Between abandoned villages, Neolithic ‘Houses of the Dead’, and architecturally perfect historic houses, there’s a whole side of Wiltshire you may well not know about. Here are some of the best secret spots in the British county, the kind of unique, quirky and unusual things to do in Wiltshire which you won’t often encounter in any guide books!
Cat’s Brain Long Barrow
While almost everyone has heard of the historic sites of Stonehenge (the most architecturally advanced Neolithic stone circle in the world) and Avebury (one of the largest set of Neolithic stones in the UK), few have heard of some of the other hidden gems of history which Salisbury has to offer.
Cat’s Brain Long Barrow is one such place, a neolithic house of the dead which was estimated to have been used 3600 years ago and can be found somewhere between Stonehenge and Avebury. In the Summer of 2017, archaeologists spent time excavating the U-Shaped ditch and found all sorts of historical treasures which haven’t been seen for some 5000 years; carved flints and broken pottery were among the finds.
Imber Abandoned Village
Decades ago when Britain was at war, the inhabitants of a small village in the heart of Salisbury Plain were given less than two months notice to pack up and leave their homes. For good. Although the residents were promised to be able to return following the war, the Military of Defense (then known as the Home Office) decided that Salisbury Plain was too valuable to give up.
As such, the villagers were forced to relocate. It’s said that the blacksmith was so sad that he died of a broken heart just a few months later. Today, the ghost village of Imber is open for just a few weeks a year, often less. While most of the houses have long since gone, reduced to rubble during military live firing exercises, just a few buildings survive.
The shells of two village pubs (which were used as drinking establishments at different times) survive, as does the wealthy manor house of the village, Imber Court. As for the old vicarage and Baptist Church, both are entirely gone, save for the Baptist Church Cemetery. Today, the only building in full working order is the medieval church of St Giles and this can be visited during the Imber Open days held around Easter and towards the end of August each year.
Read more: A visit to the UK ghost town of Imber
Explore Salisbury Plain
Of all the secrets of Wilshire, exploring Salisbury Plain, a chalky elevated expanse a few miles from the city of Salisbury is easily one of the most unusual things to do in Salisbury. While much of the plain is closed off to the public as it is used as a live firing range for the military, there is still plenty to see.
In order to get the best experience of the Plain, I highly recommend partaking in the Salisbury Plain Safari. This two-hour immersive tour highlights the wildlife on the Plain (including the opportunity to maybe spot the Bustard, a large flying bird), as well as the chance to delve into the history of Salisbury Plain. After all, from here it’s possible to see the White Horse of Pewsey.
Read more: 9 Wonderful reasons to visit Salisbury ASAP!
Mompesson House, Sense and Sensibility Filming Location, Salisbury
For fans of period drama, the facçade and beautiful interiors of Mompesson House may already well be familiar. Used as the filming location for the 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, this beautiful Queen Anne era townhouse is well worth a visit on any trip to the cathedral city of Salisbury.
Gifted to the National Trust in the 1940s by architect Mr. Denis Martineau, the former family home was constructed in the 1700s at the behest of a local MP. While the house may not get as much press as other stately homes in the area (Stourhead and Lacock Abbey to name but a few), it’s well worth a visit for an hour or two during any trip to Salisbury.
Old Sarum, Salisbury
On the fringes of the city of Salisbury, above the aptly named village of ‘Stratford Sub Castle’ sits a massive mound which was once the site of a Neolithic Settlement, probably dating back to 3000 BCE. In more recent times, Old Sarum was where the settlement of Salisbury, which now lies some miles from the historic site, was first founded.
As such, the area is home to the foundations of the first and second Salisbury Cathedrals, as well as an impressive fortified compound which demonstrates what a fortified Motte and Bailey Castle would have looked like during the time of the Norman Conquest. While the compound is now managed by English Heritage, the surrounds of Old Sarum are free to visit and make for the perfect picnic spot.
Read more: Visiting the historic site of Old Sarum
Old Wardour Castle, near Tisbury
The crumbling and romantic ruins of Old Wardour Castle have seen plenty of action in their lifetime. More, in fact, than most castles see in centuries. Now managed by English Heritage, the fortifications were first constructed in the 14th Century and even served as inspiration for the Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves film.
During the castle’s heyday, it was one of the most sumptuous residences in England, sporting all of the mod-cons and luxuries of its day. Highlights of Old Wardour, include an audio tour with a focus on the Civil War (the guide is included in the ticket entry price), incredible turrets and grottos.