What is it about the English countryside – why is the beauty so much more than visual? -Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle
If you remember my post on Salisbury, you’ll know I spent three sunny days in Wiltshire earlier this year. I was lucky enough to see famous sights like Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral, but Visit Wiltshire had way more in store for me. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then hopefully this 60-second video (another lovely creation by Jelayna) will go above and beyond in terms of capturing the insanely beautiful English countryside.
There’s really no better way to explore Wiltshire’s small villages and rural landscape than by car. We were lucky to be with David Hutchison, owner of Heritage Holidays, for the day. David is a qualified Blue Badge Guide with a Cambridge degree in Archaeology and an incredible passion for English history and culture. He provides customized tours for anyone wishing to properly explore Southern England. Not only was my trip with David one of the highlights of my time in Wiltshire, but thanks to him, I gained such an appreciation for the English countryside and fell even more in love with this beautiful country.
There are several reasons why you should take time to explore England, outside of its famous cities, but I’ll just share with you my favorite and most convincing!
#1 HIDDEN GEMS
One huge benefit of traveling by car throughout Wiltshire and the neighboring county of Somerset, was being able to literally pull over on the side of the road whenever we felt like getting out and exploring! David knew all of the hidden gems worth visiting so our time was wisely spent at some pretty cool locations.
If you’re a castle enthusiast (who isn’t?!), then you’ll love visiting Nunney Castle as much as I did. Built in the 14th-century, this castle is a rare example of French-style architecture. It was extensively modernized in the late 16th-century when the castle was held for the King during the Civil War, but it quickly fell to Parliamentarian cannon in 1645.
I was already excited enough to be visiting ruins of a 700 year old castle, but the fact that it has a moat completely sent me over the edge! Not literally, thankfully, but my excitement levels were off the charts.
David caught on pretty fast that I’m a fan of castles so we stopped at Farleigh Hungerford Castle too, because in England, you’re never more than 20 minutes away from a castle. Don’t quote me on that, but I really wouldn’t doubt it!
This medieval castle was also built in the 14th-century and was home to the Hungerford family for two centuries. Both of these castles are free to visit and are open every day of the week. Spending 30-60 minutes at each is more than enough, which makes them perfect road trip stops.
If 700 years of history isn’t impressive enough, head to The Saxon Church of St Laurence in the charming town of Bradford-on-Avon. Dating back to the 10th or 11th century (some argue even AD 700!), St Laurence’s Church is one of the few surviving Anglo-Saxon churches in England. So if the castles weren’t reason enough to visit England, there’s a 1,000-year-old-church in the middle of Wiltshire that’s free to enter in case you’re interested! Incredible.
#2 QUALITY FOOD
Ancient churches and castles are tough acts to follow but food is equally as exciting, right? In the countryside, there are naturally several farms in the area which provide quality produce to the surrounding shops and restaurants.
White Row Farm Shop is a perfect example of “crop to shop” and we got to enjoy a little wander around their market. They also have a cafe and restaurant where you’ll find that everything is freshly made and prepared using produce from the farm. This place really charmed me, probably because I’m a city girl from Los Angeles who’s never stepped foot on a farm. Don’t hold that against me!
Charm doesn’t even begin to describe The George Inn in the village of Norton St Philip. This Grade I listed building is over 700 years old and is situated in the most idyllic setting, overlooking the rolling green hills and the village church. Honestly, I felt like I was temporarily in a Jane Austen novel while looking out onto this view.
It turns out that they filmed the 1995 TV adaptation of Persuasion here so I wasn’t too far off! We didn’t get a chance to eat in the cozy pub, but it smelled amazing and it’s one of the first places I’ll return to when I’m back in England.
We chose to eat in the village of Lacock, which you’ll read more about down below, at Sign of the Angel. I wouldn’t even describe this place as a restaurant. I felt as if I were eating in someone’s home. We grabbed a spot by the large fireplace and enjoyed the atmosphere of this 15th-century coaching inn. Do yourself a favor and order the fish and chips. It was so good that I even tried their mushy peas, which I never eat. I don’t know what they put in it to taste less like peas, but it was delicious and now I’m hungry just thinking about it.
#3 CHARMING VILLAGES
I honestly lost track of the number of picturesque villages we passed through on our road trip with David. He explained to us that in the past, a proper English village consisted of a church, a general store, and one school that all the children in the village attended. Nowadays, there aren’t many traditional villages left but there are a select few that have hardly changed throughout the centuries.
Lacock is one of those villages! The village is owned almost entirely by the National Trust which helps maintain its unspoiled appearance. Not surprisingly, Lacock was used as a film set for the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, which is why the streets might look a bit familiar.
Head straight to Lacock Abbey if you’re a die-hard Harry Potter fan or history buff. This picturesque country home dates back to the 13th century, built upon the foundations of a former nunnery. Visitors can explore the medieval rooms which may be recognizable from the first and second Harry Potter Films. Several of these rooms, as well as the cloisters, were used as the classrooms and school hallways of Hogwarts. There are so many different layers of history to discover and learn about in Lacock.
Castle Combe was our last stop of the day and at this point, I shouldn’t have been surprised that David saved the best for last. The village of Castle Combe is one of the prettiest in England and one of the most popular among tourists visiting The Cotswolds. The main street off of the market square is lined with stone cottages and quaint shops. Even though it’s quite popular, large tour buses are not allowed in the village which keeps it fairly quiet. We visited on a week day as well which is another reason why it was so empty, which I loved. With absolutely no modern buildings, Castle Combe looks completely unaffected by the passing of time.
The second I left Castle Combe, I already missed it and started planning in my head when I’d return. Wiltshire blew me away and I’ve been raving about it to anyone who will listen. I was even interviewed on BBC Wiltshire Radio for the Jonathan Morrell Morning Show to speak about my time in England! Have a listen here if you’d like, it’s just a few minutes long!
Are you a city girl like me who enjoys trips to the country? Are you planning a visit to England soon? Let me know in the comments below!
*Note: HUGE thanks to Visit Wiltshire for sponsoring me on this trip! However, opinions are entirely my own. I would only ever recommend somewhere that I actually enjoyed!