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A Guide to the Great Outdoors on the North Wessex Downs

A Guide to the Great Outdoors on the North Wessex Downs

Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the North Wessex Downs’ natural landscapes. As a vast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it’s no secret that the North Wessex Downs boasts some spectacular scenery. This 3-day itinerary takes you direct to a few of the highlights:

Day 1 

Travelling on foot is one of the most rewarding ways to experience the ancient landscapes of the North Wessex Downs. So let’s begin our adventure with a ramble...

There’s a multitude of 1-day routes available, depending on your fitness level and/or desire to take in other sites as you go. For an unforgettable introduction though, embark on a stretch of The Ridgeway. The National Trail is 87 miles in total, but there’s impressive panoramas along much of the route so a day hike will still bring ample rewards. You can also cycle much of the Ridgeway National Trail. National Cycle Network 4 runs through Savernake Forest and the town and to Avebury through the World Heritage Site, including Fyfield Down, an amazing and unique landscape studded with sarsen stones and signs of prehistoric activity.
Good to know: National Cycle Network 45 takes you north on the old railway to Swindon but is straighter, flatter and less scenic.

For a walk of just over 9 miles, start at the beginning - at Overton Hill near Avebury - and climb steadily to Barbury Castle, a sprawling iron age hill fort with commanding views. Finish up in the picturesque village of Ogbourne St George before getting a taxi back to Avebury, near where you began. Or use your Great West Way Pass on the famous No. 49 double decker bus that offers sweeping views of the downland landscape from the top deck.
Good to know: Active England can organise 4 and 6 day walks along the Great West Way, including lovely places to stay. 

Refuel at the Red Lion in Avebury. It might be getting dark outside, but as you tuck into your fish and chips, rest assured that a mesmerising neolithic stonescape awaits. 

If you stay the night at The Lodge, you’ll be in prime position to appreciate the stones at sunrise - this friendly vegetarian B&B is located inside the world’s largest prehistoric stone circle.
Top tip: If you have time, drop into the Alexander Keiller Museum and have a look at some of the weird and wonderful archaeological artefacts found in the area.  And don’t forget the spectacular ancient treasures from the area now on display in Devizes Museum.

Day 2 

After yesterday’s exertions, take it easy today. Luxuriate in a spa this morning - Bowood Hotel, Spa & Golf Resort will do very nicely indeed! Have a swim in their infinity pool and get lost in the dreamy views of the English countryside. Then sit, soak and reflect on what a wonderful break you’ve had so far.
Good to know: Bowood Hotel is in the grounds of Bowood Estate. Visit the Georgian house and gardens for an extra dose of luxury and to admire the pristine parkland of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. 

If you can drag yourself out of that sumptuous crystal steam room, stretch your legs with a gentle stroll in West Woods, just outside Marlborough.  West Woods were once part of ancient Savernake Forest, which covered a much larger area than it does today. Although famed for its dazzling display of bluebells in spring - it’s a joy year round. The beech woodlands are home to an attractive array of native flora and fauna so great for nature lovers or those practising mindfulness. Enjoy the waymarked footpaths and cycling trails. The long distance Wansdyke Trail also passes through the woods, following a mysterious earthwork that may have been built by the native Britons against Saxon invaders.
Top tip: If the weather’s good, take a picnic lunch to savour as you listen to the birdsong. (If you’re visiting on a Saturday or Wednesday, pick up some fresh local produce from the market on Marlborough High Street.)

Spend the night in Marlborough, a refined English town by the River Kennet. It’s home to Marlborough College - the former school of the Duchess of Cambridge, renowned for its summer school. For posh pub food showcasing seasonal ingredients, take a short drive to Three Tuns Freehouse in Great Bedwyn. A typical meal might be a Cumberland sausage scotch egg, followed by asparagus and pea risotto, finished up with rhubarb, strawberry and mint crumble. Hungry yet?

Day 3 

Today is all about horsing around. The North Wessex Downs have a fine horse racing heritage. The springy chalk turf is ideal for training racehorses, with many thoroughbred pedigrees hailing from Lambourn - and the prestigious Barbury International Horse Trials take place nearby every summer.

You might not be ready to ride a racehorse just yet, but how about a gentle trot along the trails? Pewsey Vale Riding Centre offers trail riding experiences (for children as well as adults) that can be suited to your abilities. Riding off road you’ll get a unique perspective on this special landscape. Your route could even take you past an unmissable chalky figure carved onto the hillside - one of the famous Wiltshire White Horses.

Depending on when you’re visiting - or how tired you’re feeling after your morning on horseback - you could catch one of the afternoon or evening horse race events at Newbury Racecourse. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of watching the professionals storm round the track in their shiny outfits. For spectators, dressing up in a fancy frock or smart suit is all part of the fun - see here for details on the dress code. A great way to celebrate a fantastic weekend in the North Wessex Downs.
Top tip: Whether or not your horse wins, you can still enjoy dinner at award-winning local pub The Newbury.

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Product Information

  1. North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty


    The rolling North Wessex Downs encompass some of England’s finest landscapes. The North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was created in 1972 to conserve and enhance the natural beauty and tranquillity of these landscapes.

  2. Stonehenge

    Nr Amesbury

    Stonehenge stands impressively as a prehistoric monument of unique importance, a World Heritage Site, surrounded by remains of ceremonial and domestic structures - some older than the monument itself.


    Bookable Product

    • TXGB Bookable Product

    Indicative Availability

    Book Stonehenge Online

  3. Active England Tours


    Walking and cycling tours fit for all the family. 

  4. Bowood House and Gardens


    Outstanding 18th century mansion house estate.

    Indicative Availability

    Book Bowood House and Gardens Online

  5. Marlborough

    Marlborough is situated in the picturesque rural north-east of Wiltshire.

    Much of its great natural beauty is environmentally protected and it offers the discerning visitor a unique blend of modern attractions and facilities. Site of a twice-weekly market, the High Street is one of the widest in…

  6. Marlborough College Summer School


    This extremely popular multi-generational learning experience will take place over four weeks during Summer.

  7. 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.

  8. Newbury Racecourse


    Newbury Racecourse is one of the most famous and prestigious horseracing venues in the UK, providing world class racing all-year-round and excellent facilities for conferences and events.

  9. The Newbury


    Multi-award winning gastro pub boasting creative cuisine and real ales in roomy, townhouse pub with rustic-chic decor, plus stylish terrace and micro gin distillery.

Itinerary Distances

FromToDistance * (metric)
North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (51.41393,-1.49522)Stonehenge (51.18406,-1.85768)32.35
Stonehenge (51.18406,-1.85768)Active England Tours (51.76076,-1.26965)68.46
Active England Tours (51.76076,-1.26965)Bowood House and Gardens (51.42697,-2.04435)58.69
Bowood House and Gardens (51.42697,-2.04435)Marlborough (51.41998,-1.73264)19.49
Marlborough (51.41998,-1.73264)Marlborough College Summer School (51.41562,-1.73538)0.47
Marlborough College Summer School (51.41562,-1.73538)The Three Tuns Freehouse (51.38026,-1.60376)8.96
The Three Tuns Freehouse (51.38026,-1.60376)Newbury Racecourse (51.39588,-1.30567)18.71
Newbury Racecourse (51.39588,-1.30567)The Newbury (51.4009,-1.32428)1.27
Total Distance *208.33 miles
Estimated Journey Time6.71 hours

* Approximate distance by road

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