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Hidden Gems and Alternative Wonders

- an occasional series -


While a Windsor Castle tour is top of the list for many visitors, especially from the US, England has many equally beautiful if less considered hidden gems. If you are taking one of our Stonehenge Tours from London you may well choose Bath as somewhere else to visit while ‘way out west’ but less frequented places can give you a more personal and less crowded encounter with our old days and our old ways.

While driver guiding does mean you’ll avoid that ‘back-on-the-bus by 11.15’ mentality there are still only so many hours in the day, and although the wonder of our ancient monuments would ideally be experienced with only the company of our nearest and dearest, too often we are shuffling along with the 150 people who have just got off the coach, being addressed in stentorian tones with a language we struggle to even identify. Oh to have it all to ourselves!


So:

Instead of:

Windsor-Stonehenge- Bath




Consider:

Winchester-Avebury-Lacock Abbey



Winchester - may not be hidden but it is most definitely a gem. If you had been visiting our capital in times past it may well not have been London but this beautiful little city set deep in the Hampshire countryside.

It’s as old as the hills, there is a pizza restaurant there that was built in1050! It predates Windsor Castle and The Tower of London. The Romans called it their capital at one point as did Alfred the Great, who hid from his enemies in the Somerset levels before taking on and beating the Vikings and uniting England for pretty much the first time. Winchester is also exceedingly pleasant and small enough to walk around. Kings were imprisoned here, queens got married. The City Mill is over a thousand years old and still working. It was the final abode of Jane Austin. A walk along the gentle chalk stream that is the river Itchen as it circles through the town may well lead to you enquiring after property prices! It is one only about 200 such in the world and home to our native brown trout.


Avebury Stone Circle – is every bit as ancient and mysterious as it more famous neolithic neighbour Stonehenge, what’s more you can get up close and personal with the stones. You can rest your cheek against them or, in the case of The Devils Chair, even sit on them. They stand in a huge circle around the village of Avebury, accompanied by the even more mysterious Silbury Hill, a small man made mountain whose purpose we can only guess at. There is a beautiful old pub, the Red Lion near the centre of the village. There is no visitor centre, no gift shop. It is usually very quiet and you can almost have the place to yourself.


Lacock Village and Abbey – to visit Lacock Village is to step back in time. I think the newest building there is Georgian, the handsome coaching Inn (another Red Lion!) The oldest is from 1210 and the Abbey followed shortly at 1232. This last in an extraordinary curate’s egg of a place, being converted from and Abbey to a private mansion in Tudor times. It is also famous as the home of Fox-Talbot, the father of photography, and you can still see the window which was the subject of the first ever photographic negative. Harry Potter fans may recognise the cloisters, used as a location for both Philosophers Stone and Chamber of

Secrets.






It’s still a busy day but total drive time is about half an hour less (at 5 ½ hours). Of course, as so often in England, a drive through the beautiful countryside is very much part of the experience. It could be customised to fit in with a Cotswolds tour from London, especially if you were to consider and overnight stay either in one of the Cotswolds villages or in Bath. That way you could even take a Stonehenge tour on the way back to London if it was somewhere you were determined to visit.

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