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Exploring England’s Great West Way

25/08/2022 by .
England's Great West Way

Andy Mossack takes a family-oriented road trip along England’s Great West Way, from London to Bristol spanning some of England’s most iconic heritage destinations and attractions.

For many families with young children, simply suggesting a drive from London to Bristol would be enough to bring on a cold sweat. But for me, any potential trepidation vanished once I realised the Great West Way offered so many options to visit along the way.

Established in 2017 with support from the Government’s Discover England Fund, this ancient route is supported by over 250 destinations and tourism businesses. All collaborating as The Great West Way, they provide support over 500 miles of routes by road, rail, footpath, water and bike through west London, the Thames Valley, Berkshire, Wiltshire, the Cotswolds, Bath, and Bristol.

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In my particular case, I was travelling as far as Bath, and so it was with an unusual spring in my step that I jumped into the car and set off, sights firmly set on finding out just what the Great West Way had in store for us.

Our base of operations was the delightful Wooley Grange Hotel, a 17 th century child- centric manor house just on the outskirts of Bradford on Avon, a 30-minute stroll away. It was an ideal position to reach most of the local sights long before the familiar “when will we be there” song reaches a crescendo.

Having said that, I took a bold risk on the journey from London and made our first stop at Bowood House, a mere half hour before we reached the hotel. It paid off handsomely I’m delighted to say. So, join me on a journey around my particular stretch of the Great West Way.

Bowood House and Gardens

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You might think stopping off at the stately home of the Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne would be pretty dry for kids, but I can reveal it was quite the opposite. Yes, it is a Georgian pile surrounded by a hundred acres of sumptuous, landscaped Capability Brown parkland, and where, in a small lab in the house, Joseph Priestly discovered oxygen gas in 1774.

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However, the huge adventure playground is something else entirely. For ages twelve and under, it is a dream come true. Ariel walkways along the treetops, a 19-foot vertical slide, a giant pirate boat, climbing frames, boat swings and jumping pillows.

For the under 4 and 7s The Den is an activity centre for role-playing life on a farm, complete with a make-believe farmyard and shop, a tractor trail, a low-level tree wall and woodland den building. If you can tear the kids away from all the fun the gardens are also well worth exploring, with waterfalls, caves and follies to uncover.

Longleat Safari Park

Ostrich Longleat

No trip to the west country would be complete without a visit to Longleat. On our way in we were held up by an ostrich that clearly had designs on officially directing traffic. Of course, the highlight of the visit is always the Safari drive-through, and in particular, the monkey section, where cars are seen simply as individual playgrounds to clamber over and perhaps steal a loose wiper blade or two.

It was a mayhem moment. Kids screaming with glee as the troupe jumped onto the roof, many of them with tiny babies clinging to their chests. A real treat to see these guys close up. Fortunately, my car made it through unscathed as we trundled on to see the lions and tigers.

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There are a couple of places on the drive-through, by the African Village, where you can park and get out to see the Rothchild giraffes, zebras and ostriches and walk through the lemurs and pygmy goats. It’s best to get there early and do the drive-through first as it’s a one-way system and can be very slow on busy days. Longleat has plenty of other things to see and do too and the Main Square is the place to head to for these.

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From here you can take a jungle cruise on the lake escorted by sea lions and hopefully spot some wallowing hippos or take a scenic train ride around the lake and woodland. From the square, there’s plenty more animals to get close up to and even do some feeding at certain times of the day. The giant hedge maze is always a great way to burn off any excess energy before calling it a day and heading back.

The American Museum and Gardens

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When I saw this option, I was very intrigued. An American museum in deepest Somerset. Really? Just goes to show you shouldn’t be fooled by perceptions. Founded in 1961 by Dallas Pratt and John Judkyn, an Anglo-American couple, they wanted to challenge stereotypes of American culture by showcasing 200 years of American decorative arts principally via original rooms recreating periods of American design history.

With their extensive contacts throughout the antiques world their collections are extraordinary with most of the original floors and panels shipped across from the USA. It’s all set inside a Grade I listed building on a 125-acre estate offering panoramic views across the rolling hills and vales of Wiltshire and Somerset and cultured gardens celebrating American landscape design.

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But what about the kids I hear you ask? In a separate exhibition building, we were transported back in time to the age of the dinosaurs with Hatching the Past, an exhibition running until 31 December 2022. Our kids donned explorer’s pith helmets and given extra-large magnifying glasses so they could inspect giant bones, eggs, embryos and nests of real dinosaurs from all over the world. The kids were enthralled by a thirty-foot-long tarbosaur skeleton (a cousin of the Tyrannosaurus Rex), and Baby Louie, a complete skeleton of a dinosaur embryo. You live and learn.

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There was also a small adventure playground and a wilderness trail to keep the kids happy for a while. The museum café was also a pleasant surprise, with plenty of options and very tasty too.


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Whilst Bath’s exquisite Roman and Georgian beauty and cool hipster hangouts would be lost on most kids, there are a couple of places that are worthy of mention here.

The Roman Baths are one of the world’s best-preserved bathhouses and the beating heart of the city. It’s a well-documented attraction but still, there’s no getting away from the fact it’s extraordinarily well-preserved. All visitors are given a handheld audio guide activated via the numbered information board. Kids have their own audio feed which keeps them engaged during the tour. If you’re feeling decadent and slightly senatorial, you can splash out and sip chilled champagne while perched at the side of the baths and dip your toes in the hot water. Meanwhile at the other end of the scale……..


For adults and children aged 12 and over, my visit to Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein will live long in my memory. Within a four floor Grade II listed building are rooms containing all things Frankenstein. From Shelley’s tragic life, how the story came to be written, its various film incarnations and a (lifelike?) 8-foot monster complete with beating heart.

The basement area is where things turn more terrifying with an immersive horror experience that people with a nervous disposition should be very wary of. The jewel for me however was the Escape Room experience up in the attic. An absolutely brilliant hour spent trying to solve puzzles in order to escape before mad Dr.Victor returns home. Considering the wealth of investigative talent in our group, we only just managed to escape with 40 seconds remaining. Immense fun for anyone who loves deciphering logic puzzles and codes and hunting for clues.

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I really enjoyed my experience of England’s Great West Way and it proved to be an essential tool. It was like having an expert guide in my back pocket; an endless supply of where to go and what to do both on and very much off the well-trodden trail from London to Bristol.

Don’t leave home without it.

All images (C) England’s Great West Way apart from the ostrich image and Bowood Adventure Park(C) Andy Mossack

Tell me more about England’s Great West Way

Please visit for inspiration and ideas.

Great West Way Discovery Map 

Latest edition of the Great West Way Travel Magazine

Longleat Safari Park  Day tickets per Adult (16+) £36.95 Per child (3-15) £27.70

Bowood House and Gardens  Adults (17+) £15.20 Seniors (60+) £12.80 Young Adult (13-16) £12.80 Junior (7-12) £11.50) Children (2-6) £9.40.  Tickets allow access to Bowood House and Gardens and the Adventure Playground.

American Museum and Gardens   Adult  £14.50, Child (5–17 years) £8.50, Under 5 Free, Family (2 adults and up to 3 children) £37.50. There is a discounted gardens-only admission too.

Roman Baths   Adult (19+) Weekend £27.50, Weekday £25.50 Students £26.50 weekend, £24.50 weekday. Senior (65+) £26.50 Weekend, £24.50 weekday Child (6-18) £20.00 weekend, £18.00 weekday. Family 2 adults + 2-4 children £77.00 weekend £70.00 weekday. Family 2 adults + 1 child            £69.00 weekend, £63.00 weekday. Family 1 adult + 2-4 children £55.00 weekend. £50.00 weekday.

Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein  House only prices from £12.50 pp  Escape Room (including house entry) group of two £31.50 pp, three £28 pp, four £27.25 pp, five £26.40 pp, six £25 pp.  All bookings must be for a minimum of 2, and a maximum of 6 people. Please be aware this attraction is not suitable for children under 12.

Where to stay

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Woolley Grange Hotel  Luxury family hotel within walking distance of Bradford on Avon set in a 17th-century manor house in 14 acres of private grounds. Family centric with daily activities for children and a supervised creche for younger kids.


Outdoor pool and indoor pool and spa. Additional rustic glamping suites on site. Very friendly team and locally sourced restaurant. Rates including bed and breakfast: Cosy Room (2 adults), from £130 per night. Superior Room (2 adults & 2 children), from £170 per night.


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