rather nice old town at the heart, perched on a bluff above a curl in the Avon, that makes for an affordable base,” within commuting distance of Bath or Bristol or the Cotswolds. It also mentioned the town’s remaining 18th-century streets, retail parks, precincts, and well-regarded local schools.
As for its housing? “The gorgeous St Mary Street in East Tytherton is lined with plum properties a lot cheaper than in neighbouring spots: Georgian, 18th-century and Tudor/Stuart. Also the Causeway and out on London Road. Hardenhuish for big, blowsy suburbans. Frogwell, around Hungerdown and Derriads Lane, and close to the station around John Coles Park, Monkton Park and Bristol Road, for affordable family homes. Or try Pewsham and Cepen Park.”
Whether you fancy exploring the medieval city of Salisbury or would like some retail therapy, Wiltshire has lots to offer. Wander the pretty streets of Bradford on Avon and shop in the town’s many independent stores. You can take a break in one of the local tearooms or cafes and enjoy canal-side or riverside views.
You can shop until you drop on Marlborough’s historic high street (incidentally one of the widest in Europe). Here you’ll find independent boutiques alongside high-street favourites. Look out for the twice-weekly market for local produce, clothing and much more. If you visit St Peter’s and St Paul’s Church at one end of the street you’ll find local crafts, photography and artwork for sale (within the church).
The shopping in Swindon is great, featuring prices to suit all budgets. The local retail cornerstone is the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet, offering the latest fashions at bargain prices. The town centre also offers a mixture of shops, many within the Brunel Centre and Parade area. An annual Christmas Market is located in Salisbury city’s Guildhall Square.
Sport: Swindon Town play at the County Ground stadium. Salisbury play in the Wessex Football League. Wiltshire County Cricket Club predominantly play at Trowbridge but also in Corsham and Salisbury. Swindon Robins Speedway team have been at Blunsdon Abbey Stadium since 1949. Swindon Wildcats ice hockey club play home games at the Link Centre.
Cultural: Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site is globally famous for its prehistoric stone circle; it’s one of the world’s most instantly recognisable monuments.The Stonehenge Visitor Centre and the Alexander Keiller Museum explain local history. You can learn more at Salisbury Museum or the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. Stonehenge ATV offers off-roading trips onto Salisbury Plain. Salisbury Plain Safaris offer similar nature, wildlife, off-roading and heritage tours.
Outdoors: Almost half of Wiltshire is designated with Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These areas are part of The Cotswolds, Cranborne Chase, West Wiltshire Downs, and the North Wessex Downs. Cotswold Water Park hosts over 150 lakes and is great for angling and water sports. Enjoy scenic views along The Wessex Ridgeway Jubilee Trail and Monarch’s Way. Or enjoy a day out at attractions including Longleat, Stourhead, the Larmer Tree Gardens and Old Wardour Castle. National Nature Reserves lie at Fyfield Down and Pewsey Down, and there’s also a Wiltshire Bird Tour. The long-distance Imber Range Perimeter Path gives views across Salisbury Plain.
Events: Some of Wiltshire’s biggest annual happenings include the Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival, WOMAD, Chippenham Folk Festival, Larmer Tree Festival and Chalke Valley History Festival. There’s also Cycle Wiltshire and the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race. Free events include the Downton Cuckoo Fair, Devizes International Street Festival and Carnival with its colourful confetti battle, and the St George’s Day celebrations in Salisbury.