As the prospect of safer travels approaches, I have been compiling a list of places I can’t wait to see again. The Vale of the White Horse is at the top of the list. I can picture myself driving west along the M4, past Hungerford, seeing the chalky hills rising up on my right and little villages nestled in the dips on the left and feeling like Julie Andrews running across the Austrian hills in The Sound of Music!
This beautiful area straddles the meeting of Berkshire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire. The Vale of the White Horse sits just east of Swindon, with the Cotswolds to the north and the Vale of Pewsey to the south.
What’s hiding in amongst those hills? Well, how about historic horse-shaped chalk hill-carvings and race-horses?! Signs for the Valley of the Racehorse herald racing stables a-plenty and white fences marking out the gallops and for miles around you can catch glimpses of chalk horses, the most famous one being the chalk white horse of Uffington, a National Trust property with splendid views from the top of the hill. Get that lovely fresh air into your lungs!
A charming base to stay is Marlborough, a delightful Georgian “coaching town” with independent shops and a weekly market. You can imagine the horse-drawn coaches picking up 18th century travellers destined for Bath to take the waters. Legend even has it that Marlborough is the place where Merlin was buried!
Another place of mystery lies south of Marlborough: Avebury, World Heritage Site, with its mysterious Neolithic henge of stones (the largest stone circle in the world). A magnet for TV and film enthusiasts is the fabulous Highclere Castle, near Newbury, where the much-loved series Downton Abbey was filmed. You can just picture Lady Mary standing on the staircase in her wedding dress, as you make your way around the rooms, marvelling at the decor!
Ancient history enthusiasts will also enjoy the exhibition on the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun by Lord Carnarvon in the 1920’s – before digging into tea and delicious scones! Although you can’t stay overnight at Highclere Castle, you can do so at Bowood Hotel, on the Bowood House Estate west of Marlborough, which has a superb spa, and where the nearby mansion and gardens are open to the public. The Downton Abbey film unit came here to shoot scenes featuring the home of Mr Carson. Sanditon and Poldark have also been filmed there.
And if that’s still not enough, you only have to venture half an hour north of Marlborough to get into the Cotswolds where the fictional village of Downton can be found at Bampton, not far from Burford.
You can have lunch in The Swan pub at Swinbrook and if you sit out in the garden, you can enjoy the sight of the pet bantams!
To learn more about the area, Blue Badge guides like myself can be booked. Hear all about the sights in carefree bliss, and safety, without the worry of spending hours researching.
For more staycationing tips for the Vale of the White Horse, or to book a tour, please contact the author, Blue Badge Guide, Bobbie Latter.