Hillside hikes, canal cruises, and ancient monuments are among the highlights of this AONB.
Miles of rolling countryside await in the North Wessex Downs, but this AONB also has plenty of surprises up its sleeve. White chalk horses gaze down from the hillsides, ancient stone circles lie in the valleys, and lively market towns pepper the riverside. Explore the natural landscapes on foot, by bike, or on horseback; cruise the canals by boat or kayak; or escape to a tranquil campsite by the waterfront or in the forest. May through September is the most pleasant time for camping, but the weather can be temperamental even in summer, so pack for all-seasons.
Most of the North Wessex Downs lie within Wiltshire, where you can hike, cycle, or horseback ride across open chalklands. Visit the UNESCO-listed Avebury stone circle, explore the Great West Way heritage trail, or marvel at the Wiltshire White Horses, giant chalk drawings etched onto the hillsides. To the south, the world-famous Stonehenge is an easy detour, and there are more hiking opportunities in the surrounding Salisbury Plains.
Downton Abbey fans won’t want to miss a visit to Highclere Castle—the real-life Downton Abbey—in the southeast corner of North Wessex Downs. Explore the surrounding farmlands by bike, stop off at pretty Hampshire villages, or stay at quiet country campgrounds. To the south, the cathedral city of Winchester and the New Forest National Park are less than an hour’s drive.
Newbury and Reading are the gateways to the eastern downlands, where the hillside towns are dotted with thatched-roof cottages and traditional pubs. Take a leisurely boat cruise along the Kent & Avon Canal, stop to browse the markets in Hungerford, or hike the 20-mile Lambourn Valley Way.
The northern borders of the North Wessex Downs spill over into Oxfordshire, where highlights include the market town of Wantage and the Uffington White Horse. Continue north to visit the university city of Oxford or take a road trip along the winding country lanes of the Cotswolds, another AONB.