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Rural Life Guide

Rural Life Guide

Escape to the country for farmers’ markets, shepherd huts and cosy pubs. 

The Great West Way provides wonderful opportunities for experiencing England’s rich and varied rural life. However you choose to travel the route, whether on a scenic road trip or a cross-country hike, you’re sure to pass through green and pleasant land. In fact you’ll be surprised how little you have to travel outside London to encounter lush green fields and friendly village chit-chat. Here’s some attractions, farm stays, markets and more that you might like to visit on your travels:

Country attractions 

The Museum of English Rural Life in Reading is a must if you want to learn more about the English countryside, and indeed understand the story of the country itself. Although you might expect it to be in the middle of nowhere, given the subject matter, it’s only 30 minutes by train from London. Meanwhile Cogges Manor Farm, a short detour from the Great West Way in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, has been around for centuries and offers an enchanting glimpse at farming through the ages. 

There’s plenty of rural attractions for the kids, too. Take them to one of the many family-friendly farms along the route where they can meet horses, cows, pigs and sheep and enjoy tractor rides, goat feeding and egg collecting. Try Cotswold Farm Park, Odds Farm Park, Fantastic Animal Farm or Roves Farm. Top tip: In spring - lambing season - many farms hold open days so tots can see fuzzy newborn lambs up close. 

Stay on a farm 

To get an authentic feel for life on the land, wake up to the sound of cockerels at one of the fabulous farms along the Great West Way.

Depending on what sort of experience you want, you could stay at a lovely luxurious farmhouse B&B like Marshwood Farm near Salisbury or Great Ashley Farm in Bradford-on-Avon. You could try glamping, and get back to nature in a snuggly shepherd hut on rolling farmland (Rushall Organics Farm is one of many along the touring route offering such rustic romance). Or you could get stuck in with a full-on farm stay. Mill Farm in Devizes offers lots of farm-based experiences alongside its accommodation, from badger watching to donkey rides. 

There’s also a burgeoning selection of rural craft courses available - try making your own traditional wooden rake in the woods at Warminster with Explore the Great Outdoors. Top tip: If you’re interested in organic farming and happy to volunteer, WWOOF can connect you with local smallholdings where you can learn new skills helping out around the farm. 

Did you know? A short drive north of the Great West Way you’ll find the celebs’ favourite farm stay: Soho Farmhouse. Non-members can stay at this posh Cotswolds retreat, which is excellent news if you’re a city dweller through-and-through but like the idea of taking in countryside views alongside the likes of the Clooneys and the Beckhams.

Farmers markets & country shows

Yes, many market towns along the touring route do still hold markets! As do cities and even some villages too. Check out the Thames Valley Farmers’ Market Co-operative for upcoming markets featuring the best produce from the surrounding area, from eggs, cheese and meat to fresh heritage veg, honeys and jams. Regular locations include Ascot, Newbury, Reading and Windsor. 

Country shows are also a great way to get to grips with rural life, showcasing everything from flower arrangements to prize livestock. There’s usually a huge array of local produce to sample, too. And stalls selling rural fashions (including wax jackets, feathered hats and equestrian boots) and homespun crafts. Royal Bath and West Show at the end of May/beginning of June is one of the biggest. Then there’s the Cotswolds Show and Food Festival in July and Wiltshire Game & Country Show at Bowood House in September.

Country walks, pubs & rural traditions 

On Sundays, many Brits love a gentle walk in the countryside followed by a Sunday roast and a pint in a country pub. Due to this you’ll find rural pubs are usually understanding if you plod in wearing walking boots with a muddy pup by your side. Take a look at our 10 best short walks and 10 long distance walking trails for some pawsibilities. 

Even if you don’t go for a walk, you should visit the local pub in whichever picturesque village you’re staying in as they’re often the focal point of the community. Some exceptional pubs along the touring route include The Three Tuns Freehouse at Great Bedwyn, The Wild Duck at Ewen, The Sign of the Angel at Lacock and The Methuen Arms, Corsham. But you’ll find pubs a-plenty - just look for inviting wood fires and local ales on tap. 

Pubs are also a great place to discover rural traditions, especially in the Cotswolds where if you’re lucky you’ll find skittle-like pub game Aunt Sally being played. The villages of the region are also good places to catch Morris Dancing (see The Morris Ring for more information and an events calendar) and Mummers Plays - rhyming comedic folk plays that tour pubs around Christmas time. 

Finally, don’t forget to read our list of 10 ridiculously pretty villages - pick your favourites to begin plotting your bespoke rural itinerary. 

A few more ideas… 

●    Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre 
●    Chiltern Open Air Museum 
●    Chiltern Retreat rural camping 
●    Buttle Farm charcuterie, Calne 

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Product Information

  1. Museum of English Rural Life


    The Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL) is England’s most extensive museum dedicated to farming, food, craft, rural life and countryside issues.

    Indicative Availability

    Book Museum of English Rural Life Online

  2. Roves Farm Visitor Centre


    Roves Farm is a family run, working farm open all year round. We welcome visitors of all ages to come and enjoy hands-on farm activities with our friendly animals, as well as experience the sights and sounds of a working farm.
    This summer join the ‘Nature Detectives’ and enjoy Woodland Crafts, Den…

  3. Buttle Farm


    Chalk Barn is a luxury contemporary style cottage at Buttle Farm with many original features, beautifully converted, with huge superking beds, stunning en-suites and spacious reception rooms, available as a 2, 3 or 4-bedroom option.

  4. Bradford on Avon

    One of the most compelling features about Bradford on Avon is its unique position on the edge of the Cotswolds facing the River Avon.

    The ancient bridge in the centre of the town remains its natural focus and the bridge still retains two of its original 13th-century arches. The historical view…

  5. Devizes


    Devizes is a historic market town with a colourful Medieval past, wealth of history and architectural heritage with more than 500 listed buildings and a large Market Place in the heart of the town.   This can all be enjoyed as you discover the wide range of traditional independent shops or peruse…

  6. What's happening in Newbury?


    Alongside the Kennet & Avon Canal, the largest town in West Berkshire, Newbury, has a bustling high street with many interesting shops, which include unique stores such as family-run department store Camp Hopson.

  7. Reading


    Be amazed by modern Reading – from remarkable medieval heritage and beautiful Thames countryside to award-winning shopping centres, there’s a surprise around every corner.

  8. The Three Tuns Freehouse


    We are an award-winning independent Freehouse with an excellent local reputation for the quality of our food and beers.  Run by Chef Proprietor James Wilsey who spent many years cooking in some of the top pubs and bistros in London, so expect full flavour, honest, seasonal cooking.

  9. Lacock Abbey Village and Fox Talbot Museum


    A quirky country house and grounds, built on the foundations of a medieval nunnery, that celebrates the scientific genius of the inventor of the photographic negative.

    Indicative Availability

    Book Lacock Abbey Village and Fox Talbot Museum Online

  10. Corsham

    Corsham is something of a hidden gem in Wiltshire. On the fringe of the Cotswolds, this historic market town is surrounded by beautiful countryside and is home to a number of historic buildings, including the Almshouses and Corsham Court with its Capability Brown picture gallery.

    There’s The Pound…

Itinerary Distances

FromToDistance * (metric)
Museum of English Rural Life (51.44806,-0.95882)Roves Farm Visitor Centre (51.59767,-1.70119)48.65
Roves Farm Visitor Centre (51.59767,-1.70119)Buttle Farm (51.44469,-1.95251)21.92
Buttle Farm (51.44469,-1.95251)Bradford on Avon (51.34764,-2.25062)21.02
Bradford on Avon (51.34764,-2.25062)Devizes (51.35258,-1.99576)15.96
Devizes (51.35258,-1.99576)What's happening in Newbury? (51.40368,-1.32427)42.31
What's happening in Newbury? (51.40368,-1.32427)Reading (51.45239,-0.97383)22.43
Reading (51.45239,-0.97383)The Three Tuns Freehouse (51.38026,-1.60376)40.02
The Three Tuns Freehouse (51.38026,-1.60376)Lacock Abbey Village and Fox Talbot Museum (51.41406,-2.11936)32.41
Lacock Abbey Village and Fox Talbot Museum (51.41406,-2.11936)Corsham (51.43437,-2.18455)4.55
Total Distance *249.22 miles
Estimated Journey Time8.02 hours

* Approximate distance by road

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