Wiltshire Car Hire
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Wiltshire is a landlocked region in south-west England. Known worldwide as the site of Stonehenge and the Avebury stone circles, its rolling landscape of ‘downs’ (areas of open chalk hills) and lush countryside make this quintessentially English area a hugely popular visitor destination. Wiltshire is surrounded by Bristol and Bath to the west, Reading, Swindon and Oxford to the northeast, and Southampton and Portsmouth to the southeast. It benefits from the proximity of the M4 motorway and nowadays has a higher number of manufacturing industries than the national average. The county has produced a number of notable people, including King Athelstan (893—939 AD), Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII, Christopher Wren (architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London), the landscape painter Constable and mother of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. Car hire in Wiltshire starts at just £17.55 (€19.30) per day off-season for a mini-size Fiat 500 when you pre-book online, an economy car like an Opel/Vauxhall Corsa costs just £18.83 (€20.70) per day, while a spacious compact car such as a Fiat Tipo – a slick saloon that is roomy enough for a family of five ̶ is only £22.25 (€24.46) per day. Perhaps you’re visiting wonderful Wiltshire with a larger group? In that case a 7-seater Volkswagen Sharan costs only £79.21 (€87.09) a day, unbeatable value for money given its capacity. Enjoy Travel partners with trusted and established car hire providers such as Europcar and Keddy by Europcar in Wiltshire, leaving you free to enjoy the stunning countryside under your own steam.
Guide to Wiltshire
Wiltshire has always attracted visitors and its interesting history is threaded with important residents. The Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples who left settlements here made the Avebury chalklands famous in terms of Stonehenge and Avebury, the largest megalithic circle in existence. Romans, Saxons, Danes, Normans and others all subsequently contributed to the landscape and culture. Its population of 680,000 is spread out, resulting in a low population density so there’s plenty of space. There’s never been a better time for a Wiltshire driving experience than right now!
There’s mention of 390 mills and even two vineyards in Wiltshire in the Domesday Book, a Norman survey of all Britain completed in 1086 AD. Salisbury Cathedral is a mediaeval cathedral completed in 1258, while the Stourhead estate is a National Trust-owned UNESCO Cultural and World Heritage site that looks straight out of a Jane Austen novel (which it is in a way, because Pride & Prejudice was actually filmed here in 2005). However, easily the most appreciated attraction is Stonehenge, maybe the world’s best-known prehistoric monument and part of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. The site is well-managed and has ample car parking (finally), although access within the stone circle itself is no longer possible even on foot. The site is gradually being allowed to revert to its natural ancient state. Around 1800 the Kennet and Avon Canal was built to ship goods from Bristol to London until the completion of the Great Western Railway – the flight of locks on Caen Hill is a fine piece of engineering.
Wiltshire is at the centre of an area of rich English history and is also beautifully set among wide valleys and chalk downs. Although Stonehenge is the most visited site, there are many more rich archaeological attractions ̶ take a picnic in Old Wardour Castle ruins followed by working it off in Longleat Hedge Maze, the longest in the world, creep inside the Neolithic tomb of West Kennet Long Barrow or visit King Aethelstan’s crypt in Salisbury Cathedral, then take a selfie with the White Horse on Hackpen Hill, a huge chalk hill carving which measures 90 square feet (30 m2) and one of many Wiltshire chalk figures. It’s in walking distance from nearby Barbury Castle, while the best view of the horse is said to be from the nearby B4041 road (although the A361 road near Broad Hinton also provides a clear view).
The kids need entertained, as any parent knows, and Wiltshire is varied in activities for those children who are often not quite as interested in the ancient and prehistoric attractions. Delightful distractions for kids here include treasure trails, horse-riding, nature parks with children’s farms, a skatepark, and soft play centres to name a few. Meanwhile, at the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection kids can sit in the cockpits of a range of amazing aircraft from across the ages and watch light aircraft taking off and landing from the Old Sarum airfield. And of course there are ample cinemas, public sports facilities, and shopping areas.
What to do in Wiltshire?
One of the things that make Wiltshire so tranquil is the large military area in the middle of Salisbury Plain, which is restricted. On top of that, it’s a sparsely populated county, and as one of the most fertile regions in England there’s abundant rich farmland, peppered with picturesque and well-looked after towns and villages prized for their thatched cottages, all connected by gentle driving.
Prehistoric treasure trove
There have been structures of one kind or another since possibly 8,000 BC on the Stonehenge site. Set within earthworks in a complex of monuments, it’s possibly Britain’s most famous landmark and it still enthrals visitors today just as it did 5,000 years ago. There have been challenges with traffic access and parking in recent years, (there is no direct access to the stones themselves) but recently the parking/access situation has improved significantly and there are audio tours in various languages, which really help bring the ancient era alive for visitors from all around the world. The Avebury monument is a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow, Windmill Hill and Silbury Hill which, at 129 feet, is the highest man-made mound in Europe and equivalent in size to some of the minor Egyptian pyramids. One of the best-known prehistoric sites in Britain, it contains the largest megalithic stone circle in the world, which is both a tourist attraction and a place of religious importance to contemporary pagans.
Wiltshire is well known for its lush English countryside and for Stonehenge, but equally important are more recent structures. For example, Stourhead estate has a Palladian, Grade-I listed mansion and iconic bridge which have been the backdrop for various TV/film productions, while Longleat House is an Elizabethan mansion in similarly lush surroundings, which include 4,000 acres each of woodland and farmland, 1,000 acres of managed parkland and even a famous safari park! Meanwhile, Lacock Abbey is not merely a beautiful historic church dating from the 13th century but also a mish-mash of various building styles built over hundreds of years that’s fascinating, right down to the terrific Tudor stables. Harry Potter fans will be delighted by the number of filming locations on site, too!
Wiltshire is perhaps less known for its arts and culture than it’s embarrassment of prehistoric riches, however it actually has an impressive clutch of museums. The Wiltshire Museum specialises in Stonehenge artefacts (including skeletons). The Salisbury Museum is also Grade-I listed and has local artefacts, while the Trowbridge Museum has a fine collection of art, too. Meanwhile, Salisbury Arts Centre is an excellent venue for theatre, music, dance, comedy, family shows, films, exhibitions, and workshops in a deconsecrated church in central Salisbury which has been described as ‘the centre of the Salisbury arts scene’.
Special mention goes to the railway history of Wiltshire ̶ the Swindon and Cricklade Railway and Swindon Steam Railway Museum are just two of the county’s trainspotter havens in an area that birthed Great Western Railways. The Swindon and Cricklade Railway has a hard-earned reputation for the restoration expertise of its volunteers and some specialist projects, such as the current General Steam Navigation Locomotive 35011, take ten years to complete.
Eating out in Wiltshire
There’s a lot more to eating out in Wiltshire than the traditional pub grub (though there’s plenty of that type of offering and it’s outstanding). Here are a few choice suggestions for eating out in the region:
For drivers who have survived the snail-paced traffic past Stonehenge (albeit it is improving, slowly), The Beckford Arms is a welcome respite less than 10 minutes off the A303 where homemade ginger beer or real ale on arrival will bring you back to life, and the hunks of soft white bread that appear at your table will take the edge off your hunger while you wait for your ploughman’s lunch (the hams and piccalilli are unique), or perhaps something more extravagant such as hake with avocado purée and herring roe.
Proper Pub Grub
If you’re after some proper, hearty, English pub grub that’s far from stodge, you can literally do no better than the Methuen Arms. Behind an imposing front on Corsham’s yellow-stoned high street, this is the sort of establishment that’s usually packed full on a Sunday night. The scrubbed wooden tables are reassuring, but the menu is more daring ̶ for example cheese and pickle butter arrives with bread and roasted cauliflower while katsu and coconut reminds vegetarians that they aren’t forgotten. A steady flow of chard, carrots and beetroot – and 15 types of micro greens – pour forth from the kitchen garden, as does honey from their own hives. Alternatively, Sign of the Angel is like some fairy-tale illustration of a 15th-century coaching inn ̶ low-slung beams and huge inglenook fireplaces wrap you up in a wonderfully cosy ambience. It’s had a full renovation – with the help of the National Trust – and a new menu to match. The kitchen reigns supreme, whether it’s the Cornish mackerel terrine with pea mousse (on the seven-course tasting menu) or the local cheese platter that even tastes historical.
There’s a great selection of child-friendly eateries in Wiltshire. In Devizes you’ll find the Dolcipani Italian Bakery and Restaurant which specialises in proper pizza, ciabatta, baked goods, soups, coffee and cakes that consistently receive rave reviews! Vegan options are of course available and just as enthusiastically praised.
Transport in Wiltshire
The nearest airport to Wiltshire is Bournemouth (BOH) Airport which is 33 miles (53 km) away. Other nearby airports include Bristol (BRS) (35.8 miles, 57 km), London Heathrow (LHR) (65.3 miles, 105 km), London Gatwick (LGW) (76.7 miles, 122 km) and London Luton (LTN) (79.7 miles, 129 km). Enjoy Travel only partners with established and reliable car hire providers like Europcar and Keddy at these hubs. Furthermore, the selection of cars is tough to top ̶ whatever your preference, you’ll get a great deal when you pre-book online at enjoytravel.com.
Buses and Park & Ride
Wiltshire Buses provide frequent local, regional and national services.
Swindon also has a Park & Ride service at Wroughton, providing a quick and easy way for anyone to get to the city centre without paying for exorbitant city centre parking.
Wiltshire is close to major hubs on the National Rail network (like Bristol) with strong rail links to London and many other cities nationwide.
You should always drive on the left-hand side of the road in Wiltshire, as is the case everywhere across the UK. Speed limits are: 70 mph (120 km/h) on motorways, 60 mph (100 km/h) on non-motorway main roads and 30 mph (50 km/h) or 20 mph (40 km/h) if you’re in busy built-up areas, or close to buildings such as schools.
Seatbelts are compulsory for the driver and all passengers, drink driving is strictly illegal, and mobile phone use is prohibited (unless the system is truly hands-free and doesn’t distract the driver).
There’s some lovely, fun driving around Wiltshire and its quintessentially English countryside. Here are a couple of selected road trips from Wiltshire:
Bulford Camp to Everleigh is a scenic drive on part of the route south from Swindon to Stonehenge. The M4 motorway serves this area but it is often clogged so it’s worth exploring the A- and B-roads ̶ in this case the Old Marlborough Road/A342. One of the many roads that zig-zag across Salisbury Plain (and the aforementioned military training area), this route is a lovely off-road jaunt that’s just seven miles long and possibly the only place in Britain where you might meet several military vehicles.
Westonbirt Arboretum is one of the most beautiful and important plant collections in the world. With 2,500 species of tree and 15,000 specimens from all over the world, the arboretum plays a vital role in research and conservation, as well as being a serenely beautiful place to spend a peaceful day exploring rare and beautiful plants from the furthest corners of the world. There are activities for the kids too, such as woodland adventure play areas, bike and scooter hire for those tired little legs, Gruffalo sculptures, birthday party hosting and many more. And the whole family will enjoy the Stihl Treetop Walkway which takes you 40 feet (13 m) up into the trees’ canopy. You can get to Westonbirt via the M4, but better to take the B4042 because it’s a much nicer drive.
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