North Wessex Downs AONB

Beacon Hill-North Wessex Downs AONB, England
Beacon Hill, North Wessex Downs AONB ©

North Wessex Downs – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is located in the south of England. The area has been designated a AONB since back in 1972, the area covers in excess of 1,700 square kilometres making it the third largest AONB in the UK after the Cotswolds and North Pennines. The area is provides an oasis in southern England with its tranquil downland, inspiring landscapes, ancient woodland and chalk streams located in the heart of the built up south of England.

The local population of approx 125,000 live towns and villages located across the AONB such Hungerford and Marlborough. The area covered under the AONB designation in the North Wessex Downs covers an area from close to Swindon and Abingdon in the north to Reading in the east to Andover in the south to Trowbridge in the west. The area is of national importance for nature conservation and includes of Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Areas of Conservation, National Nature Reserves and Scheduled Monuments.

The key features and special qualities of the North Wessex Downs AONB include the nationally significant areas of ancient woodland, chalk grassland, flora and fauna, historical archaeological sites and settlements including the Avebury World Heritage Site, unspoilt landscape, rich history and natural beauty. The key features combined with the peace and tranquillity of the area makes the area special.

The main industries in the AONB include farming, agriculture, horse racing and tourism. The area is becoming an increasingly popular destination for visitors, it is popular for day trips, weekend breaks and longer stays. There are a number of scenic villages and small towns located in the AONB, the two largest settlements are Hungerford and Marlborough with a combined population of 14,000. Main settlements located close by include the towns of Andover, Reading, Swindon, Trowbridge and the city of Winchester.

The area is popular for outdoor activities including fishing, wildlife watching, horse riding, walking and cycling with a range of routes and trails to explore. Visitors can enjoy some of the finest landscapes in England and the great outdoors away from the traffic and noise of the towns and cities.

Quick Facts

North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty:

Year of Designation: 1972

Population: 125,000 (approx)

Size in square kilometres: 1,730

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs): 66

Special Areas of Conservation: 7

Scheduled Monuments: over 520

Main Settlements close by: Swindon, Reading, Winchester, Andover and Trowbridge.

Located in: Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire.


The North Wessex Downs AONB is located in English counties of Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire in southern England. The AONB is the third largest in the UK after the Cotswolds and North, the size and scale of the area ensures visitors have a range of landscapes and scenery to explore.

The AONB includes relatively small settlements, peace and tranquillity where visitors can enjoy an area that is in stark contrast to the traffic and congestion of the major towns and cities. The AONB area itself is relatively sparsely populated compared to the population centres in the surrounding areas. There are no major towns or cities that fall within the AONB boundary the largest settlements are Hungerford and Marlborough, in addition there are numerous historic towns and small villages that have a rich history and are full of character.

The North Wessex Downs AONB have a rich history and includes a number of historic archaeological and historical sites for visitors to explore including the famous Avebury site part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site. The area is of national importance for its landscape, ecology and geology. Local towns including Hungerford and Marlborough located within the AONB and a number of towns close to the border including Swindon, Newbury, Basingstoke, Andover and Trowbridge provide convenient places from which visitors can tour the North Wessex Downs AONB. The commercial development in the AONB area has been limited in order to protect the special qualities of the area ensuring visitors can enjoy the natural beauty and landscapes of the area.

The location in the south of England means the AONB is easily assessable from across the southern England, the Midlands and East Anglia and much of Wales. From Newcastle, Durham and much of north east England the area is 4 hour 30 minutes to 5 hours 30 minutes by car, from Leeds it is 3 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours by car, from Birmingham and much of the Midlands it is 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours 30 minutes away, from Liverpool and Manchester it is approx 3 hours 30 minutes. From Cambridge it is 2 hours to 2 hours 30 minutes hours and from London and much of southern England it is 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours 30 minutes away.

Tourist Information Centres and information points are located at various locations close by to the North Wessex Downs AONB. The TICs are based in Hungerford, Swindon, Chippenham and Trowbridge. The tourist information centres provide visitors with information, help, advice and tips on the AONB area and the surrounding areas.

Each of the centres has knowledgeable staff offering useful local knowledge with further information on local attractions, places of interest, things to see and do, along with local advice and tips. A visit to the tourist information centres provides a good first port of call for visitors helping to better plan and organise trips in and around the local area, find out about local events, public transport options and accommodation facilities.

Local Accommodation includes a range of hotels including historic and contemporary, B & B’s, Guest Houses, Self Catering houses, holiday homes and cottages. Local accommodation is available in Hungerford, Marlborough, St Mary Bourne, Highclere and Aldbourne. Towns located in the area including Reading, Newbury, Swindon, Basingstoke, Andover and Trowbridge, provide good access to local facilities and accommodation from which to explore the AONB and the surrounding local areas in southern England.

The North Wessex Downs AONB provides a place for visitors can explore a number of historic towns, villages and hamlets, many of which retain their historic character and charm. History, tradition and heritage is evident in a number of the towns and villages in the area, offering visitors a fascinating insight in to local history and culture. There are a number of local attractions and places of interest for visitors to explore further.

Local Towns include Hungerford located in Berkshire, 9 miles west of Newbury within the AONB. Hungerford is a market town located on the River Dun in the Kennet Valley, the scenic town is close to the border between the boundary of the south west and south east of England. The town includes a choice of shops and local amenities and is well known for its antiques shops. There are stores catering for ladies fashion, jewellery and toys for children.

Hungerford includes a choice of eating establishments with a choice of traditional pubs, eateries, restaurants, coffee and tea shops There are a number of historical buildings in the area that mix a range of materials an styles including brick, thatch and limestone related to the geology of each local area. The town is well located for exploring the AONB area and includes a choice of accommodation options.

Marlborough is located 20 miles to the west of Newbury in the heart of the AONB. The market town has a long history and for many years was an important staging post for those making the road journey from London to Bristol and Bath. The town includes a number of impressive historical buildings along with having one of the widest streets in England. Notable buildings include St Peter's former parish church that is now an arts centre and St Mary's parish church that is still in active use.

Local attractions include the jazz festival that takes place in the summer where visitors can hear live jazz music over the weekend. The Marlborough Mop Fair is the last remaining mop fair in Wiltshire, it takes place in October each year, historically it was a hiring fair for agricultural workers now it is a travelling funfair. Marlborough town centre includes a range of shops and local amenities and accommodation options making it a convenient place for visitors to base themselves from when exploring the AONB.

The Avebury World Heritage Site (WHS) is located 25 miles west of Newbury in the west of the AONB. Inscribed as a world heritage site along with the famous Stonehenge site back in 1986. It could be argued despite the Stonehenge site being more famous and well known it is in fact the Avebury site that is more impressive and complex. For visitors both sites offer a fascinating insight in to history. The Avebury site is thought to date back o 2850BC to 2200 BC, the site includes a large circular bank and ditch which encloses the area of approx 280+ acres including Avebury village.

There is a museum located close by that includes displays, exhibitions and archaeological collections. The Avebury WHS is based around six key prehistoric monuments namely Avebury Henge and Stone Circles, Silbury Hill, Windmill Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow, West Kennet Avenue and the Sanctuary. The true meaning of the site has baffled experts for many years, visitors can see one of the pre-eminent prehistoric sites in the world that is full of history and intrigue.

Uffington White Horse is located 22 miles north of Newbury, south of the village of Uffington. The attraction makes for an intriguing one and is famous for the mysterious White Horse that is carved in to the chalk hillside, over the years there have been many possible interpretations of the carvings, some believe it is a dragon rather than a horse. Conspiracy theories have also developed over the years with some claiming it was done as a signal to extraterrestrials.

It is thought to date back to the Bronze Age, as yet there is no definitive answer as to why it was built, theories include it being a tribal emblem or possible a Celtic symbol of the goddess Epona, who protected horses. The horse measures 374 feet from end to end. Visitors that climb to the top of the hill are rewarded with some impressive views that go on for miles across six counties.

Fyfield Down National Nature Reserve is located 24 miles to the west of Newbury, a few miles from both Marlborough and Avebury in the AONB. Te national nature reserve includes a combination of archaeological, biological and geomorphological features. The site is one of the oldest established National Nature Reserves (NNR), established back in 1955 and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). There is evidence of Bronze Age and Roman settlements in the landscape, the site is known for the sarcen stones that from the most striking and recognisable feature in the landscape thought to date back 50 million years ago.

At Fyfield there are seasonal highlights throughout the year, there is peace and tranquillity throughout the year, during the spring ad summer months visitors can find a number of wildflowers in grassland areas such as Round Headed Rampion and the Frog Orchid. A range of birds have been spotted at the NNR, the landscape attracts farmland birds such as stone curlew, and tree sparrow, whilst the NNR supports the breeding population of the skylark.

Crofton Beam Engines is located 18 miles to the west of Newbury, a few miles south of Marlborough in the AONB amongst scenic Wiltshire countryside. The engines are famous for being one of the oldest working steam engines in the world that are still performing the job that they were built to carry out. Visitors can see two beam engines on site including one original engine that dates back 200 years, representing impressive industrial archaeology. There are a number of events that take place on site including special steaming weekends. There is an on site cafe and gift shop where visitors can get a range of food and drinks along with gifts and souvenirs.

Wilton Windmill is located 15 miles to the west of Newbury near Marlborough in Wiltshire. Located above the village of Wilton, the historic windmill still produces wholemeal stone ground flour. Located in scenic and serene surroundings, the windmill is the last working windmill in Wessex. Visitors can take guided tours to learn more about the windmill, its history and how it operates. Facilities on site include the Shepherd's Hut serving a range of refreshments and selling gifts and mementos and there is a picnic area where visitors can enjoy picnics in wonderful surroundings. The flour produced from the windmill is on sale at the Shepherd's Hut.

The Watermill Theatre is located 3 miles from Newbury in Berkshire. The theatre building is centuries old and was established from a corn and pepper mill back in the 1960s. The historic building retains its, charm, character and sense of history and now offers a varied arts programme that includes theatre productions, plays, writings, musicals and more. Over the years the theatre has established itself as an important regional venue with several productions touring the UK or going to London. There is a restaurant on site offering pre-show and post-show meals and afternoon tea.

Ashdown House is located 20 miles north west of Newbury in the north of the AONB. Dating back to the 17th century, the impressive country house is famous for its unusual styling akin to a dolls house. Nestled in the scenic Berkshire Downs the house is surrounded by scenic woodland. Guided tours of the house are available for visitors, here visitors can learn more about the house, its fascinating history and take a stroll around the impressive grounds and the surrounding woodland. There are a number of woodland walks and tree trails visitors can take part in.

Farmers Markets are held at various locations in and around the North Wessex Downs AONB in market towns. Farmers markets provide an opportunity for visitors to meet local producers, growers and farmers and learn more about local products and fresh produce. Visitors can choose from a range of local foods and drinks available including meats, fish, vegetables and much more.

The Farmers/Community Market in the town of Marlborough was established in 2012 with the aim of establishing a farmers market and alternative food networks in the town. The market has proved a popular addition to the town taking place on the 1st Sunday of each month. Visitors can find a range of food and drinks, arts and crafts and plants and garden items in the market. Located on the High Street in Marlborough, it provides an interesting place for visitors to experience.

Highclere Castle is located 6 miles to the south of Newbury in the scenic Berkshire countryside. The castle dates back to the 17th century ad has been the family home for the Herbert family for several generations. Highlights inside include the impressive and imposing State Rooms known for their ornate decoration. The State Dining Room and the Library both illustrate the grand nature of the rooms and give visitors an insight in to the opulence with which the fascinating house has been designed.

Visitors can see the Egyptian Exhibition, one of the highlights of the castle, located in the old cellars, there is an impressive collection of historic Egyptian artefacts, antiques, photographs and ancient relics. Highclere Castle is used in filming by the period popular drama series Downton Abbey.

Walking offers visitors a great way to discover more in the AONB and the surrounding areas, there are a number of popular walks in the area for visitors to try. The North Wessex Downs AONB includes a choice of landscapes and terrain, with a number of footpaths and bridleways offering both shorter and longer walks for walkers of all abilities. There are walks around Brightwalton, East Garston, East Woodhay, Elm Tree Farm, Hamstead Marshall, King Alfred Trail and a number of others.

Cycling provides both a cost effective and environmentally friendly way to explore the North Wessex Downs AONB. There are a number of quiet country lanes and more challenging terrain making the area suitable for cycling. There are a number of cycle routes in the area these include the Marlborough Downs route a 22 mile circular route and the Avebury and Wansdyke route, an 18 miles circular route.

Visitors to the North Wessex Downs AONB in southern England will find a scenic area full of character and historic charm known for its downland, chalk streams and tranquillity. Visitors can explore a number of historic towns and villages in and around the AONB. The area provides a place where visitors can get away from the traffic and congestion of built up areas and enjoy the beautiful landscapes, outstanding views and participate in outdoor pursuits.

How to Get There

North Wessex Downs AONB is accessible by both car and public transport.

By Car:

The town of Newbury is located next to the AONB area and provides a convenient located from which to explore the area with a choice of accommodation and local amenities. Located approx 60 miles from central London. From London take the A4 then the M4 until 13. At junction take the A34 to Newbury. Continue on the A34 until the junction with the A339, take the A339 that goes to Newbury. The approx journey time is 1 hours 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes depending on traffic and time of day.

By Train:

The train station at Newbury has regular services from London Paddington station. The journey time is approx 45 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes, depending on service, connections and time of day. There are direct train services from London Paddington station and Hungerford railway station, the journey time is approx 1 hour 15 minutes.

By Bus/Coach:

There are regular buses available from London Victoria Coach station to both Newbury and Hungerford. The approx journey time is 1 hour 45 minutes and 2 hours 5 minutes respectively depending on time of day and traffic. Coach services to both Newbury and Hungerford are provided by National Express

Contact Details

North Wessex Downs AONB
Units 3-4
Denford Manor
Lower Denford
RG17 0UN

Telephone: +44 (0)1488 685440

Website: North Wessex Downs AONB


For Local Search and Directions see: North Wessex Downs (AONB) Map

Tips & Other Considerations

The weather and climate can be unpredictable, there can be elements of all four seasons in one day. Ensure you check the weather forecast before you travel and have the correct clothing and footwear including comfortable walking shoes, fleece, raincoat and umbrella.

Follow travel advice and remain alert, vigilant and aware of your belongings at all times especially your wallet/purse and valuables and ensure they are hidden away from public view. If you have a bag try to use a shoulder bag with a good quality, strong strap, that is put across your shoulder not on your shoulder making it more difficult for anyone to take your bag.

If you are travelling by car to the North Wessex Downs AONB ensure you are well prepared with maps and Sat Nav to aid your journey, particularly if you are not familiar with the local area and roads. Use the journey planner for door to door directions. Check traffic updates before you travel.

If you are looking for car parking in and around the AONB, ensure you fully understand the rules, regulations & charges for car parks and street parking. The rules & regulations can be complex & confusing if you are unclear, it is wise not to park there.

If you are travelling by public transport, check for service updates prior to beginning your journey for any delays, disruption or cancellations to services that may impact on your journey. Ensure you have the service timetables for the trains, trams, buses and coaches. Remember when the last services are and ensure you make it to the train/bus/coach stops well in time to avoid missing the service.

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