Destinations UK

The Great West Way – England’s Idyllic Villages, Towns & Countryside

The Great West Way

Whether you live in Britain or you are visiting for the first time, England has a multitude of picturesque villages, elegant Georgian towns and stunning countryside waiting to be discovered.

To really get to know England’s rich heritage and culture you need to venture out of London and explore the ancient routes, canals and trails through the heart of Southern England. The perfect way to do this is to take The Great West Way, the new 125-mile touring route which stretches from London to Bristol.

Exploring The Great West Way

You can choose your own itinerary to suit your interests from outdoor adventure, food and drink to history and culture or simply mix and match. Tour for just the weekend or make it a week or more, there’s plenty to see and do.

Getting around The Great West Way is easy too, you can travel on foot, by car, bicycle, train, coach or even canal boat along Thames and the Kennet & Avon Canal.

For our 4-day trip along The Great West Way we were starting from Bristol at the western end and working our way east towards London. Passing through North Somerset, Wiltshire and Berkshire.

Day 1 – Bristol To Bath

Our first stop was Clifton, a beautiful suburb of Bristol overlooking the Avon Gorge. While Mel went shopping around the myriad of unique, independent shops I had a chance to explore the Vaults of Brunel’s impressive Clifton Suspension Bridge.

The forgotten bridge vaults were only rediscovered by chance in 2002, you can visit on a ‘Hard Hat Tour’ which are available on selected dates from April.

From Clifton, it is a short drive into Bristol City Centre and in particular the historically rich Harbourside area. The former industrial area is now alive with waterside restaurants, bars and world-class attractions including the first great ocean liner, the SS Great Britain.

We just had time to stop for lunch at The Prince Street Social where I had a vegan burger and I’m not even vegan, it just looked really good.

The City of Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is only a 40-minute drive from Bristol. With its Roman thermal baths, elegant Georgian buildings and association with the arts and literature Bath remains just as popular today as it was in the 1800‘s. One of Bath’s most famous residents was Jane Austen, she lived in a number of houses around Bath and you can find out more about Jane and her family and her Georgian lifestyle at the Jane Austen Centre.

Roseate Villa Bath - Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea at the Roseate Villa Bath

After a day sightseeing what could be better than afternoon tea, bring on the scones and cakes! The afternoon tea at The Roseate Villa was all homemade and this stylish boutique hotel is where we spent our first-nights stay on The Great West Way.

After afternoon tea there was still time to take the short walk across the Pulteney Bridge into the city centre for some ‘serious’ beer tasting at The Bath Brew House on James St West. They have their own brewery in the pub so there’s no chance of running dry.

Day 2 – Bath To Devizes

Day 2, blue skies but cold and still no sign of the anticipated​ snow. So the best way to warm up was to tour the ancient Roman Baths. There is a lot to see in the complex so allow at least a couple of hours. To add to the experience there is a good audio guide with one option from Bill Bryson also you may bump into a ‘genuine‘ roman or two during your visit.

If you want to experience the thermal waters for yourself you can try the Thermae Bath Spa which is only a short distance from the Roman Baths.

With the weather being so good and yes, the sun was out. It was a perfect time for a tour of the city with Around And About Bath, despite visiting Bath a number of times we still hadn’t tried a guided tour. Our guide Nigel was excellent in showing places and aspects of Bath we had previously missed, we highly recommend a tour as it a great way to really get to know the city and its history.

When you’ve had enough history and culture Bath is also an excellent destination for shopping. As well as the major high street names there are plenty of unique independent shops ranging from bookshops and fashion retailers to antique shops and designer jewellers.

After lunch at Koffmann & Mr White’s near the Abbey (highly recommend the onion soup), it was time to get back on The Great West Way and head to our next stop, Lacock Abbey.

Lacock Abbey
Lacock Abbey cloisters were used in the Harry Potter films

Just over 3o minutes from Bath is the picturesque village of Lacock and Lacock Abbey. The National Trust owns most of the village and as a result, it retains its unspoilt appearance.

You may recognise Lacock Abbey if you are a fan of Harry Potter. It has doubled for Hogwarts in a couple of the Harry Potter films and was used in the filming of Fantastic Beasts: Crimes Of Grindelwald.

Lacock is also the home to the Fox Talbot Photography Museum. William Henry Fox Talbot was a Victorian photography pioneer and once owned Lacock Abbey. In 1835 he created the earliest surviving photographic negative which was taken from one of the abbey’s window.

As the sun was setting we arrived at Devizes Marina our accommodation for the night. Sitting on the Kennet & Avon Canal our lodge overlooked the narrowboats which were moored for the winter. On the deck, there was a hot tub but with the temperature falling to -7 ˚C we stayed in the warm lounge and fell asleep with a bottle of wine.

Day 3 – Devizes To Yattendon

Devizes is the home to the Wadworth brewery which was established in 1875 and has been in the same location in the town since 1885. They offer a really interesting guided brewery tour twice daily where you can see the brewery process and yes, you get to try the beer.

You can also see the magnificent shire horses which are still used to deliver beer to the local pubs around Devizes.

Our morning tour lasted around two and a half hours so it was soon time for lunch and all this touring does make you hungry. Also, in the afternoon we were due to hike on the North Wessex Downs so we definitely needed some calories, (well that’s our excuse).

We had lunch at the at the Three Tuns Freehouse, a village pub just outside Marlborough in the picturesque rural north-east of Wiltshire. We met James Wilsey, the chef-proprietor who then went off to cook us an excellent lunch. An independent pub that serves great food is always a good find.

North Wessex Dpwns
The North Wessex Downs in the snow

So after lunch, it was time to work off the dessert with a walk on the North Wessex Downs, an area of outstanding natural beauty. As well as the natural beauty the downs have an extensive bronze and iron age history with a number of earthworks, barrows and hill forts.

During our walk, the promised wintery weather started to close in, so instead of the planned two-hour route, we did cut it short. It would be good to try it again on a warm spring day.

Moving along The Great West Way we crossed from Wiltshire into Berkshire for our final night at The Royal Oak in Yattendon. It was good to finally reach the warm and cosy rooms of the pub, we arrived just in time, as the snow finally caught up with us.

We had another excellent meal in front of the open fire as the snow fell outside, it was like the start of a Richard Curtis film, quintessntially English.

Yattendon in the snow
A snowy Yattendon – yes those are cyclists.

We awoke to a snow-covered village and although it looked pretty we had to, unfortunately, cancel our last day’s activities of Gin tasting and a canal boat cruise on the Kennet & Avon Canal. It wasn’t too disappointing as now we have a good excuse to return to the area and try these again.

Over the 4 days, we only touched on what The Great West Way has to offer. Whatever your interests, we are sure you’ll find plenty to see and do. So next time, instead of just driving down the M4 motorway spend some time exploring The Great West Way, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Check out Mel’s posts of The Great West Way here.

We were invited on the press trip touring the Great West Way and all activities were complimentary but as always all thoughts and opinions are our own. We were not paid for this trip.

Touring the Great West Way, Southern England

The Great West Way – Pin For Later

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  • Rebecca Smith
    March 7, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    I’d love to explore the Great West Way, its something I want to do this year with the family.

    • Mr and Mrs W
      March 7, 2019 at 7:26 pm

      There’s a lot of different things to do, you’ll love it.

  • Jen Mellor
    March 7, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    This sounds lovely. We have been looking for somewhere to go this summer that is in the UK but an area we haven’t been to. I live on Nottinghamshire so this sounds a lovely area and reasonable distance too. Thanks for this will be bookmarking it to show my other half.

    • Mr and Mrs W
      March 7, 2019 at 7:28 pm

      It wouldn’t be too far for you to go. You can concentrate on just exploring a certain part of it or explore the full route if you have the time.

  • Rebecca | AAUBlog
    March 8, 2019 at 12:04 am

    my parents recently moved down south to Bath in the summer, so it has been really fun to explore. We’ve been to Lacock abbey quite a bit, it is lovely

  • Super Busy Mum
    March 13, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    I have never heard of this area before but it looks like an amazing place to explore!

  • HodgePodgeDays
    March 22, 2019 at 9:28 pm

    What an absolutely fabulous way to explore this part of the world. We went on holiday near Bristol a few years ago and vowed to return, I’ll be showing this my husband and giving him some ideas!

  • Kathy@DavesTravelCorner
    March 26, 2019 at 4:22 am

    I want to visit England – especially London and see the famous bridges 🙂