Wiltshire is a county in the South of England, a large proportion of which is covered by the chalky Salisbury Plain.
The county has a distinct air of mystery, with its huge collection of important monuments from prehistory. Stonehenge is undoubtedly the most famous, but there is an awesome stone circle at Avebury, and nearby is the huge Silbury Hill. The chalk has also lent itself to hill figures, notably White Horses, and in the 20th century Warminster gained a reputation for the town most visited by UFOs.
The county town of Wiltshire is Trowbridge, but the county is named after Wilton (it was originally Wiltonshire), a historic town which was once a Royal residence and had an important Abbey, but is now best known for the manufacture of carpets.
Salisbury is a splendid cathedral city, which was moved in the Middle Ages from Old Sarum, a hilltop site where it was difficult to obtain water. Salisbury has a glorious cathedral, with a graceful spire which at 404 feet is the tallest in England. Salisbury also has the largest cathedral close in England, and the view of this much-loved Gothic building by the water meadows of the Wiltshire Avon was famously captured on canvas by both Constable and Turner.
Amesbury claims to be the place to which Guinevere, King Arthur’s Queen, retired after her infidelity with Lancelot. Bradford-on-Avon has a rare bridge chapel, and a Saxon church which was hidden within a later building for centuries.
Chippenham is a fine old market town, and was the scene of the taxi crash which killed Eddie Cochran and crippled Gene Vincent. Devizes has fine ornamental Market Cross.
Lacock was the home of William Henry Fox Talbot, the pioneer of photography, and there is a museum devoted to his work in this highly picturesque village. Malmesbury is a fascinating hilltop settlement which has the oldest charter of any English town. The parish church is housed in the extensive remains of the great Malmesbury Abbey, in which King Athelstan was buried.
Marlborough is another market town with a long and very wide High Street. A mound within the grounds of Marlborough College is said to be where Merlin is imprisoned. Swindon was a very important railway town on Brunel’s Great Western Railway, and now has a very popular railway museum.
Also in Wiltshire is Longleat, one of the great stately homes of England, now famous for the lions in its safari park. Stourhead landscaped gardens are managed by the National Trust, and Castle Combe, where the Rex Harrison film of “Doctor Dolittle” was set, has been claimed to be the prettiest village in England.
Natives of Wiltshire are known as “Moonrakers”, after a legend that some dwellers in the county were once seen trying to fish the moon’s reflection out of a pond with a rake.