Wiltshire gems – perfect for spring
When it comes to places to stay, visit, eat and shop (with or without trailing mudlets) Wiltshire rocks the biggies – Longleat, Center Parcs, Lacock, Halcyon Spa, Salisbury Arts Festival, a constellation of Michelin stars at Great Bledwyn and Lucknam Park and any number of henges including the almighty Stoney one – but snoop a little deeper and you’ll find oodles of uber cool gems hidden amongst these rolling plains. In keeping with our Muddy mission of bringing you the awesomely quirky, places we would never know about unless we stumbled over them in our stilettos, here are some of my favourite little gems, just in time for spring.
One for…A pint of Black Rat Cider (it sups better than it sounds) – The Outside Chance, nr Marlborough
A pub purchased on the proceeds of a flutter on the gee-gees has got to be a place where there is fun to be found. The OC was created from the winnings of London nightclub impresario Howard Spooner’s racehorse, Only Dreams, a 100-1 winner at Leicester. Food is from local suppliers and is of the scotch egg with curried mayo and beer-battered haddock with triple-cooked chips variety, the ale is hand-pulled and it’s got a fab garden-slash-suntrap with private access to playing fields and kid’s playground so they can play while you pig out. They often have live music nights and it’s standing room only when Open Mic Night is on. Four-legged friends (not just horses) are welcome and, ‘cos it’s April and the OC is featuring in our spring gems, it has a good walk starting right outside the front door. I reckon (Hardens take note) it might just be the best pub in the area. Actually, scratch that, we want to keep it a secret, don’t we?
1 High St, Manton, Marlborough SN8 4HW, theoutsidechance.co.uk
One for…Bang on trend splurging – Spirit, Devizes
Yes, they’ve got Beck Sondergaard and Cream like everyone else, but poke further through the rails and you’ll find gorgeous Pia Rossini cover-ups for the beach and pretty Indi & Cold dresses. Better yet, they’re always on the hunt for new and exciting styles to bring to Wiltshire. A little nudging and they’ll send an ‘out-of-shop-hours’ stylist round so you can multi-task/neck bubbles while you spend.
3 High Street, Devizes SN10 1AT, spiritfashion.co.uk
One to…Relaaaaaax – Aquarias Spa, Malmesbury
Sometimes I think I might be a little spa-ed out around here, with Babington’s Cow Shed, Cowley’s C-Side, Barnsley House’s The Spa, Calcot Spa, Halcyon at The Bishopstrow Hotel not to mention all the slate-lined swimming pools, floating loungers, hydrotherapy whirlpools, lavender outdoor hot tubs and open wood fires. Actually, forget that, I will never be spa-ed out. But I have found a real jewel amongst the big players. Aquarius at Whatley Manor is possibly the most relaxing spa I have ever fallen asleep in (and that was in the pool itself). Never have I seen an air bench in water before, nor hunkered under a neck massage jet outside in the middle of winter but I can tell you I highly recommend it.
Start in the Tepidarium before moving through to the Calidarium and the Laconium (GCSE Latin, anyone?) for various degrees of heat, via the Steam Grotto, Experience Showers (I mean, really) and Wave Dream Sensory Room (fell asleep there too.) We bravely dove into the couples’ massage VIP Suite (mm, hmm) and relished the ‘beyond organic’ products by ila-spa. Breathe 99.9% pure air in the Natura Bisse Bubble to rejuvenate and purify in an isolated atmosphere. I don’t even know what that means but doesn’t it sound fab? Come April the loungers come out around the outside pool – this place is not to be overlooked as a place to recline and reboot while the kids are at school.
Whatley Manor, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, whatleymanor.com
Wear the heels to – Y.O.Y.O, Salisbury
You’re Only Young Once (yes, we ARE still young) is a deliciously fun adventure in retro chic. Sounds hideous but think again – this place is fab! Lychee martinis, Kamikaze shots, Long Island iced tea, plus they have cocktail master classes. Do we need a cocktail bar in Wiltshire? Yes we do, and lots more of them too, please.
6 Milford St, Salisbury SP1 2AJ, yoyobar.co.uk
Feel like a grown up – Lucknam Park, nr Chippenham
OK, it’s not really a hidden gem but I don’t often get to feel grown up and sometimes you just want to. This place is traditional, relaxing and quite frankly it’s downright gorgeous. It’s a tad spenny (I won’t drop that bombshell until I’ve reviewed it properly, but you’ll need to hang onto your seats when I do) but for the price you get it all – award-winning spa and wellness centre, Michelin-starred restaurant, 500-acre estate and stables home to 35 glossy-flanked horses. Tennis courts, croquet lawn, football pitch and a cookery school are further feathers in this handsome hotel’s hat, while picture perfect Castle Combe is a mere 10 minute skip away. Oh, go on then, see you there this weekend…
Colerne, Chippenham SN14 8AZ, lucknampark.co.uk
That brush of cultcha – Salisbury Arts Centre, Salisbury
Arts centres can be a bit crusty, even in the bright lights of London, with local amateur productions, dodgy touring shows and ropey stand-ups you’ve never heard of. Not this one. Up to date movies, talks by David Starkey and the like, padded out with workshops for even the most skeptical. With the first ever Salisbury Queer Arts Weekender and the London Gay Men’s Chorus, this place is down and dirty cool.
Bedwin St, Salisbury SP1 3UT, salisburyartscentre.co.uk
The great romantic – Great Chalfield Manor and Garden, Melksham
Bowood, Stourhead and Lockeridge Dene may lead the charge of National Trust houses into spring but oh, the lesser-spotted Great Chalfield warms my 19th century cockles. A sucker for pretending Mr Darcy is about to emerge out of the reed-filled lake or just that one day I shall win the lottery and buy me one of these stately home babies, a stroll around Chalfield puts the world to rights. Known as Wiltshire’s hidden manor, Chalfield is utterly charming, with its own moat, gatehouse and parish church. The little ones can keep themselves busy counting the soldiers, griffons and monkeys that adorn the rooftops, while you grab a romantic (yeah, right) stroll through the Arts and Crafts gardens. Entrance to the manor is by guided tour only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays but it is worth getting organised and booking it. Trust me, you’ll love it.
Melksham, Wiltshire, great-chalfield-manor-and-garden
To sleep, sorry, let the Mudlets run feral in a bog while you chug rosé straight from the bottle (because you forget to pack the bottle opener, obviously) – Botany Glamping, Warminster
I love glamping. The great outdoors. Looking up at the stars. Camping without arguments over who will put up the tent. Mr Muddy on the other hand would rather endure colonic polyps. For him, glamping equals excruciatingly uncomfortable beds, a shocking night’s sleep and filthy offspring interrupting his precious drinking time. Add the word ‘eco’ and it’s as much as he can do not to run for the nearest Luxury Spa. ‘What’s wrong with Babington?’ he will whine. ‘They have a crèche there. And working toilets.’ But while I nod and seemingly mutter my acquiescence I will, without a moment’s hesitation, book the glamping. And more often than not I’ll choose this little nugget in the heart of an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Botany Camping doesn’t have all guns blazing, there is no electricity and you don’t get hair straighteners in the shower block á la Soho Farmhouse but you do get to choose the colour of your bell tent (coral red, apple green, sky blue, sandstone, rainbow, circus or cookies and cream), they are fully kitted out with cosy furniture, kitchen boxes and the obligatory fairy lights, and upgrades for 2017 include eco-fueled heaters and BBQ starter kits with marshmallows. At a fraction of the cost of nearby Center Parcs, albeit without the falcony displays and high-octane wave pools, Botany Camping is a mere pebble’s toss from all the stone circles, white horses and stunning scenery you can shake a stick at. You can even walk to Longleat and Botany will arrange discounted tickets. What more can you ask?
Warminster, Wiltshire, botanycamping.com
An exhausting day out – Old Wardour Castle, nr Tisbury
It’s hidden gems time so I’m not going to go for Longleat, Stonehenge or any other circle of stones or white horses, although they are all fab. Old Wardour Castle is a hexagonal ruin with a seriously bloodthirsty past. If you’ve got mudlets like mine who regularly threaten to murder each other, buy them an audio tour here and earn yourself a few minutes of silence. Ah… There’s also a secret grotto if you can find it, and the castle was the inspiration for the one in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood (watch out for those flying arrows).
Nr Tisbury, Salisbury SP3 6RR, old-wardour-castle
Blow off the cobwebs – Roundway Down walk, Devizes
The scene of a battle during the English Civil War (I’m sensing a theme here), check out these sweeping views across Wiltshire with cowslips and orchids attracting hosts of butterflies. Seriously, the scenery here is just incredible. Chuck in an Iron Age hill fort and a couple of dogs and you have a fab 9-mile hike (9 miles?) around Roundway. Go at dusk to make it extra special.
The Plantation, Roundway Hill, Roundway Down walk
For the kids – Farmtastic Animal Farm, Chippenham
While my gut says Cholderton Charlie’s, that fantabulous field of rare breeds my heart, oh! my heart always goes for Farmtastic. Get set for a close encounter of the furred kind, pet the llama and try not to come home with the number of an alpaca breeder with a very serious intention to buy one (my friend did. Honestly.) You can adopt an animal there instead, if you fancy.
Lidats Meadows Farm, Grittenham, Chippenham SN15 4JW, farmtasticanimalfarm.co.uk
Ready to get booking? Check out our Muddy Guide for April