The North Wessex Downs AONB is a visibly ancient landscape of great beauty, diversity and size. It embraces the high, open arable sweeps of the chalk downs and dramatic scarp slopes with their prehistoric monuments and beech knolls, the moulded dip slopes, sheltered chalk river valleys, intimate and secluded wooded areas and low-lying heaths with a rich mosaic of woodland, pasture, heath and commons. The North Wessex Downs AONB forms a surprisingly remote, expansive and tranquil landscape in the heart of Southern England.

The depth of history can still be seen in these landscapes, including the World Heritage Site of prehistoric Avebury; the royal hunting forest of Savernake, the Uffington White Horse, and the Ridgeway – the oldest road in England. The built environment makes a strong contribution to the beauty of the landscape, with historic towns and villages, churches, spectacular barns, manor houses with their parks and gardens, and the industrial heritage of the Kennet and Avon Canal. The Saxon name of Wessex reveals the area’s literary connections, revived by Thomas Hardy and used as the setting for many of his novels. Around a century later, Richard Adams provided a vivid evocation of this area in ‘Watership Down’.

image credits: Mist over Pewsey Vale, Great West Way; Fungus in Savernake, Ann Shepley; Sarsens at Fyfield Down; Knap Hill, David Hall; Mowing haylage, Lord Carnarvon; Ashdown House, Peter Orr.