Staycation amongst Gallopers, Green Hills and Granthams (Berkshire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire)

on Wednesday 19th May 2021

When I was compiling my list of places to go when the covid barriers were lifted, The Vale of the
White Horse was at the top. I’d been dreaming for months of getting into my trusty FIAT and driving into Wiltshire, delving into those chalky hills and weaving through the villages nestled amongst them. Then two weeks ago, there I was doing it! Those green hills make you feel like you want to get dressed in your “dirndl” like Julie Andrews and leap across them singing! (well, some of us anyway). Thankfully it was a lovely day but it had been raining the day before so the dirndl would have got a bit muddy if I’d decided to wear it….
The Vale of the White Horse sits just east of Swindon, with the Cotswolds to the north and the Vale of Pewsey to the south, straddling Berkshire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire. What can one find in “them there ‘ills”? Mysterious horse-shaped chalk hill-carvings for one thing, and for another, the real mccoy, galloping about in the fields, rearing to go, prepared for horse-racing at Newbury or Ascot.
The most famous white chalk horse is at Uffington, (National Trust) just east of Swindon, from the top of which you have superb views, but the Vale of Pewsey has loads more, some of which will knock you off your perch when you spot them. You just have to pull the car over!

But, what I was to discover on my drive was that I’d forgotten the time of the year and to my delight, driving along a country lane near Marlborough (this was at the beginning of May), and glancing to the right, I saw an entire woodland where the bluebells were out – what a brilliant time of the year to come.

Talking of Marlborough, it’s really a delightful town – as soon as you drive into the high street you know it was once a busy Georgian “coaching town” based on all the big archways between the buildings, through which the coaches and horses used to trot to get to the stables behind, to spend the night before taking their gout-ridden passengers off to Bath or other places! These have turned into independent shops, welcoming cafes and restaurants, and there is also a weekly market. Legend even has it that Marlborough is the place where Merlin was buried!

Not too far away from Marlborough is Newbury, with its horse-racing course and still remembered in recent history as the place where people were arguing over a byasss and the discovery of a “demoulins” snail played a part in putting a spanner in the works for a while.

A place of pilgrimage for me is the fabulous Highclere Castle, just outside Newbury, where Downton Abbey was filmed. Tickets are once more available to the public and Lady Carnarvon has announced that a new Downton film is in the offing. I can’t wait and neither can several million others! Ancient history enthusiasts will also enjoy the exhibition on the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun by Lord Carnarvon in the 1920’s – before digging into tea and delicious scones!

Still on the subject of Downton, it’s just 30 minutes from Marlborough to get into the Cotswolds
where the fictional village of Downton can be found – it’s called Bampton and is not far from
Burford. So that’s where I and my trusty FIAT went, to find Lady Isobel’s house and the church which I knew so well from my lounge. It’s surreal to see it in real life and you could see the locals’ thought bubbles saying “ooh look, another set-jetter!”.

Having enjoyed my short stop in Bampton, I drove to The Swan pub at Swinbrook and sat out in their garden for a spot of Welsh Rarebit and to savour the antics of their pet bantams! I asked them if it were possible to stay overnight (like Lady Sybil and Branson eloping to Gretna Green, before they were discovered by Lady Mary and Lady Edith) and they said they were booked until at least September!

To learn more about the area, Blue Badge guides like myself can be booked. Hear all about the
sights in carefree bliss, and safety, without the worry of spending hours researching.

For more staycationing tips for the Vale of the White Horse, or to My Tours, please contact the
author, Blue Badge Guide, Bobbie Latter: 07770933117