If you want a vacation full of the dull and expected, the Great Western Way isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you’re a curious to find the true essence of a place with adventure and intrigue at every corner, this route is certainly up your alley.
1. SS Great Britain
Known as ‘The Ship that Changed the World’, this is one of the UK’s finest visitor attractions. The SS Great Britain was launched in 1843 with size and innovation ahead of its time. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, this ship was first of its kind to be made out of iron and have a screw propeller. The SS Great Britain would go on to carry emigrants to Australia and eventually carry exports between England and the west coast of America. Today, Brunel’s SS Great Britain is an award-winning museum in Bristol. You can visit the Dockyard, tour the ship and get an in-depth look at Brunel’s life and legacy.
2. Clifton Suspension Bridge
Spanning the picturesque Avon Gorge, this bridge joins Bristol and North Somerset. The Leigh Woods Visitor Centre tells the story behind its iconic symbolism in British engineering. You can discover even more with a volunteer guide at no cost. A gem within this hidden gem is the hardhat tour of the Leigh Woods Vaults. Discovered in 2002, these hidden chambers help support the tower and hold up the bridge.
3. Caen Hill Locks
This ‘Wonder of the Waterway’ is a rite of passage. It’s the longest continuous flight of locks in Britain with a total of 39 locks. It has a rise of 237 feet over 2 miles. This innovation was engineer John Rennie’s solution to climbing a steep hill found in Devizes. It’s designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument – the same level of heritage protection given to Stonehenge. Outdoor lovers will appreciate the Diamond Jubilee Wood and Caen Hill, which provide the chance for leisurely strolls and fresh air.
4. Windsor Great Park
Not far from the not-so-hidden gem of Windsor Castle, this area is full of historic parkland and award-winning gardens. It dates as far back as pre-Saxon times and has witnessed countless events throughout history. Each of these events has left a mark on the landscape. In the days of William the Conqueror, it was used as a hunting ground. Queen Victoria often entertained on the shores of Virginia Water. Windsor Great Park’s royal connections remain strong to this day as HRH the Duke of Edinburgh is the current Ranger. Groups can take a Royal Heritage Tour to get an in-depth look at its rich history.
5. Blenheim Palace
England’s answer to France’s Versailles, Blenheim Palace is truly a living legacy. From the intriguing painting of eyes at the front door to Winston Churhill’s birth room, many stories are waiting to be told in this enchanting landmark. It is currently home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough and his family. A designated UNSECO World Heritage Site, Blenheim Palace is a treat for all who visit.
6. Avebury Henge and Stone Circles
Heritage and history are calling at this marvel of prehistoric Britain. This is said to be the largest stone circle in the UK and was built between 2850 BC and 2200 BC. It encircles an area that includes part of Avebury village and is proclaimed as a World Heritage Site.
7. Glastonbury Tor
Packed with legend and lore, this iconic hill fascinates as much as it inspires. For centuries, it’s been a spiritual magnet for both Pagans and Christians. Take a bit of history, embellished truths and perhaps a sprinkle of magic and you get none other than Glastonbury Tor. It’s said a hidden cave lies beneath the hill and offers a passageway into the fairly realm of Annwn. At the hilltop stands the remains of the 14th century church of St Michael. The hill rises at 518 feet and offers beautiful views overlooking the Isle of Avalon, Glastonbury and Somerset.
8. Highclere Castle – the Real Downton Abbey
Step onto the set of the hit PBS series and discover its multi-faceted heritage. Owned by the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, Highclere Castle is nothing if not luxurious. Its elegance and beauty seen on television is even better in person. You can stroll through the library where many serious Crawley conversations took place. The State Dining Room where the show’s dinner parties enchanted and intrigued is accessible, as well.
9. Cycle paths
The Great Western Way is accessible in many forms of transportation – including bike. You can travel all the way from Bristol to London on this mostly flat terrain as you follow canals, rivers and vales. This route covers famous landmarks and stunning scenery.
10. Cranborne Chase
Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Cranborne Chase covers 380 square miles of countryside. Its diverse landscape overlaps Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset. You’ll find ancient woodlands, chalk river valleys and more in this beautiful area. Cranborne Chase is a great spot to take in England’s great outdoors with activities like horseback riding and hiking. And, of course, it’s filled with opportunities to take the perfect Instagram photo.
11. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Just 30 minutes from Central London, the Kew Gardens promote education, value and conservation of plants and fungi. You can visit theTemperate House to see over 10,000 plants in the world’s biggest Victorian glasshouse.