Great WestWay A Guide for Groups A Beau Business Media Publication
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Quay Street, Nelson Street, St John’s Bridge. e names give all the clues needed. Where trees now line Colston Avenue, once there were three-masted tobacco traders. e traﬃc flow was once the water’s flow, and pavements were docks. Bristol’s maritime heritage is never far away. Whether your group is about to cast oﬀ on a voyage of discovery, or just jump on their bikes for the tenth anniversary Great Weston Ride to Weston Super Mare, Bristol’s favourite beach resort, you’ll never be far from history - or ships. Look into the land and it will tell you a story. A story about a journey begun long ago, before the wind whistled though the hills and the sun illuminated the monuments of Stonehenge; before the legionaries marched to make camp that made Bath; before the wind filled the sails of clippers from Bristol; and before the shovels of navvies hewed out Sonning Cutting for steam trains to thunder through Berkshire to London.
Follow in the footsteps of generations past. Discover this quintessential England, along this Kings’ Road, commissioned by monarchs to define a nation. It winds through verdant landscapes, filled with famous attractions and undiscovered secrets. ere’s Royal Windsor, the charming Cotswolds, the World Heritage Sites of Stonehenge and Roman Bath. See English village life and Bristol’s vibrance, each with the shallow streams and ship-going rivers that flow through the landscape. Traditional pubs and inns abound, serving craft ales, local farm food, and the latest culinary creations. Churches and cathedrals dot the landscape with reverence. Independent shops and galleries filled with contemporary designs and creations, are a discreet foil to the homogenous malls of mammon. You don’t have to travel far to explore further and delve deeper into England. 125 miles apart, the Great West Way links London with Bristol through 500 diverting miles of new discoveries. Explore by road, by railway or by waterway. Whatever it takes to take your party to this diverse part of England, take it at your own pace. e Great West Way has secured a growing network of Ambassador organisations, led by four title Ambassadors; Bristol Airport, e National Trust, the Canal & River Trust, and Great Western Railway. Launched Ambassador Network, brand toolkit and Oﬃcial Tour Operator scheme in spring 2018, over 270 Ambassadors and 26 destinations are there to be discovered by groups like yours. e growing family includes recent members like stately Blenheim Palace, Bristol’s adventurous new surfing attraction e Wave, and the long established Camping and Caravanning Club. Like the enduring tracks, the ever-evolving roads, and the timeless waterways, the Great West Way initiative is here to stay, with member businesses committing for at least another three years. Now it’s time for your group to discover the welcome in the real, concentrated, undiluted, essential England (GreatWestWay.co.uk). 3
Please check with individual attractions for any restrictions Front cover pictures #GreatWestWay Tel: 0121 445 6961 Production: Laura Collins Contributors: Julie Callaghan Design: Alexina Whittaker Written by Simon Walton
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So much to see and so much to do…
Foreword - with David Andrews of the Great West Way
Title Ambassador: Bristol Airport's Jacqui Mills
Great West Way
10. Bristol, Bath Brunel and beyond… 12. Bristol and Brunel - industrial heritage and the fascination of fearsome engines 16. Bath, the Romans, the Georgians and today - history for all 18. Title Ambassador: Canal & River Trust's Richard Jones 20. Cotswold Escapes, Steam Age Swindon. e Stone Age too… 24. Title Ambassador: Great Western Railway's Chris Lund 26. Reading, Berkshire and Riverside Retreats… 27. Berkshire and Beyond - Eton and Windsor, Maidenhead and Henley where old school good schools meet royal places and palaces 30. Title Ambassador: National Trust's Jo Atkins 34. Gardens and London. Far from the
madding crowd… 36. London - journey’s end is just the
beginning of the adventure
David Andrews, Director, Great West Way, who might be called the driving force behind the Great West Way (we said ‘might’ because everyone is driving together on this one). Certainly there are many attractions within the county which draw visitors in their own right, so they are not without expertise in the field. The iconic Stonehenge is a world-wide draw that the county has used to successfully broaden interest in the greater body of archaeological sites, such as Avebury, and used that to encourage groups to visit the surrounding communities and built heritage. Who would say that their visit had not been enhanced by a stop over for tea in Marlborough; a sail with the accessible Bruce Branch Boats; or a stroll through any of the many Cotswold villages.
“The Great West Way is the first touring route of its kind for England,” says David. “As such it gives the opportunity to present England in a new way. Thank you to all the destinations and the industry along the route who have helped us develop the Great West Way experience, a new touring route which will join up many of England’s iconic and importantly yetto-be-discovered destinations and attractions along a corridor between Bristol and London.”
Great West Way
Title Ambassador: Jacqui Mills at Bristol Airport Touchdown. Bristol Airport provides a convenient and accessible gateway to the Great West Way..
Another perfect landing for you and your group, and if it goes exceptionally well, you’ll be met by Jacqui Mills from Bristol Airport. Maybe even like us, you’ll have a short walk to the lounge of the Hampton by Hilton, for a briefing on all you need to know before departing the entirely manageable and pleasant Airport precinct. “Passengers flying into Bristol arrive in the heart of the West Country where they will receive a friendly welcome from our awardwinning customer service
team,” says Jacqui. “Frequent bus and coach services operate from the Airport to Bristol, Bath, and all around the Great West Way and the region at large, with integrated ticketing making it easy to connect to other destinations on the UK rail network too.” So much for ground transportation. For those groups who prefer to actually fly to Bristol; Cork, Belfast, Aberdeen and Newcastle are among the Irish and UK airports served directly. at friendly arrival makes all the diﬀerence. “Our team in the
terminal have been trained to provide a welcome to Great West Way visitors and bring bags of local knowledge and experience when answering customer queries about things to do and places to stay,” says Jacqui, as we’re led though the modern, well thought out facilities. Bristol Airport has invested over £200m since 2010, and it shows. “We hope groups arriving to tour the Great West Way receive positive first impressions,” she says. Mission accomplished we say. ere’s another great
advantage to starting your adventure in the west. “Visitors flying to Bristol Airport have plenty of options when beginning their Great West Way journey. e vibrant city of Bristol – home of street art pioneer, Banksy – is just eight miles away, while the World Heritage City of Bath is also on the doorstep,” says Jacqui. Getting into her stride, just like a true ambassador, Jacqui says there’s also Bristol’s other great historical connection with aviation. is is of
course the city that gave the world Concorde, the supersonic airliner. ough the runway at Bristol Airport was never a base for those fantastical three-hour transatlantic flights, Concorde was conceived, built and tested from Filton, just to the north of the city. Your group can visit there now, and take part in the cabin experience at Aerospace Bristol, where every British built marque made its maiden flight (aerospacebristol.org).
Meanwhile, there are plenty more experiences that Jacqui Mills thinks are just as tasty as a delta-wing airliner with the afterburners on full throttle. “e West of England is home to fantastic food and drink producers, so visitors looking for refreshment after a long flight will also be spoilt for choice.” We are certain that goes for a short haul arrival
“For anyone interested in history, Brunel’s SS Great Britain is a must. Brunel’s historic ship has been restored to its former glory and is now a floating museum in Bristol’s redeveloped harbourside. It’s a fascinating way to spend a few hours and in the summer those with a head for heights can even climb the rigging for fantastic views of the
waterfront,” says Jacqui. “Better yet, the great-greatgrandmother of modern ships is served by a stop on the route of the Bristol Flyer, the bus which operates every ten minutes from Bristol Airport’s terminal.”
“Overall, the relaxed and friendly vibe of the West Country will have visitors in the holiday mood much sooner than if they flew into a bigger and busier capital city.” We can’t imagine of where Jacqui may be thinking, we’re just happy to be on board our transfer in no time at all, and heading for the landing lights of Bristol city (passing by the floodlights of Bristol City on final approach by the way).
Marriot Bristol City Centre • Bristol Balloons and Bailey Balloons •Berkeley Castle • Avon Valley Adventure & Wildlife Park
So near, yet not so far A dozen short-haul sky-high attractions cleared for take oﬀ: • Aldwick Estate Vineyard yes, a wine yard in England’s backyard • Cheddar Gorge & Caves rock formations and camping too • Tyntesfield Victorian Gothic revival house with gardens and parkland. • Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm • Bristol Zoo Gardens • Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre • Glenside Hospital Musuem • University of Bristol Botanic Garden • e Urban Roof Terrace at
“Passengers flying into Bristol arrive in the heart of the West Country where they will receive a friendly welcome from our award-winning customer service
Great West Way
Bristol: Brunel, Banksy, and Cary Grant: painted pictures and moving ones too For all his wonderful foresight, Brunel probably didn’t know what he was starting when he laid down that famous railway, and put Bristol within reach of hip and trendy Victorian London. Now, we New Elizabethans have made the
West Way. Banksy probably has a GWR season ticket. So, explore if you will, the alternative Bristol. Maybe rendezvous at Prince Street Social, the hippest cafe, neatly bracketed by Pero’s Bridge and Queen Square, before exploring the world of
provides an insight into Banksy’s work and the growing coterie of city street culture. Who knows, your guide could have more of an insight than they’re letting on… If you follow Jacqui Mills’ advice, you’ll get yet another
harbour and city of Bristol, surveying a view that would still have some sights familiar to the sailors who took this mighty steamer on transatlantic voyages. It’s no coincidence that Temple Meads station is on a lagoon. Brunel’s vision was for fast
street art - and we don’t mean graﬃti. ere’s a whole tour devoted to the muralicious works of (possibly) Bristol’s most famous artist. e Bristol Street Art Tour
perspective all together, if you’re brave enough to climb the mast of the SS Great Britain. Yes, probably only one at a time, but your group can gaze out over the
trains to connect with fast steamers for a seamless journey from his new Paddington station to the New World in world record time.
one-and-a-half hour journey into a prelude to a lifestyle that’s somewhere between new age and all the rage. Bristol is, by definition, the hippest place on the Great
e vibrant city of Bristol – home of street art pioneer, Banksy at Victorian need for speed is no less relevant to the modern city of Bristol, even if the vibe is rather more laid back. ese days, to enjoy an Americano or browse for oriental silks, you can still stroll around the coﬀee shops and boutiques of the city. In days gone by, ships sailed right into the centre, and you only had to wait until dockers unloaded the beans and bales right on to the quay, as you struck a bargain right there on the original nails (it’s where the saying originates). Bargaining comes naturally
• Bristol Cathedral • Lido Bristol Clifton - eat, drink and get wet, outdoors • Stand Up Paddleboarding In the harbour - really in the harbour if you’re not careful • University Botanic Gardens • Bristol Zoo Gardens • Tyntesfield - one the National Trust’s finest (and check out Barrington Court and Tintinhull Garden near Yeovil too) • Interactive science centre We e Curious (formerly “at Bristol”) • Bristol Blue Glass (several retail locations) • Arnos Vale Cemetery, the dead centre of the city, a Victorian necropolis undergoing restoration (as features on the TV programme) • Aldwick Estate in the Redland district - conference venue and vineyard (a combination made for Bristol like no other) • Nordic Walking, Packet
to Bristol. e markets may not be as famous as London’s, yet that doesn’t detract from their popularity nor their diversity. So, if your group hits the stalls with a vengeance, Harbourside, St Nicholas and Oriental are three markets for which to look. Seasonally, Millennium Square is transformed into a Christmas entertainment area - just don’t be tempted to put a Santa hat on Cary Grant’s statue. Yes, that Cary Grant - an even more famous son of Bristol, whose artistry was entirely screen and never street. Pilgrimages from here to Horfield (his leafy northern suburb birthplace) every ten minutes by number 73 bus. Alight, camera, credits.www.GreatWestWay. co.uk/Britol Supporting Cast Other Bristol players cast on “Group Visit: e Movie”:
Boats, and Tandem Hire for groups of two and up
e world famous Clifton Suspension Bridge Spanning Bristol’s River Avon from the famous Georgian architecture of Clifton Village to the tranquil Leigh Woods, the world famous Clifton Suspension Bridge is an iconic landmark not to be missed! Designed by aspiring 23-year-old Isambard Kingdom Brunel as the highest and longest bridge in the world, Clifton took over 30 years to complete, eventually opening in 1864 as a memorial to the engineer.
volunteers provide guided tours of the bridge, answering questions about its history, engineering and maintenance – and sharing tales of Britain’s first bungee jump and the city’s own Mary Poppins, a Victorian barmaid named Sarah Anne Henley. Adventurous groups of twelve may also climb into the bridge to explore the recently rediscovered vaulted chambers of the Leigh Woods abutment – an echoing red brick cathedral decorated with stalactites.
Clifton’s team of expert
e nearby Visitor Centre
provides a chance to explore the bridge’s history in more depth, learn about the local geology (the Avon Gorge is a Site of Special Scientific Interest), or pick up a guidebook or souvenir of the visit. For those planning on visiting later in the day, don’t miss a photo opportunity with the bridge illuminations which are switched on every evening just before sunset. Contact info: To find out more, visit www.cliftonbridge.org.uk/tra vel-trade, email Tish Russell email@example.com Telephone 0117 974 4664. 12
e city’s has it’s own Mary Poppins, a Victorian barmaid named Sarah Anne Henley.
Great West Way
a city of its times What have the Romans ever done for us? For that matter, the Georgians, or the Victorians, Edwardians? Nothing!
Don’t forget your own costumes before boarding e Bath Bus Company, part of the City Sightseeing family. ey’ll get your whole group around the sights and more, and leave you more time to relax, in places like the Bath Brew House. Let’s see if you can guess what goes on there, shall we? e Mayor of Bath’s Honorary Guides have been oﬀering visitors free walking tours since 1934. Surely someone must have taken them up on the oﬀer by now? Do the Austen locations, inspirations for ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’ - Jane’s posthumous novel. Set
Well, except for the Roman Baths (in case you were wondering where the name came from). en there’s the Palladian architecture, the railways, the parks, the paved roads, the sanitation… Drag yourselves out of the ermae Bath Spa. Get dressed, and take a walk that Jane Austen would recognise. Let’s just turn our backs on the grandeur of Royal Crescent, its homes and eponymous hotel, and look out over the lawns of the tended semi-circle that frame this pinnacle of neo-classical architecture. Careful at the back there, we don’t want to block the pavement. is is a busy residential thoroughfare after all. It has been since the eighteenth century, and it’s still very much in its
originally intended use today. So, turn around again, to face the Palladian columns and stone facades, and be transported back in time, as we enter a house that really does live the part. Dress up like a Georgian belles and gentlemen at the magnificent Assembly Rooms. Here, in the Fashion Museum Bath, there’s a wonderful collection of contemporary and historic clothes for women and men, displayed on more than 160 dressed figures. You will also find a dressing-up area where you can try on coats, hats, corsets, dresses and bonnets. Have a photograph taken in front an image of Royal Crescent that will be the envy of those mere twentyfirst century dwellers.
jetting? You’ll be able to take your extras along to Lacock (the house starred in Harry Potter and Downton Abbey), Castle Combe (War Horse and Dr Dolittle), and Corsham town, home to the Pound Arts Centre, and location star of the show for Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Lark Rise to Candleford, and latterly Poldark.
“Straight out of Monty Python What have the Romans ever done for us?”
Whether staying at the Abbey Hotel, the Apex, or Bailbrook House Hotel, it’s entirely possible to explore Bath on foot, including the beautiful Henrietta Park, where you can “promenade” and visit the nearby Jane Austen Centre. is is a permanent exhibition that explores the life of Jane Austen in Bath, and the influence that this city had on her work. Every day, the staﬀ dress in clothes from the Georgian period, and serve you tea in the Regency Tea Room, overlooking the grounds which have not changed in 300 years. Little has changed at the Palladian mansion that is the Holburne Museum (free on Wednesday afternoons) and the uniquely themed collection of the Museum of East Asian Art demands a closer look. Check out the 1500 exhibits at the Victoria Art Gallery - the building itself is a work of art.
To the south of the city there’s Prior Park Landscape Garden within the estate. is eighteenth-century Capability Brown masterpiece is maintained by the National Trust, and carries a grade one listing. Well, this is Bath, and grade one is the minimum requirement. at, as they say, is what the Romans did for us; and the Georgians; and the Victorians and Edwardians. You can find out more at the Great West Way partner www.GreatWestWay.co.uk/Bath
Great West Way
Title Ambassador: Richard Jones, Canal & River Trust ere’s a mellowness to the waterways of the West.
e mid-life creases of the ames, the Severn, the Avon and the Kennet, all meander with restrained purposefulness. Even the industrial cut of the canal, that once was the artery of commerce, finds these relaxed days more convivial. Beneath all that swan-like grace, there’e a flurry of activity. Paddling fervently, never furiously, and presenting a decorum that his title of customer service operative hardly begins to describe, Richard Jones of the Trust does anything but make waves. Long before Brunel’s railways or Marples’ motorways, the Kennet & Avon Canal brought oceangoing trade from Bristol to the markets of London, 87 miles and 104 locks later. is a linear testament to the engineering of an age, that still serves today. e care of the Canal & River Trust keeps alive the heritage of water-borne trade, when trans-Atlantic ships were an everyday sight in the very heart of Bristol. Given the waterways and wellbeing remit of the Trust, where better to start than in Bristol Harbourside. “It’s a west country Mecca to seasoned boater and visitor alike,” says Richard Jones, over a delightful cuppa from the Trust’s Tea Rooms in
Bradford on Avon. “It oﬀers big city attractions in a concentrated space with a nearby airport bringing international visitors to the area and mainline rail and motorway links to Cornwall, Wales and Birmingham. With a vibrant music and arts scene in venues like the ekla and Arnolfini, and historical features such as Brunel’s SS Great Britain and the Clifton Suspension Bridge to amaze, the waters of the Great West Way connect the modern and the past in a space that can be explored on foot or city bus, with all that the historical city can deliver.”
setting, away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, away from town and traﬃc and nocturnally, light pollution.” All that’s hidden in the bright lights, comes out in the darker surroundings of the Canal at night. “For a night under the stars awakening into the capital of crop circle mystery the Vale of Pewsey delivers the best that nature and nurture can oﬀer in our waterway and wellbeing vision,” says a star-struck Richard. Somewhere that has been in a starring role for almost as long as the heavens above, Bath is still a gateway to the waterways. It’s obviously a favourite with Richard too. “A beautiful city linking Roman with the modern, all within a short walk of the Canal that brought wealth and prosperity to the region, opening markets to coal, building materials and farming produce and importantly in the Victorian age - to tourism.” Not one to avoid the finer things in life, Richard suggests a suitably regal location for repast. “e Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath creates afternoon teas to delight and enjoy in a wonderful example of Georgian architecture. Ask head sommelier Jean Marc to help select your champagne of choice.”
It’s not just the city and the ocean of course. “e waterways of the west feature strongly in many aspects of life in the region,” says Richard. e canal makes an ideal opportunity for groups to experience something a diﬀerent world. He picks out Market ursday in Devizes, with the town square given over to a vibrant and busy spectacle - a great opportunity to let your group roam free, while you prepare for a visit to Wadworth, for a tour of the Famous Wadworth 6X brewery. “Peace and tranquility in the waters east of Devizes oﬀer the boating traveller a lock free 15 miles of Kennet & Avon Canal, to relax and dwell, in a rural 18
Popular attractions, then and now, Richard recommends navigating east along the Kennet & Avon to find treasures such as the Cross Guns at Avoncliﬀe and the little town jewel of Bradford on Avon before continuing to the majestic Caen Hill flight of 16 Locks. Elsewhere, if your group has flushed every last drop out of your watery odyssey, Richard makes some suggestions. Still nearby Devizes, these destinations epitomise the tranquility of the region, and wellbeing nature of the Trust Never far from the river bank, just north of Melksham, Richard says there’s a glamourous location, with almost as good a star-spotting record as those night time cruises on the Canal. “Take a trip out to Lacock, the film set home of many of our period dramas including Downton Abbey and Harry Potter - or a short trip across the A4 to Whitehall Garden Centre more a day out than plant shop. e Cotswolds village of Castle Combe hides a motor sport racing circuit nearby, where track days and go-karts will provide an adrenaline hit to the more adventurous.” Your group might start out cruising, and end up on the winners podium. Now that’s how to make a splash on the Great West Way.
So near, not so far Many more places to make a splash: •Bristol Community Ferry Boats and Bristol Packet Boats •Windsor Marina and nearby Bray Marina •Honeystreet Boats and Cafe •Caen Hill Locks, also at Devizes •Canal Boats (like the Barbara McLellan and Sally Narrowboats at Bradford on Avon, MV Jubilee in Newbury, and Honeystreet
Boats in Wiltshire) •Cotswold Water Park, near Cirencester •Hobbs of Henley Boat Trips - the gin tasting is overboard •Henley Rowing Association - don't forget the Regatta •Henley’s River & Rowing Museum •Original Wild - a splash, in Bath •Salter's Steamers - Oxford hospitality on the ames
“Take a trip out to Lacock, the film set home of many of our period dramas including Downton Abbey & Harry Potter”
Great West Way
Villages and the Cotswolds places where even time meanders Make no mistake. When you think of the quintessential English countryside view, you’re thinking of the Cotswolds.
Now, it’s fair to say that other quintessential views exist. e rolling Yorkshire Dales, the hop fields of Kent, the Norfolk Broads, the dairy farms of Hampshire and Sussex, all spring to mind. Turneresque views they all are, and they all do the green and pleasant land a great service. From familiar opening titles, for vets called Heriot, for summer winers called Cleggy, vicars of Dibley, for murderers of Midsomer and cases for Poirot. Yet, for sheer variety, and no little measure of all of these qualities, the Cotswolds have an abundance to satiate everyone with a hankering for view, the place, the feel, and the people that make
caught in time, just waiting to be discovered, with a welcome for everyone in your party too.
the English countryside uniquely satisfying. So then to this geographical ribbon that is the Cotswolds. As diﬃcult to define as it is to depart from, the Cotswolds might roughly be described as the sumptuous lands north from Bath, on a corridor that straddles the ancient Roman Foss Way.
Take the village of Ramsbury, just outside Marlborough. At its heart, a 300-year-old coaching inn, that could be your base for excursions to Avebury and Stonehenge - the former the less well known foul to the latter prehistoric enigma. From the sublime to the raucous days of thunder at Castle Combe, all revved up on motor racing days. en there’s Calne. South west of Swindon, over 17,000 souls astride the River Marden, all carefully curating their town’s charming conversation area centre.
Steeple Ashton, the Great West Way’s first Ambassador Village, extends a welcome with St Mary’s Church, the tiny blind house temporary gaol, and the famous community-led Village Shop. Around every mile, from Eastville to Ealing, there’s a village scene,
It’s also home to the historic Atwell-Wilson Motor Museum. Nearby, Bowood House & Gardens is a grade one Georgian country house with interiors by Robert Adam and a landscape designed by Lancelot "Capability" Brown. It’s adjacent to the village of Derry Hill, and has a separate hotel, golf course and spa for good measure.
Steamy Swindon and Diverse Devizes Yet all this bucolic rural delight is not all that the region, the county and the Great West Way has to oﬀer. We’re in the neighbourhood of Swindon, a town that
So near, not so far
Places ten minutes distant: •Helen Browning's Royal Oak traditional pub and inn (small groups) •All Saints Church, in Alton Priors village, east of Devizes
more than any other owes its existence to the coming of the railways and Brunel’s requirement for a works to maintain his operations. Having delighted in the Agricultural Age, and marvelled at the Stone Age, it’s time to welcome to the Steam Age. You may already have considered the nearby Didcot Railway Centre - so move on to Swindon. e town is a minute less than an hour from London and is home to STEAM – the Museum of the Great Western Railway. at these endless Grade II-listed halls are testament to the scale of Victorian ambition, and tell
the story of the men and women who built the GWR. Even if your party have left behind their anoraks, it’s as enthralling as a production at the town’s renowned Wyvern eatre. Spend a few more hours browsing for bargains in the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Swindon - still within “e Works”. e town’s Doubletree by Hilton accommodates groups with ease. Also within easy reach of the route, try the Holiday Inn Salisbury-Stonehenge and the Best Western Plus Angel Hotel, in Chippenham.
Wiltshire and on the Great West Way, the town of Devizes has plenty to delight even the most diverse group. Camping may be your thing, and Devizes has camping galore. It’s landlocked location is deceptive. You’ll find a Marina, Honeystreet Boats with day boat hire - and a wharf side tearoom for land lubbers (or sailors in need of a brew). You can even do a group cookery school. ere’s the charming independent Wiltshire Musuem, and the equally charming a’Beckett’s Vineyard for visits with a variety of still and sparkling English wine.
Built around its castle, and a centrally located in
… and some more a little further afield: •Salisbury with its cathedral - buses to and from Stonehenge •Alison Howell’s Foot Trails from Salisbury •Westonbirt, e National Arboretum •e Courts Garden near Bradford on Avon •e Swan, Bradford on Avon - remarkable traditional inn •e Bridge Tea Rooms, also Bradford on Avon •Crofton Beam Engines, near Marlborough •Wilton Windmill breezing by Marlborough
Great West Way
Title Ambassador: Chris Lund, Great Western Railway Take all the fabulous achievements of the Victorian era, and there’s one that stands out.
It’s as vital to the nation as it ever was. Still carrying the name by which it was conceived, the Great Western Railway is a legacy that shows no sign of shunting into history. From Brunel to Banksy and all stops along the way, “God’s Wonderful Railway” as good as defines the Great West Way. Take in those vast cathedrals to rail ambition: Paddington and Temple Meads. Add to that the modern achievement of redeveloped Reading, and engineering legacy of Swindon. ere’s more to the network than the prestige main line, but who can do less than marvel at sights along the way: Maidenhead Viaduct, Sonning Cutting, Box Tunnel and the beautiful approaches through Bath (ok - the view from Box Tunnel is a little limited, but it’s a marvel nonetheless). e brainchild of three of the most famous names of the Industrial Revolution - Isambard Kingdom Brunel - the GWR been the express carrier since 1833. As Chris Lund watches yet another of the box-fresh fleet of new trains accelerate eﬀortlessly away from the platform, we can’t help but comment on the way this latest innovation is living up to the reputation of the route, and, even at top speed, the relaxed progress is exactly how the GWR epitomises the Great West Way.
“Today’s Great Western Railway is a modern railway, fit for the twenty-first century, and still very much following the route of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s pioneering line between Paddington and Bristol Temple Meads,” says Chris. “Victorian travellers simply called the ‘holiday line’ as it took them out West.”
minutes. e rail network is vast, and eﬃcient, and you can easily reach so many places in between by train and bus.” Chris thinks that Great West Way touring is best by public transport. “With the pass, and co-ordination between diﬀerent modes of travel, that’s certainly an option for organised groups, and gives plenty of flexibility something that the endlessly engaging communities and landscape certainly encourages.”
For getting your group around, the modern iteration of the Great Western Railway (GWR) has been working as the designated Rail Ambassador to the Great West Way. e Great West Way Discoverer pass - the largest integrated rail and bus pass in the country, it allows unlimited oﬀ-peak train and bus travel between London Paddington and Bristol Temple Meads, with options to branch oﬀ in the ames Valley, Cotswolds and Wiltshire – all with just a single ticket - and most groups would want to branch oﬀ as they take in everything the Great West Way has to oﬀer.” Rather than where to stop, Chris says where to start is the dilemma. “We’ve got some great scenery out the window on the Great Western network, from Brunel’s Temple Meads Station in Bristol to the beautiful Avon and Pewsey valleys further up the line. So with time on your hands, it’s very relaxing to sit back and enjoy the views. Our new Intercity Express Trains can whisk you at 125mph from Bristol to London in under 90
Couple that with the accessibility, and the proximity between desirable destinations, and, as Chris points out, the grandeur of the statement pieces of architecture along the railway oﬀer a welcome in themselves, equal to some of the iconic Great West Way places themselves. Chris picks out some examples that should make you take a moment as you check through the ticket gates. “From the West, then you’re bound to start in Bristol where it’s a quick twelve minutes by train to neighbouring Bath Spa.” Take a moment to enjoy the 1840 building, grade II listed and, given the canopied entrance, fit for a uniformed concierge. You could be exiting an understated grand Victorian hotel. It’s probably no coincidence then, that you’ll find yourself on aptly named Dorchester Street. Chris is mindful of the railway’s original 24
target clientele, and the reason why the GWR had to appeal to the sense and sensibilities of those well-to-do would-be passengers. “Walk out of the station and make your way up to the Royal Crescent via the Circus for a tour of the exemplary Georgian sandstone architecture. Visit the excellent No. 1 Royal Crescent museum which is a brilliant example of a Georgian townhouse. Head back down the hill and make time for tea at the Pump Rooms.” ere’s something else that Chris recommends, and it’s a particular dip into history. “No trip to Bath should omit the Roman Baths, a very wellpreserved site of Roman history in Britain. Don’t forget to try a pint or two of something local at the Bath Brew House opposite the excellent Apex hotel.” “If starting in the East, then take the train from London Paddington to Windsor & Eton Central with a quick change at Slough for the Windsor branch line.” ere’s a hidden treasure on the approach to the station. Something more common in south London than in aﬄuent Berkshire, the station is approached by a brick viaduct, over two thousand yards long, punctuated as it crosses the ames by the Windsor Railway Bridge, the last surviving wrought iron bridge designed by Brunel. e station itself has gone through several
name changes, hence “Royal Windsor Station” emblazoned above the glazed entrance, adorned with an impressive station clock and regal coat of arms, all date stamped 1897. Would you be forgiven for not noticing it on arrival? Possibly. e cloistered Victorian exit channels arriving passengers direct to something in full view and synonymous with this particular location: Windsor Castle itself.
former railway works with expresses up and down the line several times an hour, and if you want something west end, that’s not in the West End, it’s a group-friendly laugh to jump oﬀ at the Broadway for an Ealing Comedy all of your own making.
Encourage your group to stay. Windsor’s Sir Christopher Wren Hotel & Spa sets a high standard. e Castle Hotel MGallery may have taken named inspiration from something local, and sits opposite Wren’s peerless Guildhall.
· National Trust – I’m a member and always enjoy a visit to one of their sites with my family. Mompesson House in Salisbury is well worth a visit. (20 minutes walk or less from the station) · Bradford on Avon – a beautiful, picture perfect town on the Avon a short train ride on from Bath · Clifton Suspension Bridge – a truly deserved focal point/icon of Bristol and one I’ve been fascinated with since first moving to Bristol as a student, trying thousands of ways to photograph it day and night.
Chris Lund does a peerless job of being an impartial advocate for the Great West Way, so he’s refrained from filling our time together with railway destinations. So, we’ll do that for you, with a few examples that you can reach twice as fast as the traﬃc on the M4, and enjoy for twice as long. Newbury Racecourse has its own station, so you couldn’t be better oﬀ for a day at the races if you backed the train to take the reins. You can visit Swindon’s super shopping and
So near, not so far Six more of the best from Chris’s own favourites
Walking across is always a buzz. (check out Discover Card options from Temple Meads station) · Hampton Court Palace – great Tudor kitchens section inside to see how a banquet was #GreatWestWay
catered for, lovely grounds and riverside location on the ames. (Don’t tell Chris there’s a station on the doorstep served by another operator) ·e Matthew of Bristol – can you imagine sailing unknowingly across to Newfoundland in that, and making it back to Bristol
again. Brilliant ship to visit and learn about the often used name of John Cabot in Bristol. (twenty minutes walk through the arty centre and quaysides of the city)
Great West Way
Reading: Quite aristocratic actually It’s undeniably more direct, though undeniably less romantic.
We’d be tempted to say less stressful as well, but we’ve driven the M4 in the rush hour. So, while the motorway may get you there faster, the Great West Road is still the way to reach Reading. Well, that and the fabulous new station that would even impress Brunel. e largest town in the UK, Reading epitomises the Great West Way. Its treasures are just as many as the surprises along the Way. Hotels, museums, river boat companies on the ames and Kennet, shops, all have their place in Reading. Great names spring to mind. Oscar Wilde (imprisoned) and Jane Austen (impressed) come to mind. King Henry the First, in 1121, founded Reading Abbey: "for the salvation of my soul”. e remains of the Abbey still adorn the city centre. e remains of the king adorned the car park of Reading Jail (the modern one). Well, it’s become traditional for medieval English kings, hasn’t it? Oscar Wilde probably knew but wasn’t letting on. e future of Wilde’s place of incarceration is yet to be decided - but an arts centre has been proposed for the Victorian gaol. Have a high tea break, why don’t you. ere are enough
biscuits for the biggest groups. Reading is the home of Huntley and Palmers, after all. Sadly, their worldbeating factory, the biggest in the world, has only partly survived modernity. It was, in its Victorian industrial way, just as majestic as the modern Madejski Stadium, home of Reading Football Club, or the Royals, as they’re aristocratically known. Reading’s great arts and cultural community is well represented. e tourism map of the town (remember, not a city) includes just as many studios and galleries as it does casual dining gastropubs and entertainment venues. You’ll see plenty suits on the sidewalks, with so many corporate headquarters right here … in town. You don’t need a collar and tie to dine in Reading - though you might need an interpreter: there are 150 languages spoken locally, and all of them are represented in famously diverse and tasty dining scene.
e Chilterns lie to the north, abandoned Roman Silchester to the south. Park yourselves at the Novotel Reading Centre. Take your pick or take a guided tour of the Abbey ruins, go open air swimming at the restored Edwardian ames Lido, take afternoon tea or stay the night at the high-end Roseate, or grab a blue and white favour and take in EFL action at Reading FC. “Up the Royals!”
greatly in the following years.
Reading Abbey will be celebrating its 900th anniversary in 2021. One of the most important monasteries of medieval England. Today, the remains of the Abbey can be found throughout the former precinct known as the Abbey Quarter in the heart of Reading, sharing the site with the Victorian Reading Prison buildings. It is a site of huge archaeological and historic importance.
So near, not so far Further Reading: places to peruse not many miles distant: •West Berkshire Museum in Newbury •Newbury Races for a flutter •e Watermill eatre (also Newbury) •Donnington Grove Hotel & Country Club in Newbury •e Newbury gastropub (it’s in … Newbury) •e historic Tutti Pole Tea Rooms in Hungerford •Take in Hungerford Wharf and a canal trip on the Rose of Hungerford •Cobbs Farm Shop & Kitchen (Hungerford) •Alder Ridge Vineyard (Hungerford) •West Berkshire Brewery (Yattendon)
Reading Abbey was founded in 1121 by King Henry I. He intended it to be his own burial place and memorial, and although he died in France, he was buried in Reading before the Abbey’s High Altar in 1136. In its heyday, the Abbey was one of the largest monastic sites in Europe. It was closed in 1539 as part of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and it suﬀered
Groups with boots and parties with pedals will find Reading to their liking for hiking and cycling. Lovely footpaths adorn the ames and Kennet, and cycle routes can get you as far as Hungerford and Newbury. 26
If that leaves you hoarse, go see a horse at e Museum of English Rural Life, or seek out the Huntley Palmer biscuit tin collection at the Reading Museum. Reading’s £900m new railway station will, all too soon, await you.
Berkshire and Buckinghamshire and beyond inking of Marlow as an outer commuter town? ink again. Heritage walks with an optional treasure hunt, and riverside views and cafes.
Chris Lund from GWR may not have mentioned it, but Marlow is at the end of a branch line as quirky as its civic personality. Also with an outlying personality, the outlying Waddesdon Manor is a pleasant coach trip from Marlow - a few miles oﬀ the Great West Way, but still a Bucks treasure. Windsor needs no introduction - though you’ll find plenty of introductions in the Great West Way guide. Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, does however oﬀer a unique view of the surroundings. Windsor
Castle’s Conquer the Tower Tour, which is only open to the public in August and September, enjoys 360degree views of Windsor, the London skyline, Eton College and the ames Valley. Do educate your class with a visit to Eton, Windsor’s intertwined twin. Considering its proximity to London, this home county is big on old English charm. Leafy villages and horsedrawn canal boats will leave your group convinced they are a hundred miles down the Great West Way, and one hundred years or more in the past. You really can escape
the hustle and bustle of the twenty-first century along the Way, and you don’t have to travel far to travel back in time. Well - you do travel back in time at Maidenhead Heritage Centre, but there’s also the communities of Cookham, Sonning, Bray and Bisham, and a hundred more places just as pretty and welcoming … and Legoland Windsor, Basildon Park, Reading Abbey, and Caversham Court too. You’ll need a hire from Windsor Carriages or the Swinley Bike Hub to get around them all.
So near, not so far •Windsor Castle & St George's Chapel •Legoland Windsor Resort (oh, we mentioned that) •Ascot and Royal Windsor racecourse •LaplandUK - seasonal fun in Ascot •e Savill Garden,Egham, Surrey •Explore the River ames •French Brothers Boat Trips •Private Boat Hire Ltd Maidenhead •Windsor Great Park
Great West Way
Title Ambassador: Jo Atkins, National Trust ere’s no denying that at sunrise, with the blond sandstone of the facade illuminated in the soft morning light, Lacock Abbey is as pretty as a picture.
It’s probably why it was the inspiration behind its most famous resident, William Henry Fox Talbot and why Lacock is renowned as the UK birthplace of photography. Imaging that, a real person with the name ‘Fox’ - we should open an X File. “I would suggest Lacock as it oﬀers the chance to try a bit of everything the Trust has to oﬀer,” says Jo Atkins, the marketing and communications consultant for the National Trust, taking a day out from her Salisbury base to show us around some of the fifteen treasures, cared for by the Trust, along the Great West Way. “It’s steeped in history, from when Ela of Salisbury chose this spot for her abbey in 1232, through its life as a nunnery and transition into a unique home.” Like many ‘abbeys’ around the UK, Lacock takes its name from the original use of the site as a monastic location. “Lacock’s ecclesiastical aﬀectations and beautiful grounds are a place to relax, explore and reconnect,” says the Trust’s own introduction to the property near Chippenham. “ey encourage you to wander through the changing colours, spot some woodland wildlife, and don’t forget the celebration of innovation too. You might just want to get a group selfie before you go in.
It’s not just about the house itself, Lacock also celebrates innovation, with the Fox Talbot Museum celebrating William Henry Fox Talbot and Lacock as the UK birthplace of photography.”
to pick up the perfect souvenir,” says Jo, who, let’s not forget, does have the marketing brief for the trust in this area. “Having visited Lacock there’s then the opportunity to continue to travel through time at somewhere like Tyntesfield or Barrington, explore another museum at Avebury or take in more dramatic views on a walk at Dyrham Park or Stourhead. ere’s plenty of variety and breadth in what can be found. So many eras of history can be discovered along with dramatic wild countryside, immaculate landscaped gardens, plus the fascinating stories of the people who shaped these special places.”
ere’s more to the Great West Way than picturesque locations and a laid-back lifestyle. As Lacock Abbey demonstrates, there are plenty of surprises and innovations to discover too. It’s not just the house that’s been in the frame either. “e picturesque village with its timber-framed cottages, interesting shops and bustling community is well worth exploring, says Jo. “It may also look familiar to some, having been used as the backdrop for film and TV productions.”
At a mere eight centuries old, Lacock is but one of the youngsters in the Trust’s local portfolio. Jo Atkins has some sites that might be considered more established to show to your group. “ere are ancient sites such as Avebury and the Stonehenge landscape. ere’s also the glittering Elizabeth mansion at Montacute; the late seventeenth-century house and parkland at Dyrham; a Victorian gothic country house and estate at Tyntesfield and the house and worldfamous landscape garden at Stourhead – a sublime creation of reflective water, woods, temples trees and grottoes.”
For those groups that take fresh air seriously, Lacock’s setting, nestled alongside the River Avon in rolling Wiltshire landscape, is an ideal place to make sure you’ve packed your walking boots. “It’s also a great place to get outdoors. ere’s seasonal colour in the wooded grounds, botanic garden, greenhouse and orchard; from early spring bulbs to golden autumn hues.” As we all know, there is always something upon which to rely at a National Trust property. “ere are two National Trust tea rooms to choose from for refreshment and a National Trust shop in the High Street 30
So near, not so far More places Steeped in history: • Horace Walpole’s Georgian Gothic Strawberry Hill House and Garden in London. • Sandycombe Lodge is the quiet retreat Turner used as his escape from the London art world. • Basildon Park, the fabulous Palladian mansion near Reading. • Shaw House in Newbury, one of the best preserved Elizabethan mansions in England. • Squeeze your group into the cottage-sized Aldermaston Tea Rooms in the village near Reading. • e working industrial heritage of Crofton Beam Engines, in the rolling hills near Marlborough. • Check out the Merchant’s House in the centre of Marlborough . • Book a meal stop at the traditional White Horse Inn, in the village of Compton Bassett, Near Calne. • Ashdown House is an unusual Dutch-style house on the Berkshire Downs, well worth your attention.
Escape the everyday
It’s time for
Great West Way
Gardens and Houses You’ll all find dozens of blooming participants from the National Garden Scheme as you travel the Great West Way,
But progressing eastwards, and if your party plan a horticultural bonanza, then they are about to arrive at the Great West Way venue that’s always in bloom with all the flowering riches of the world. Kew Gardens is surely part of the green crown jewels of the journey. Great gardens and great houses go hand in hand, so you’ll find inspiring built heritage, tended with just as much loving care as the lawns and beds that frame them. Explore Kew with an experienced guide to gain an insight into the history and work, identify exotic plants, the great glasshouses and so much more. Experience the beautiful botanic gardens and the most biodiverse place on Earth. Visit the wild botanic garden, with 500 acres of woodland and the world's largest seed conservation project. Conservation wasn’t top of the agenda for our famously discontent monarch. During Henry VIII’s time at Hampton Court Palace, when portion control was obviously outlawed, his courtiers ate their meals under ‘eavesdroppers’, painted faces reminding them not to gossip. After all, what goes on at Hampton Court, stays at Hampton Court. 500th anniversary of the
Field of Cloth of Gold (postponed from 2020) with the 'Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King' exhibition running from 1 April-5 September 2021
e inspiration came from the former owner, Robert Adam, the famous architect who did a decent sideline in interior design. If you’ve based yourself in one of the pretty locations along the Great West Way, your group are well placed to collect a series of visits to the rural houses and gardens. Highclere will be an obvious target for fans of Downton Abbey. Cliveden, on the upper reaches of the ames, also has star quality - it’s the house where Hollywood actress Meghan Markle stayed in preparation for her wedding to Prince Harry.
ere’s so much more to choose from, e Savill Garden in Surrey is an inspired series of gardenscapes, certain to excite the most reluctant of gardeners, while Ham House in Richmond is renowned as the most haunted house in England. Check out the Cherry Garden instead. Not far, there’s Osterley Park and House. e wide open spaces are echoed in the marvellous decorative interiors at this Neoclassical mansion.
Consider too Bowood House and Garden in Calne, a 34
Georgian accomplishment with beautifully-preserved ‘Capability’ Brown parklands. en there’s Stonor Park, an architectural miscellany, reflecting its protracted construction. Avebury Manor and Garden is more modern than its prehistoric neighbour, and better decorated than those standing stones too. Eighteenth-century Basildon Park was saved from destruction after World War II, and was brought back to life during the challenging times of the 1950s. It’s a wonder now. Everyone knows the name of Blenheim Palace, but there’s a uniqueness to this baroque masterpiece. Just a little
north of the Great West Way, but well worth the detour, it is the only non-royal, nonepiscopal, country house in
England deemed a palace.
Dyrham Park near Bath are currently being reimagined, inspired by a detailed bird’seye engraving Dutch artist Johannes Kip made of the landscape in 1712. Some other west end favourites include Berkeley Castle, Tyntesfield, and Prior Park a romantic garden in Bath blessed with swans and snowdrops.
It’s not all about the past. e formal gardens at #GreatWestWay
So near, not so far A few more horticulturally and architecturally inspired ideas…
classical architecture. • Westonbirt, the National Arboretum in the Cotswolds - the clue is in the name. It’s great, especially with the colours of spring and autumn. • Peto Garden - at Iford Manor Estate in Bradford upon Avon, this Italianate masterpiece with a summer arts programme to match. • Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury - the best Grade I listed Neo-Renaissance French château in the whole of Buckinghamshire
• Longleat House - part of the Longleat Estate, this Elizabethan house has 15 magnificent rooms to explore. • Stourhead - a world-famous garden renowned for its
Great West Way
London journey’s end, adventure’s beginning Let’s not dwell on Westway. Students of Brutalist architecture will find it worthy of note, but few of them would live in its oppressive shadow, as the elevated highway snakes into west London.
Far better to arrive as nature intended - along the Great Western Railway to the vaulted cathedral that is Paddington Station (although an alternative route by way of what was the Southern Railway is permissible to Waterloo). Paddington and Bayswater may not be the most fashionable of London
suburbs, but as a welcome from or gateway to the Great West Way, they are twins who work well together. From here you can reach any part of London in a thrice even the impressive Great Northern Hotel, reworked next to the reborn Kings Cross. You may need to google that - it’s not quite on the Great West Way. Neither might the Wellington Arch
be described as upon the Way either, but that shouldn’t deter your group from a visit to one of London’s most enigmatic attractions. Standing on the corner (literally in the middle of the road), the arch is not a solid stone construction. Its interior was once the smallest police station in London, 36
and now is home to three floors of exhibits detailing the history of the arch, and an exhibition titled Waterloo 1815: e Battle for Peace (try telling that to your French friends). e terraces of the arch command unique views of west London, Green Park and Hyde Park. e Duke himself doesn’t actually feature on the plinth atop. He vacated that spot in
1912, and the ‘Quadriga’ has been there ever since. Not that the current Duke, a politician rather than a cavalryman, would have far to go, Apsley House, the oﬃcial London townhouse of the Dukes of Wellington, is next door. If you take the Great West Way’s other rail partner - the South Western Railway you can easily reach Strawberry Hill House & Garden. is Gothic Revival villa was built in Twickenham by Horace Walpole in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Handy for the rugby (not that there was nay rugby in 1749). e style caught on and gave us the Gothic legacy that spread throughout the country. Pretty as a picture? Absolutely, and that’s why Turner’s House, the home of
England’s celebrated landscape artist, is right here in Twickenham too. South Western will also get your group to Barnes, from where it’s a short walk to the London Wetlands Centre, a nature reserve amid the urban suburbs of the capital. It’s something of an oasis for wildlife, and not small respite for humans too. It’s only down to the tireless work of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust that this one hundred acre site is so well kept and relaxing. It’s appropriate that we’ve come to adventure’s end within sight of the skyscrapers of London. Here we are, on the banks of the ames, surrounded by wildlife. When we started out, with the Atlantic at our backs, we had the salty air from the tidal shores of the
Severn Estuary in our nostrils. So much variety has come between that beginning and this ending. e Great West Way experience is anything but repetitive. From the oceanic trade routes to the markets of London, the Great West Way links them both, by water, road and rail. ere’s history, heritage, county towns and city streets all to savour in between. It’s an informal chain of icons and iconic places to visit. If your group think all there is to see between Bristol and London is Silicon Corridor and the M4, then it’s time to introduce them to all the other wonders that make up the Great West Way.
Operator. e Great West Way Oﬃcial Tour Operator programme was launched in June 2018 as a key element of the travel trade strategy. is partnership approach supports an ongoing commitment from tour operators to develop, market and distribute programmes. ere are currently agreements in place with 82 Great West Way Oﬃcial Tour Operators. To discuss how you can get involved please contact flowallace@GreatWestWay.co.uk
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WHICH WAY NEXT? Be Curious. Be Responsible.
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