Amy Moore embarks on a familiarisation trip to the historic county of Wiltshire, which looks to host a number of cultural events in the New Year.

Salisbury Voted Top City For Travellers

According to Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015, Salisbury is one of the top cities in the world for travellers. Announced by VisitWiltshire, Salisbury is said to be seventh on the list – mentioned above the likes of Vienna and Toronto.

For too long, travellers have considered Salisbury a short stop on the way to Stonehenge, but 2015 is set to be the year visitors linger in this quintessentially English city, as Salisbury uncorks the champagne for the 800th anniversary of its greatest treasure, the Magna Carta” (Lonely Planet)

Inside Salisbury Cathedral

Inside Salisbury Cathedral

Tom Hall, Contributor at Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015, said: “Bursting with history, top class restaurants,atmospheric nightlife and a host of festivals planned for 2015, we believe Salisbury is a must-see for domestic and international travellers alike.” 

David Andrews, CEO at VisitWiltshire, said: “Salisbury is a great base for visitors to experience popular attractions further afield such as Stonehenge, Avebury, and our White Horses.” “Here at VisitWiltshire, we are focused on growing the county’s visitor economy by raising awareness to increase tourism visits and spend. Wiltshire’s visitor economy currently generates an estimated £1.4billion and supports over 27,000 jobs.For more information see www.visitwiltshire.co.uk

STEAM – Museum of the Great Western Railway

STEAM is located in the former Swindon Railway Works, housing a vast collection of ancient artefacts, which celebrates the work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

STEAM is housed in the old Swindon Railway Works

STEAM is housed in the old Swindon Railway Works

Visitors to STEAM are instantly immersed in the ancient world of the railway worker through The Offices, which were said to have supported a workforce of around 12,000 people at its peak. STEAM houses over 400,000 objects. The most significant is a former model from the Great Western Railway, which dominates the inner hall, leading the way to a temporary Lego Exhibition.

Further afield is the Wall of Names, detailing the identity of those who inhabited the Swindon Works between 1845-1986. Guests to the Platform One Café could claim 5% off with a valid admission ticket. Standard group packages, tailor made visits and educational groups are humbly welcomed, with all bookings made at least two weeks in advance.

Free admission is awarded to one group travel organiser and/or coach driver dropping off parties of 15+ with additional perks including a free familiarisation visit and free lunch for the coach driver. Coach drop off is available outside the museum entrance, with a designer outlet opposite offering free coach parking. To book contact the Groups Coordinator on 01793 466637 or email adminsteam@ swindon.gov.uk For more information visit www.steam-museum.org.uk

Lydiard House & Park

Lydiard Park boasts an idyllic resting place for groups, set amongst the western edge of Swindon, welcoming around 700,000 visitors per annum. Palladian House forms the centrepiece, hosting a rich and varied exhibition on its former regal inhabitants; the St John Family.

The building has been recently restored, with noticeably outstretched windows invading the 260acres of parkland provided. Lydiard Park was opened to the public in 1955, with the luscious estate currently managed by Swindon Borough Council. St Mary’s Church is present to watch over and worship, accompanied by a fruitful walled garden, where groups could pick a fresh apple from the trees depending on the season. Adjacent is a petit café constructed in the former Coach House, with guests invited to sit in beautifully restored horse stalls and stable buildings.

Spotlight talks were recently introduced – held daily from 1300hrs and is included in the price of admission. Pre booked parties of 12+ can enjoy a personal welcome, a guided tour and complementary refreshments. Group admission rates start from as little as £4.20 per adult, with the group travel organiser and coach driver going free. Ample coach drop-off is available via Hay Lane, with adequate parking via Hook Street. To book call 01793 465277 or email lydiardpark@swindon.gov.uk. For more information visit www.lydiardpark.org.uk

Stonehenge

The enhanced popularity of Stonehenge means it currently sees an influx of foreign tourists flock to its formation. A new Visitor Centre has been erected, boasting a contemporary wooden design, with an extended amount of coach bays nearby. A unique exhibition details recent findings, including some human remains, with handheld audio descriptive guides collectable upon arrival.

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“Stonehenge’s hefty exterior would originally have been white, with the now weathered vibe omitting a characteristically aged effect.”

Visitors could choose to hop on board a frequented bus service, which operates every three to six minutes, with an additional option to disembark part way. This short, but enjoyable journey has been constructed with an aim to reconnect the attraction with its former approach.

Stonehenge’s hefty exterior would originally have been white, with the now weathered vibe omitting a characteristically aged effect. Visitors will only be able to stand a few metres from the attraction, traced by a designated pathway. Though early morning access tours maybe available.

Across the bridge, visitors will come closer to the Heel Stone, which weighs 30tonnes and stands at Stonehenge’s former entrance, prominently leaning towards the centre of the avenue. Recent discoveries state that it may have had a partner stone; as the sun rises slightly to the left, it would appear between the two, marking summer solistice. Bringing visitors back to base, recognisable Neolithic houses have been erected on the muddy exterior of the Visitor Centre.

It is essential that groups pre book before visiting by selecting an allocated time slot. A 10% discount is offered to parties of 11 or more, with free entry awarded to the coach driver and tour leader. For more information visit www.english-heritage.org.uk

Detour to Old Sarum

Old Sarum is an ancient English Heritage site, often overlooked by its more popular predecessor – Stonehenge. Old Sarum boasts an Iron Age hill fort where the regions first cathedral once stood, documenting around 5,000 years of history. Visitors enter over a sturdy wooden bridge overlooking a dry moat, which characteristically isolates the fort from a distance. The entire site covers 29acres of distinct grass chalkland, with asymmetric walls doused in concrete.

A generous 15% discount is offered to groups of 11+ with free entry awarded to the driver and tour leader. Guided tours are available to book for a maximum party of 50 people. Those interested should book at least six weeks in advance. On site parking is available for up to two coaches. For more information visit www.english-heritage.org.uk

Salisbury Cathedral & The Magna Carta

Salisbury Cathedral will be pivotal in celebrating the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in 2015, with one of four documents exhibited. The Magna Carta was agreed by King John on June 15, 1215, and became an official English Law in 1297. A permanent, interactive exhibition is scheduled to open in February 2015 – Engaging With The Magna Carta – that will see the legal document redisplayed in Salisbury Cathedral’s 13th century Chapter House.

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Salisbury Cathedral is scheduled to open a new, interactive exhibition in February 2015

The Magna Carta is quite a sight to behold, consisting of 63 clauses on 72 lines, written in Latin on a single section of skin parchment. Other copies are held at The British Library and Lincoln Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral is home to the UK’s tallest spire weighing 6,500tonnes, welcoming warped beams from the medieval times. Salisbury Cathedral was built between 1220 and 1258, using 70,000tonnes of stone, 28,000tonnes of oak and 420tonnes of lead.

From April 2014, Salisbury Cathedral offers a Premier Package for parties of 10 or more, combining catering at The Refectory Restaurant, where our group enjoyed a generous selection of freshly made sandwiches and hot soup. For more information contact Hannah Payne, Groups Coordinator at Salisbury Cathedral, on 01722 55120 or email groups@salcath.co.uk.

For more information on Magna Carta Trails visit www.magnacartatrails.com

Mompesson House

Mompesson House is perhaps better recognised as the film location of Sense and Sensibility (1995), with a detailed photo album available to view in reception. This grand estate plans to celebrate an upcoming exhibition entitled Sense & Sensibility Revisited – showcased between March and November 2015 – to mark the 20th anniversary of the film’s release.

Upon arrival, visitors are invited to step back in time with most rooms decorated with an authentic 1700s theme. Mompesson House was built by Charles Mompesson in 1701, which he inhabited until his death in 1714. Mompesson House was later opened to the public in 1977. Some sections are still not available to view, with guests entering via the grand, elongated Entrance Hall; touring anticlockwise through the Dining Room. The final section can be accessed via an 18th century, oak staircase installed by Charles Longueville in the 1730s.

Group benefits include free admission for the group leader, a free familiarisation visit and an introductory talk when booked in advance. Discounted rates are available for groups of 10 or more. For more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Arundells

Arundells boasts the home of former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, and offers bespoke guided tours for groups. Stuart Craven was responsible for Arundells two acres of gorgeous garden greenery until 2008, which is beautifully overlooked by a bay balcony in Sir Edward Heath’s study – officially reopened to the public following refurbishment. Stuart Craven is currently the curator, communicating first-hand knowledge about the man himself.

Stuart Craven provided our group with an informative guided tour

Stuart Craven provided our group with an informative guided tour

Arundells will be open to individuals between March and November 2015, hosting exclusive offers for groups, including a reduced entry rate at £13 per person and bespoke tours in advance.

Sir Edward Heath was leader of the conservative party from 1965-1975 and was elected Prime Minister between 1970-1974. Prior to his death in 2005, Sir Edward Heath requested that Arundells be opened to the public. Most memorable is the Entrance Hall, which has been boldly decorated with sailing memorabilia, including an intricately carved bone piece and a mirrored cabinet.

Tracing the wall of the creaking stairwell is striking, hand painted wallpaper based on the myth, Journey To The West, which has remained in the house for over 20 years. Arundells is shadowed by nearby Salisbury Cathedral, making it an even more spectacular sight. Groups are invited to book private, out of season events, with guided tours running every 30 minutes during normal opening hours. For more information visit www.arundells.org

Bowood House & Gardens

Bowood House & Gardens has a number of group itineraries to choose from, with prices starting from £9.50 for a day visit to £28.50 for an all inclusive visit. Bowood House & Gardens was purchased by the Lansdowne’s in 1754, boasting 250 years of family history.

Half of the house remains inhabited, with the remainder open for public viewing. Bowood House & Gardens invites visitors to view the laboratory where Dr Joseph Priestly discovered oxygen in 1774, in addition to the original chair and footstool used by Queen Victoria at her wedding in 1840.

The Library is located at the far end of The Orangery, and is home to over 5,000 books – some with fine, decorative leather bindings. Bowood House & Gardens is open annually to visitors between April and November, with full catering available in The House Restaurant. Bowood House & Gardens features pretty parkland designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in 1762, with 2016 celebrating the 300th anniversary of his birth. Bowood House & Gardens is surrounded by a man made lake formed by two streams, with belts of trees planted around the park.

For coaches, there are five separate access points for parking. For more information visit www.bowood.org