DORSET & WILTSHIRE HILLS

INDEPENDENT WALKING HOLIDAY

 

Wonders of Wessex Walk: Salisbury to Shaftesbury

grade moderate guided walking jura

7 nights - £565, 6 days walking between guest houses

This is a wonderful and unique tour from the historic cathedral city of Salisbury through quintessential English countryside of meadows and chalk downs to reach the Saxon hill top town of Shaftesbury. You'll pass through quaint villages and ancient sites steeped in history and legend, from tales of Alfred the Great and King Canute to the world famous Neolithic encampment at Stonehenge. See full holiday details

gold hill shaftesbury independent walking holiday Dorset UK

Dorset & Wiltshire

These two counties at the heart of south west England are a haven of peace and beauty with some of the finest landscapes and sites in the UK.

Our independent walking holiday listed above explores the beautiful countryside of the Wiltshire / Dorset border including the Cranborne Chase, a former medieval, royal hunting estate and celebrated in the novels of Thomas Hardy. The majority of the region is classified as a national Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with a diverse landscape offering areas of rolling chalk grassland, ancient woodlands, chalk escarpments, downland hillsides and chalk river valleys each with a distinct and recognisable character. 

Your walking Holiday in southern Britain starts in the historic city of Salisbury with its cathedral, a masterpiece of early English architecture, boasting the highest spire in the UK. The cathedral also contains the best preserved of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta and has a large mechanical clock which was installed in the cathedral in 1386 - the oldest surviving mechanical clock in Britain. The city and cathedral were rebuilt from 1220 near the banks of the rivers which converge here, following the abandonement of its original site - Old Sarum - to the north of the current city. Old Sarum, which you can visit on your way north from Salisbury, was an Iron Age hill fort which was later used by the Romans, Saxons and Normans. Salisbury is a charming and relatively small city with some delightful alleyways and the cathedral sitting proudly in impressive grounds at its centre.

Further north of the city lies one of Britain's most enigmatic sites - Stonehenge. One of the most famous landmarks in the world, Stonehenge is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones. It is also at the centre of the most dense complex of Bronze Age and Neolithic monuments in England, including several hundred burial grounds. Human activity at Stonehenge dates back over 5000 years and the site was listed, along with Avebury in northern Wiltshire as a world heritage site in 1986.

The landscape is peppered with a number of idyllic villages with quaint thatched cottages and grand manor houses. Most have a quintessential English pub where you can stop for refreshment. Many are located in the chalk river valleys that flow through the region with their crystal clear babbling streams. The building materials change depending on the availability of local stone such as Greensand and Chilmark stone. Another important building material is flint which is found in layers within the chalk.  

Not far from Salisbury lies the historic and pretty market town of Wilton, which was once the local capital, giving its name to the County of Wiltshire.  On the edge of the town centre lies Wilton House, set in 21 acres of landscaped parkland with water and rose gardens beside the River Nadder. The magnificent Inigo Jones Staterooms include the famous Double Cube Room which is the finest surviving 17th century stateroom in England, designed to display family portraits by Van Dyck.

Without doubt, one of the main attractions of this beautiful part of England is its beautiful landscapes including the chalk downs and their imposing escarpments. Many of the steep slopes have not allowed the use of modern fertilisers and therefore contain an exceptionally rich and unique flora on the unimproved grassland. Many of these areas, marked out on the OS maps, are now open to visit under the right to roam act. The top of the downs have broad ridges which provide amazing views across the valleys and vales below, home to some picturesque and typically English villages. The vales have a patchwork of small fields lined with hedgerows.

The ridges were employed from the earliest times as long distance routes. One ridgeway leads north east out of Salisbury and is used by the Monarch's Way (a long distance walking trail which follows the route taken by Charles II after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.) Another ancient ridge-top track (known as a drove) linked Salisbury and Shaftesbury taking a line further to the south. Numerous earthworks on the downs also provide evidence as to the importance of these hills in prehistoric times.

Other interesting sites on our independent walking holiday between Salisbury and Shaftesbury include the haunting remains of Wardour Castle, the Larmer Tree Gardens, the beautiful villages of Ashmore, Tollard Royal and Cranborne, and the beautiful hills of Win Green and Melbury Beacon.

In north Dorset lies the picturesque town of Shaftesbury. Alfred the Great founded the fortified town in 880 and shortly afterwards founded the abbey around which the town grew. This pretty hill top town is one of the highest in Britain and affords stunning views from its promenades which in part line the edge of the escarpment. The town has some lovely historic cottages built from the local greensand. The town is perhaps best known for the stunningly beautiful Gold Hill, a steep cobbled street featured on the cover of countless books about Dorset and rural England.

The Wiltshire-Dorset region in England is without doubt one of the richest places to walk in terms of interest and beautiful English landscapes. However, outside of the main sites such as Stonehenge, the area is relatively quiet and you'll enjoy peaceful and untrodden walking trails in the heart of rural England. In addition, its location in southern England gives it a relatively favourable climate compared to many regions of Britain. Find out more about the climate of Dorset & Wiltshire

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See our other walking holiday destinations in England