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Exploring the Natural Beauty of North Wessex Downs

CEO Tinh Phung
The North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is a picturesque region situated in the English counties of Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, and Wiltshire. While it may not have a traditional name, this area...

North Wessex Downs

The North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural beauty (AONB) is a picturesque region situated in the English counties of Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, and Wiltshire. While it may not have a traditional name, this area is known by several overlapping local names, including the Berkshire Downs, the North Hampshire Downs, the White Horse Hills, the Lambourn Downs, the Marlborough Downs, the Vale of Pewsey, and Savernake Forest.

Discovering the Landscape

Covering an expansive area of approximately 1,730 square kilometers (670 square miles), the AONB takes the shape of a horseshoe with the open end facing east, surrounding the town of Newbury and the River Kennet catchment area. From the northern arm that stretches as far east as Reading to the southern arm that extends to Basingstoke, the North Wessex Downs captivate with their stunning natural beauty.

The highest summits in the region include Walbury Hill, standing at an impressive 297 meters (974 feet) above sea level, and the Milk Hill-Tan Hill plateau, reaching 295 meters (968 feet). The picturesque landscapes of the North Wessex Downs are a delight to explore.

North Wessex Downs
The southwestern slopes of Walbury Hill

Geology and Natural History

The North Wessex Downs are part of the Southern England Chalk Formation, which stretches from Dorset to Kent. This region boasts unique geological features, such as chalk downs, dry valleys, and sarsen outcrops. The area is also renowned for its diverse flora and fauna. Notably, it is home to the early gentian, a plant of international ecological importance. The chalky terrain of the Marlborough Downs has also provided materials for Neolithic and Bronze Age sites like Avebury Henge.

Embracing Local Culture

The North Wessex Downs have a rich cultural heritage that extends beyond their natural beauty. Horse racing is a significant industry in the area, with high-quality turf thanks to the chalky soil. Villages like Lambourn, Beckhampton, Kingsclere, and West Ilsley are renowned for their racing stables. Interestingly, the term "steeplechase" originated in this region, where races were conducted between villages, guided by the church steeples visible across the rolling downs.

The literary world also holds a connection to the North Wessex Downs. Watership Down, the famous novel by Richard Adams, is set in this area, to the north of Whitchurch, Hampshire. Additionally, Thomas Hardy's masterpiece, Jude the Obscure, features significant parts set in the villages connected to the Berkshire Downs.

Preserving the Natural Beauty

The North Wessex Downs AONB was officially designated in 1972 and is managed by a Council of Partners, representing various stakeholders. These partners include local authorities, nature conservation organizations, historic environment bodies, farming and rural business representatives, as well as individuals and groups involved in recreation and rural tourism. They work collaboratively to ensure the preservation and sustainable development of this beautiful region.

Uncover the Natural Wonders of North Wessex Downs

Explore the North Wessex Downs and immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and the tranquility of this outstanding area. Whether you're captivated by its geological wonders, fascinated by the local horse racing tradition, or drawn to the literary connections, the North Wessex Downs offer an unforgettable experience in nature.

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