Wiltshire is one of my favorite counties in England, and one that holds plenty of history and intrigue for anyone who enjoys driving through a vast green countryside filled with ancient stones and cathedrals.
Wiltshire is located in the Southwestern part of England and is considered a “ceremonial county.” It covers an area of 858,931 acres and shares its borders with Hampshire, Somerset, Dorset, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Gloucestershire.
The county of Wiltshire was originally known as Wiltonshire or Wiltunscir and gets its name from the river Wylye
People that live in Wiltshire have been given the affectionate nickname of “moonrakers.” The humorous story behind this nickname is as follows: There were once some men from Wiltshire that were smack dab in the middle of an operation of smuggling brandy when they were caught abruptly one night. These men had hidden the alcohol inside of a barrel and then stored it in a nearby pond for safekeeping afterwards.
After returning for the contraband late one night, the men were caught trying to rake the barrel containing the alcohol inside of it back to land. Even though the authorities had caught them in the middle of the act, all the authorities saw were men raking in a barrel. The men pointed to the reflection of a large moon that was reflected in the pond, and informed the authorities that all they were doing was simply trying to rake in some cheese. The authorities probably laughed, thinking these men were very simple people indeed, and left the men to their cheese raking. Needless to say, the moonrakers had the last laugh!
Wiltshire is rife with history from the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze age. Early settlers living in England built their settlements here and Avebury and Stonehenge are probably the most well known Neolithic sites in all of England.
Things to See in Wiltshire
Stonehenge Stonehenge probably needs very little introduction, but I still feel it is my duty to write a little bit about it while humming the Spinal Tap song to myself.
The name Stonehenge is derived from the words “stan” which mean stone, and “hencg” which means hinge. Stonehenge is estimated to date back to 3100 B.C. and archaeologists believe that the stones were first erected around the year 2200 B.C. Stonehenge has been a World Heritage Site since 1986 and is managed by English Heritage, with the land surrounding it owned by the National Trust.
Building Stonehenge was an exercise that took a good 3,000 years, or possibly even longer. Mesolithic postholes dating back to 8000 B.C. have been found by archaeologists underneath a carpark.
The last time that Stonehenge is believed to have been used for ritualistic purposes was during the Iron Age due to the the large number of Roman coins and prehistoric pottery artifacts that have been discovered at the site, as well as the skeleton of a man.
A man named Cecil Chubb bought Stonehenge in 1915 for the sum total of £6,000 and gave it to his wife as a gift. It was given to country of England 3 years later.
Unfortunately for visitors to Stonehenge, tourists are no longer allowed to roam freely amongst the standing stones and must walk along a pathway on the outside of it. It is still an amazing sight to see nevertheless, and shouldn’t be missed if you are in Wiltshire.
If you’re interested in getting close to standing stones, Avebury is just the place for you. At Avebury you are able to walk amongst the large rocks that date back to 5,000 years ago.
A good portion of the standing stones were destroyed during the 14th century and up in order to provide building materials for local builders in the area. Some people also feared the pagan rituals that took place on the site, which gave them more incentive to destroy the stones and use them for other purposes.
There are only 17 stones in the Outer Circle that have survived through the centuries, and many of these were re-erected in the 1930s.
The Salisbury Cathedral
I still remember the first time that I saw the Salisbury Cathedral. It was late at night, and the moon had just risen in the dark sky and was particularly large and red that night. The moon appeared directly over the top of the cathedral and almost seemed to be touching it, so close to the earth did it look. Since then, I have always loved the Salisbury Cathedral.
Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest church spire in England and even more importantly, one of the four still surviving copies of the Magna Carta — but more on that later.
In 1220, building began on the Salisbury Cathedral and was completed just 38 years later. Because it was constructed so quickly, it has only one architectural style as an Early English Gothic building.
Since the cathedral’s tower and spire added on 6,397 tons to the church, buttresses, iron ties and bracing arches have had to be added over the centuries to stop a possible collapse. Salisbury Cathedral now has the tallest spire in the world that was built before 1400.
The Magna Carta
Perhaps the most important document in the world that changed the way that common law was practiced and influenced the future Constitution and Bill of Rights is the great Magna Carta.
The Magna Carta is located inside of the chapter house at the Salisbury Cathedral, and is a treat to look at. Out of the 4 remaining copies of the Magna Carta, this is without a doubt the finest surviving copy. There is a copy of another version of the Magna Carta that hangs inside of the chapter house so you can compare the one that the Salisbury Cathedral has with this other version. It was clear to me immediately from looking at it that the Salisbury Cathedral did in fact house the greatest Magna Carta of them all. There is a lovely gentleman who is willing to discuss the Magna Carta with anyone who is interested in it, and I really recommend that people see this important historical and political document whenever they get the chance to.