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August 7, 2018 7:36 AM   Subscribe

We're off to England in a couple of weeks, and we've got the big touristy sights down, but could use suggestions for things to see/do/eat in the really specific area we're visiting- Wiltshire/Dorset.

Our 8 year old will be with us, so bonus for things are neat for kids, but he's a good traveler who can handle historic sites/museums and a good deal of walking (but not all-day hikes where the only point is the ramble). We went to London/York/Warwick last year with him and had a magical time.

We're staying one night each in Burley, Wareham, and Glastonbury, and then a week in Salisbury. Stonehenge & Avebury are on our list of will-sees, and we're going to check out the Great British Food Fest that's happening at Bowood House. Any suggestions for attractions/lovely places/cute villages that have something besides cuteness to see/good food* within 1.5-ish hours of Salisbury? (I say "good food" but we are not foodies or fancy food people, something that is gastropub or Nando's level is our speed, but maybe... on the tastier side?) I know you can find cute villages everywhere in that area, but for the kid, having some kind of point to being in a place besides "ooh, thatched roof cottages" would be nice, even if it's just "this place has a bunch of interesting shops."

If it helps, things we like: history, castles, aliens, ghost stories and creepy stuff, books/bookstores, the Great British Bake Off, animals, British comedy, and escapism so I can temporarily forget the never ending nightmare of current events and politics.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Winchester? Has been downgraded to Not the Actual Round Table much to my dismay, but sufficiently medieval. Winchester Round Table. In a castle.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:10 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is probably a bit niche but in case it appeals: you could visit the Great Bustard reintroduction project.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 8:11 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you're willing to head into Swindon while you're in the Avebury area, Steam is a nice, kid-friendly place to visit.
posted by pipeski at 8:16 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

If any of you are into old cars, the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu is a 50 min drive from Salisbury. You can eat there if you like, but we had lunch at The Royal Oak pub nearby when we visited last year and it was good.
posted by terretu at 8:30 AM on August 7, 2018

In Salisbury, you're about an hour away from the south coast, which from Studland down to Exmouth (near me!) is known as the "Jurassic Coast" because of its geological delights.

For you this may translate to Fascinating History but for your kid, if he's anything like I was, it translates to FOSSILS.

You could head straight south to Lulworth Cove which is supposed to be good for them, and you can also see the super cool Durdle Door near there.

If you can handle a slightly longer trip, go further west to Seatown, Charmouth or Lyme Regis. The land there is so rich with fossils you can practially pick up a belemnite on the beach easier than a pebble. They also come with the requisite tea shops, fish and chip shops, and Nice Pubs, so you'd be set for the day.
posted by greenish at 8:34 AM on August 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

Don't miss the Westbury White Horse and others nearby.

You can also see the Magna Carta at Salisbury Cathedral.
posted by argonauta at 8:40 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

You could head straight south to Lulworth Cove

And if you're in that area you should go on a steam train on the Swanage Railway - it has a station at Corfe Castle which is a cool ruined castle - ruined because it was actually blown up during the Civil War.
posted by jontyjago at 8:47 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Swanage railway and Corfe Castle, as well as the surrounding Corfe village, which is ancient looking even for England.
posted by cardboard at 8:51 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Army Flying Museum in Middle Wallop was good fun, some interactive stuff for 8 year olds too.

The Living Rainforest near Newbury - we all loved that, especially the photographers.

The Wessex Gallery of the Salisbury Museum is devoted to Stonehenge, Avebury, the Amesbury Archer, etc. so would be a good tie-in, especially if it's a hot day - kids can dress up as Indiana Jones style archeologists and complete a written quiz as they go around (really great staff when we've done it with our kids). I love the upper floor displays of ceramics too.

Will you have a car? You could walk/picnic along Watership Down and eat in the village of Kingsclere (Bel and the Dragon and Honesty coffee shop both highly recommended).
posted by humph at 8:55 AM on August 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh and you could try the newly opened Shire Hall in Dorchester (40 miles from Salisbury and where I live) - according the Guardian it's a good kids day out. You also have the Dinosaur Museum or the Tutankhamun Exhibition as well.
posted by jontyjago at 8:56 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Me again! There is also the Tank Museum and Monkeyworld near Wool which are good kid-friendly days out depending on interests.
posted by jontyjago at 8:58 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Tank Museum at Bovington - I've not been but the former tank engineer in the house has been, ahem, more than once and says it's excellent.

Oh that reminds me, Butser Farm! Brilliant day out, kids can dress up in Roman soldier garb, really lovely staff (Time Team have filmed there in the past).
posted by humph at 9:01 AM on August 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding the Tank Museum and Monkeyworld! You might even do them both in a day.
posted by churlishmeg at 9:36 AM on August 7, 2018

Other parent here - I'm taking said 8 year old to a Southampton FC game while banjo gets some alone time. Does anyone know if The Hobbit Pub in Southampton is kid-okay for post match dinner? On one hand, I see they host Magic the Gathering nights, on the other, they have a lot of drinks specials so...
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:36 AM on August 7, 2018

While at Avebury, make sure to check out Silbury Hill, a really ancient man-made hill, the tallest prehistoric thing in Europe. Nobody has any idea why or how it was built. You used to be able to walk up it, not sure if that's still allowed.

You can do a tour of the Wadworth Brewery in Devizes, which is just down the road from Avebury.

Also Devizes has a really peculiar monument in the middle of town, erected in memory of Ruth Pierce. "On being accused of theft, Ruth protested her innocence and called on God to strike her dead if she were telling a lie. It seems the Almighty took her at her word and the stolen money was found in her dead hand."

Near that is The Bear Hotel, a nice old pub.
posted by w0mbat at 10:35 AM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Hobbit in Southampton is largely a student pub, hence the drinks specials and live music - it can get a bit loud in there and may not be the most kid-friendly dinner option depending on the kid. If you're coming from St Mary's stadium you could head to Ocean Village half a mile away for some good eating options, or the main restaurant quarter is Oxford Street (less than a mile). Or for more of a historic pub feel, the ones on Bugle Street are next to Southampton's medieval town walls (The Dancing Man is great, The Duke of Wellington is more traditional).
posted by bent back tulips at 12:32 PM on August 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you like creepy stuff, the Woodchester Mansion is well worth a visit. It's in Gloucestershire, and might take nearly two hours drive from Salisbury. It's a Gothic revival mansion which has been left unfinished for more than a hundred years. Also, they have very well-studied bat colonies. From the website, it's open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through the tourist season.
posted by Azara at 12:53 PM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Silbury Hill and West Kennet Longbarrow are close to Avebury and within walking distance of each other and pretty inscrutably mysterious. Unlike Avebury they are atmospherically low key. Avebury is not low key at all and even though the site's been jessied up by English Heritage it is quite amazing and you can spend a day there and in the village and the gift shops and the fields which are the free bits of the site (the best bits) as well as the reconstructed bits you pay to enter. There are some free outdoor activities for children: toy cars, big chess etc. Last time I was there parking was about £8.

It might be worth your while to join the National Trust or English Heritage which will give you free entry to some of the sites you are interested in for one payment upfront. Also the advice is to pre-book Stonehenge.

If you are interested in railway history, Swindon was a railway town and built some of the first housing for railway workers. The Steam Museum mentioned above is well worth a visit with young'uns in tow.
posted by glasseyes at 12:56 PM on August 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Maybe someone with experience can chime in about whether joining the National Trust/English Heritage is worth it? I think it likely is, if as a family you visit more than one historic site while you're here.

Btw I have found Dorset to be weird! Time and space doesn't work the same there as in the rest of England! Very beautiful, and quite strange. Also, public transport non-existent, roads hilly and twisty, chalk hills funny-looking. There is an English artist called David Inshaw who has painted a lot of Dorset landscapes, the paintings are quite mystical and once you've been there you see what he is getting at. He painted the cliff at West Beach near Bridport several times, really there's not much to do there but walk up the rather dangerous cliff but if you're ever in the area...
posted by glasseyes at 1:08 PM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstone is a popular TV cook, runs River Cottage, here's a link in case you are interested, hearty and delicious (and expensive) food and events. I've no personal experience but it looks good on telly and he's well known in the area, Axminster.
posted by glasseyes at 1:26 PM on August 7, 2018

From Salisbury 1.5 hours takes you a long way. Lacock is gorgeous and Bath is worth a whole day to visit the Roman baths.

National Trust annual family membership is £120 and most properties are around £10 to visit so it is unlikely to be worth it for a holiday unless you are planning a lot of visits or visiting a few unusually expensive places.
posted by kadia_a at 2:09 PM on August 7, 2018

Wareham: you can do boat trips from the quay, and walk around the Roman walls (you may find these underwhelming). There's a local museum which again may underwhelm you (I enjoyed it, but I like dull things). Has stuff about TE Lawrence as well as Wareham.

Burley - I presume this isn't Burley in the New Forest? There are several witch shops there, just in case it is.

Glastonbury - you'll do the Tor presumably? Last time I went there there was a sort of witchy / ghost museum in the High Street, not sure if it's there now. There's a small and good museum also in the High Street about the Glastonbury Lake Village. There's also the Somerset Museum of Rural Life, though I haven't been there since it re-opened.

Dorchester - the county museum there is good.

Winchester is a bit dull for children, I think. The castle isn't very castley - you might prefer Wolvesey Palace. You might like to wander around the cathedral and Winchester College area (depends on your tolerance of privilege) and I think you can do tours of parts of the school. There's a good bookshop near the college and a good Oxfam bookshop in Parchment Street. There is also a hut near the cathedral where second-hand books are sold in aid of the cathedral, small but a good place to hunt, but I think the opening hours are obscure.

Southampton - I would say the Hobbit pub is not really child-friendly. If you are spending some time in the city, you might want to do Sea City Museum, mostly about the Titanic; the excellent and free art gallery; the Medieval Merchant's House; and Tudor House Museum.

Salisbury - Old Sarum, outside the city, is good and has a castle. Seconding the museum, though the archaeology gallery has overlap with the Dorchester museum so you probably wouldn't want to do both.

There are lots of amazing beaches around Christchurch - mostly shingle, often quite remote. Barton-on-Sea is good for fossils. There is a sandy beach at Bournemouth and also the excellent Russell Cotes Museum. And a cat cafe.

You might like Highcliffe Castle and Highclere Castle (not related to each other).

For railway history, there's the Steam Museum at Swindon.

It might be a bit of a busman's holiday for you, but the American Museum outside Bath is good.

The Milestones Museum of social history, in Basingstoke, is good - I'd say it's really a children's museum. Not a lot else to do in B'stoke though.

To the east of Salisbury (other side of Southampton) is Portsmouth, with the Dockyard with the Mary Rose, Victory etc. Not cheap. There's a good city museum in Portsmouth too. And the D-Day Museum and Southsea Castle. Good cake shop also.

Back towards Wiltshire, I also recommend Bradford-on-Avon and Devizes for museums, canal stuff and general wandering.

Salisbury is also about an hour from Bath and an hour and a half from Bristol, so you may want to consider them too. If you're driving, parking in both those places is pretty horrible.

(Are you planning a meet-up?)
posted by paduasoy at 2:38 PM on August 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

And, depending on when you're here, have a look at Heritage Open Days - a combination of special events, places open that are not normally open, and free entry to places that usually charge.
posted by paduasoy at 2:41 PM on August 7, 2018

Silbury Hill and West Kennet Longbarrow are close to Avebury and within walking distance of each other and pretty inscrutably mysterious.

The Long Barrow in particular is probably more fun for a kid than Stonehenge. You can go inside it! and it's dark and creepy! It's a quick visit but a fun one.

You are definitely not allowed to climb Silbury Hill any more, but it's definitely worth a quick visit to the viewing area when you're near Avebury as it's ancient and unsettling.

The gardens at Stourhead are lovely with lots of hermit-y follies; the village at Lacock is pretty much a time capsule.

You'll be a week or two late for the Imberbus, I think. The Ministry of Defence controls most of Salisbury Plain but there is limited public access on roads and paths skirting the Imber Firing Range.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:13 PM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, also: the Caen Hill Locks are kind of amazing.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:14 PM on August 7, 2018

Thank you SO much everyone, this is amazing!!! What a treasure trove of great ideas. And by all means, keep suggestions coming if anyone has more! I usually have our vacations planned out by the hour, and it's boggling my mind to go into this having a vague idea of what to do, but very few set plans. It's great to see a couple of suggestions for Devizes and Bradford-on-Avon, because I was thinking they look good for wandering, but it's hard to tell just from websites. Also maybe Malmesbury?

(Should we plan a meetup? If anyone is willing to meet in, say, Glasto or Salisbury, we're always up for a pint as long as it's ok to bring our little sidekick along..... I'll post an IRL to gauge interest before we leave!)
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 5:43 PM on August 7, 2018

Just chucking in a suggestion for Tyneham Village, which is in the same general area as Wareham, Lulworth and Bovington. During WWII the Ministry of Defence convinced the villagers to move out so that the army could use the village for exercises, but they never got to come back again, so the place has been empty for 75 years. The public are allowed to visit when the army isn't using the area for gunnery practice, which adds a certain frisson. August looks clear.
posted by Beverley Westwood at 11:13 AM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you happen to have a free evening in Swanage, there's a rather good professional theatre company working there until the 25th. The Railway Children is a family-friendly musical, and Communicating Doors is a strange, funny, scary-in-places play about time travel.

(A friend of mine is in the company; he's one of the best actors I know. I've seen the production of Communicating Doors and can recommend it as excellent.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:22 PM on August 11, 2018

Came back to say I've just spent a day in Malmesbury, as a direct result of this question. I think it may be a bit too small for decent wandering. Abbey is small. Abbey House Gardens next door are quite good, though a bit expensive (£8). The museum was closed so don't know about that. Also there appear to be very few bookshops in Wiltshire.
posted by paduasoy at 1:00 AM on August 27, 2018

We just got home from the trip, and I wanted to say thanks to everyone for the great recs! In case it's helpful to anyone in the future, here's a brief run-down of where we went:
1) Burley village in the New Forest (amazing! A++ would go again! There are wild ponies everywhere!);
2) Monkey World and Corfe Castle (loooved Corfe, and the village around it is super cute);
3) Glastonbury (climbed the Tor, which was fun, explored the Abbey, but the city itself had a bit of a worn down feel... we stayed at a witch themed b&b and Robocop_is_Bleeding got to join a seance/witch session that night at the b&b so it was worth it);
4) Southampton (I really enjoyed the Tudor Manor House museum, the boys really enjoyed a football game, and there was an excellent Pride celebration going on, so that was a bonus);
5) Bowood House for a food festival (it was freezing and pouring buckets, so kind of a bust, but we did meet Martha from the GBBO), and Bath (skipped the Roman Baths because the line was long and it was raining, we basically just shopped at the bookstores there);
6) Stonehenge (sunrise tour to get into the actual circle of stones, was amazing and worth every insane pound it cost) and a joust festival at Old Sarum (super fun);
7) Devizes (toured the Wadworth brewery, which was incredibly interesting- they don't allow kids on the tour, but we sent the kid to an archery/forest skills camp for the day); Avebury and the West Kennet Longbarrow (both amazing!);
8) Lyme Regis (really enjoyed the beach, town, and hunting for fossils along the cliffs);
9) Oxford;
10) Bournemouth (probably the most disappointing day of the trip, no offense to Bournemouth! there was a big air show festival going on, so the kid had fun, but there was nothing interesting for adults unless you're going to sit on the beach);
11) Winchester on the way to the airport (great stop for going to/from Heathrow, saw the Round Table which was fun, and there's a tiny hidden museum in the WestGate that was fun to stumble into).
Also, there's a fantastic ghost walk on Friday nights in Salisbury that's totally worth it, great stories and history. Salisbury was a great home base for exploring Wiltshire/Dorset/Hampshire, we tried to stay within an hour and a half drive to anywhere we wanted to visit, and that gave us a good exploration radius without feeling like we were spending the entire day in the car. Salisbury is chock full of medieval buildings and lots of great pubs/restaurants, and it wasn't super busy in the evenings, seems to be more of a day-trip destination for tourists.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 4:02 AM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

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