My tour of the UK continued two weeks ago when Dexter and I headed off to Wiltshire for the weekend. It’s one of those counties that I think I may have passed through but I’ve never stayed to visit, so it was definitely time to remedy that.
It took us three hours to get to Wiltshire from Kent, with the highlight of the whole trip for Dexter being a stop at Fleet services (I kid you not), and our first destination was The Royal Oak in Swallowcliffe, Salisbury. It’s an absolute miracle we found it if I’m honest because it really is in the proper country (I’m a townie), but Siri came through for us and we didn’t go wrong at all, we just followed the directions and found it first go.
It is a stunning looking building, with a thatched roof and whitewashed exterior, and the plan was for us to have dinner there and stay the night. Now with Dexter being the grand old age of 11, I’m used to having to sleep in a single bed because we normally share a twin room when we travel, but The Royal Oak were kind enough to give us the most beautiful adjoining rooms. It was the perfect scenario for both of us – we both had our own space and privacy, but I could still shout at him from my bed. Result.
Talking of my bed … it was the biggest bed I’ve ever slept in. Ever. It was huge with beautiful white bed linen, high quality pillows (I think I may have got lost at one point amidst all the pillows), and I couldn’t fault the room at all. It was glorious. The rolltop bath was deep and wide, there was a separate shower and it was just idyllic. I loved all the little touches like the lovely woollen throw over the blue armchair and the stag’s head on the wall.
Dinner was due to be served at 7pm so I headed down to the bar for a cheeky pre-dinner G&T whilst Dexter watched some more dross on YouTube. Just as I arrived, one of the regulars was seeing to the open fire and within a couple of minutes it was roaring and the place came alive. Everybody knew everybody, well, apart from me, but once Dexter (finally) arrived, we were soon called through for dinner in the newly renovated conservatory area where dinner would be served.
I have to admit, I wasn’t particularly mindful of my Slimming World diet when I ordered baked Camembert to start with, but at least I shared it with Dexter! They were kind enough to bring us some more toasted sourdough bread when we ran out and I would’ve been quite happy just eating that, along with the home-made tomato chutney. Of course, I went on to have steak and rosemary fries, together with the most delicious gravy I think I’ve ever eaten. I should probably call it a jus though. Oh, and I had another G&T of course. I couldn’t fault the quality of the food, or the service. Our waiter was very attentive and we had the most wonderful evening, rounded off perfectly by our waiter kindly bringing our desserts up to our room so that we could relax and eat them at our leisure. I chose a warm lemon polenta cake, with the most amazing local vanilla ice cream, lemon curd and berries – Dexter had a glass full of creamy white chocolate mousse, topped with popcorn, fruit and shortbread. Suffice to say, we slept well that night.
Breakfast was just as delicious and a very quiet affair, served in the conservatory again, and we were quite sad to go because we had had such a lovely time there, but Longleat beckoned.
I’ve never been to Longleat Safari Park, or anything like it before, and if I’m honest, it has never appealed to me, but we went with an open mind and with Dexter being at that awkward in-between age, I wasn’t quite sure how he would take a day at a place like this. I can report, however, that we had one of the best days out we have ever had! It was so much fun!
We started with an obligatory coffee and cake at Costa to set us up for the day and spent a couple of hours at the adventure park part of the Safari Park (try saying that 10 times), where we saw some of the smaller animals close up. We went on a boat ride and were lucky enough to see the gorillas out of their enclosures, and we even got to feed the seals that followed our boat. Or were they sealions? I can’t remember the difference, but either way, it was a great experience. We then spent another hour in the park area where we messed around on slides, roundabouts and a zip wire. We were lucky with the weather and it wasn’t too busy, and we could’ve easily spent even longer there, especially once we found the fresh doughnut stand, but we were aware that the Safari Park part would close soon so we jumped back in the car and headed off.
The safari park is easy to navigate, it’s well signposted, with two lanes so that if you want to pull over and take photos, you can. There are, of course, certain areas where you are advised to keep your windows closed and this was particularly important when we drove through the monkey area. I was very cautious but Dexter persuaded me it would be a good idea, and I honestly haven’t laughed that much for a long time. Of course you drive very slowly, but the monkeys are so bold they hang off your wing mirrors, sit on your roof, and, in one instance, try and pull your aerial off – but thankfully that wasn’t our car, but the one in front!
The whole route took about an hour and we saw camels, deers, zebras, tigers and lions, to name but a few – the only elusive animal was the cheetah, but perhaps he was just too quick for us!
They take safety very seriously at Longleat, and only allow a certain amount of cars through to each area at a time, with a big metal gate shutting behind the last car. We felt very safe and it was really exciting to see these animals so close up. I can’t recommend Longleat Safari Park enough, it’s the perfect day out.
That night, we were due to stay at The Pear Tree Inn in Whitley and again, we were bowled over by how beautiful the building was. I think because it is so very different to where we live, it literally took my breath away. Everyone was super friendly and we were taken to our room, which was actually a two-floor room with our very own patio area. This place used to be run by Marco Pierre White and Jackie and her husband took over The Pear Tree Inn in October last year. They have done a fantastic job – from the decor, to the friendly staff, to the outstanding food, it really is the most fantastic place.
We were really quite tired after our day at Longleat so were keen to eat dinner and then relax for the evening, so we skipped starters, but partook in some gorgeous home-made bread, oil vinegar and butter! My main course was pork belly with cabbage, new potatoes and roasted apple slices. The crackling had been rubbed with salt and fennel and I can safely say that this was the nicest pork belly dish I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve eaten a few (clearly). I can’t stop thinking about it, even two weeks on! It was just so perfect and I wish I was face planting it right now. We didn’t have dessert either, but we just went back to our room to watch TV in our PJs.
Annoyingly, my bed was so comfortable that Dexter fell asleep in it at about 9pm and I couldn’t get him out because he was dead to the world! Thankfully, he needed the loo in the early hours and headed up to his mezzanine bedroom then, so I managed to get a few hours sleep.
I always like to see what tea and coffee facilities hotels put on in the rooms and The Pear Tree came up trumps with a container full of home-made shortbread and delicious coffee for the caffetiere, so the next morning I perked up considerably! Breakfast was nice, but unfortunately I started to feel a little unwell (nothing to do with The Pear Tree I can assure you), and so I went back to the room to lie down. We were due to hire a couple of canoes that day in Bradford upon Avon but I was just too poorly, so we had to head off home.
All in all, Wiltshire delivered everything I look for in a weekend away. Gorgeous scenery, fantastic food, warm welcomes and fun days out. A big thank you to Emma at Visit Wiltshire for organising everything for us because we really did have the most wonderful of weekends. It’s the type of county I could see myself retiring to because the countryside is so beautiful. We will definitely be back!