Wessex: Historic kingdom in Southern England


Ruins from a bygone age: Kingdom of Wessex

Ruins from a bygone age: Kingdom of Wessex

Historic kingdom in Southern England

Unlike Sussex, Wessex (from “West Saxon”) is not a county today, but from the 6th to the 10th centuries, it was one of six kingdoms that later became England. It covers much of the south and southwest of England and extends from Devon to Cornwall. Winchester was an important town, which became the capital city under Alfred the Great in 871. There has not been an Earl of Wessex for over 900 years, but there are ongoing efforts in South Central England to develop a sense of regional, cultural and political identity in Wessex.

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Attractions Wessex

“Great Britain”

Oldest ocean liner in the world

Built in 1843, this ship was the first ocean liner driven by a propeller. It still had sails, but was also powered by a steam engine. The “Great Britain” put to sea on June 26, 1845 for its maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York. After it ran aground on a sandbank, it was later used as a transport ship for emigrants and troops. Today it is berthed in the historic harbor of Bristol and can be toured from top to bottom.


A prehistoric stone circle and mystical place

This huge prehistoric site is best appreciated when seen from above, since then it becomes clear that the small town of Avebury is surrounded by a large stone circle with a diameter of over 400 meters. A bird's-eye view also reveals the existence of two stone-lined alleys leading to the center of the circle. Yet even when passing through Avebury by car on A4.361 from A4, you cannot miss the huge stones rising out of the ground along both sides of the road. Avebury is the largest stone circle in the world and one of England's mystical places.

Included in:
English Heritage Overseas Visitors Pass
National Trust Touring Pass


Beautiful spa town with hot springs

The only place in England with a spa fed by hot mineral springs, also happens to be one of its most beautiful towns. The baths of Bath were already known during Roman times, evidence of which are the temple ruins in the area. The hilltop city experienced a resurgence in the 18th century, the period when many of the community's over 500 historical heritage buildings were constructed. The entire city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998. Nearby Malmesbury is believed to be the oldest continually inhabited town in England.

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Bombay Saphire Gin Distillery

Gin destillery in a postmodern glas building

This state-of-the art gin distillery in a postmodern glas building is located on the site of the old Laverstoke Mill. This destination offers a perfect mixture for those interested in historical buildings and modern architecture. A visit can be combined with gin tasting and a fascinating exhibit about gin.

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Seaside resort with mild climate

The resort town by Poole Bay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in England thanks to its mild climate and long, clean beaches. This being the warmest and sunniest spot in England, a wide variety of outdoor activities are available. According to a survey from the year 2007, the locals are the most satisfied people on the whole island. The trade and economic center of southern England is also ideally located for exploring Dorset and Hampshire. The Jurassic Coast east of Bournemouth is a 150-km-long natural paradise and World Heritage Site.

Bournemouth's Parks & Gardens

Following the Tree Trail through magnificent Victorian gardens

The city of Bournemouth offers around 1,700 acres of parkland. The most beautiful sections are the Lower, Central and Upper Gardens, which are all connected by the Tree Trail. It starts at the sea and takes you through each of the three parks founded by Queen Victoria, which today are official historical sites.

Brecon Beacons National Park

Moors, mountains and dense forests

The Brecon Beacons (Welsh: Bannau Brycheiniog) are a mountain chain in southeast Wales. The name refers to the medieval mountaintop beacons used to warn of marauding Angle Saxons. The mountain chain forms the center of Brecon Beacons National Park, which covers nearly 1,400 square kilometers and is probably the most beautiful of the three Welsh national parks. Just west of the Beacons lies Fforest Fawr, a large dense forest that has been declared a UNESCO Geopark. The national park is a great place for hiking, biking, horseback riding, sailing, windsurfing and canoeing.

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Major port city made famous by the plague and the slave trade

With a population of 450,000, Bristol is the sixth-largest city in England. It lies at the mouth of the River Avon in the Bristol Channel. During the Middle Ages, Bristol was the third-largest city after York and London, but faced a long and painful declined as a result of Black Death. The city regained its importance during the English colonization of America and the slave trade. It is estimated that over one million slaves passed through Bristol on their way to New World. Bristol then fell behind Liverpool in significance starting in 1760. During the Second World War, the historic city center was completely razed by German bombs. The ruins were converted into a park where two bombed-out churches still stand as a memorial.

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Cerne Abbas

Mysterious, huge Geoglyph

The venerable abbey ruins, cobblestone streets, which are lined with quaint cottages and a giant make the place in Dorset to a worthwhile destination. The giant is 180 feet tall and holds a long club in his right hand. His phallus alone is about 23 feet long. With 60 centimeters thick lines the image is carved into the limestone. To this day, the Geoglyph baffles the archaeologists. Was it the Celts who traced the thunder god Dagda, or the Romans, having depicted the Hercules?

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Corsham Court

Victorian manor house in an English landscape park

Corsham is home to one of the the most beautiful English manor houses, which is also surrounded by a landscape park. Corsham Court was in royal hands as early as the Anglo-Saxon Period and it stands on the foundation of a 16th-century Elizabethan palace. Yet the estate did not receive its current appearance until the 18th and 19th centuries. Its magnificent rooms are a showcase for artistic treasures, statues, Chippendale furniture and paintings by Rubens and van Dyck.

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Highclere Castle

Manor house in the style of Westminster

This ornate country house was built in imitation of Renaissance architecture, but dates to the 19th century. There have been previous buildings standing here since the 8th century. The current Castle was designed by the architect Sir Charles Barry, who also designed the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. An entire village was relocated in 1774 to make room for the estate's 900 acre park. The remains of the village church can still be seen southwest of the palace. The 18th century amateur botanist and bishop Stephen Pococke planted cedars of Lebanon on the estate, some of which are still growing there today.

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Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Theme park at the old harbor

The old harbor docks of Portsmouth are now a theme park and the city's major tourist center. Magnificent 17th century sailing ships stand in the harbor and there are several naval museums, including a gunpowder museum. You will also find numerous restaurants and shops in the vicinity. A one-day ticket costs approx. GBP 30 and includes a tour of the harbor.

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Town of drapers on Avon and Wylye

The city at the confluence of Avon and Wylye is pre-Roman and flourished during the 17th century as a drapers' town. Its most important building is the cathedral with its ornate west facade, dating back to the 13th century. With its 123 meters, the tower is the highest church tower in England. It was added later onto the nave. Inside it is one of only four remaining copies of the Magna Carta of 1215, which is still regarded as an important precursor of modern constitutional law. The rebellious English nobles had demanded it from the king and with it limited his power. The best view of the cathedral is to be had from the River Avon, north of the old town.


Romantic market town in Dorset

This romantic market town in northern Dorset has a great deal of history. Much of it is associated with the bones of Edward the Martyr, an English king murdered in the year 979 and laid to rest in the town's abbey church. The foundations of the church can still be seen in Shaftesbury today. The town itself, which overlooks the Blackmore Valley, is also known for its “Gold Hill,” a steep cobblestone street lined with quaint 17th-century cottages. The top of the hill offers a great view including the Isle of Purbeck in the distance.


Bronze Age megalithic monument

This massive megalithic monument is the largest of its kind and takes up an area of over 20 km², if the neighboring stone circles are included. Stonehenge (“hanging rocks”) was constructed between 3000 BC and 1500 BC. Today, only the more recent stone circles from the Bronze Age are visible. The religious sanctuary was probably destroyed, either by the Romans, who wanted to break the influence of the Celtic druids, or in the Early Middle Ages in connection with the Christianization of England. Despite generations of continuing research, Stonehenge remains a mystery. This is true of its method both in terms of its construction, which must have required an enormous amount of effort and organization, and in terms of its function as relating to something between sun worship and a cult of the dead.

Included in:
English Heritage Overseas Visitor Pass
National Trust Touring Pass

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Former capital of England

Today, this town with a population of 40,000, is merely an administrative center for the county of Hampshire, but in the 10th and early 11th centuries, Winchester was the capital of England. The size of the Winchester's cathedral attests to the town's former importance. It is the second-longest cathedral in Europe. Its construction began in 1079 and incorporated a unique mixture of architecture from the 11th and 16th centuries. There is a round table in Winchester Castle dating from the 12th century and which supposedly belonged to King Arthur. However, this is impossible since the table would have to be at least 600 years older. Yet such repulsive arguments have not harmed its fame. Tourists come in droves to see it.

More Attractions Wessex

Jurassic Coast

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The Jurassic Coast on the English Channel is a 150 kilometer long section of coastline that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and (...)

New Forest National Park

Deciduous forests and heath with a high diversity of wildlife

This park in Hampshire covers an area of just under 600 square kilometers. It was originally covered in forest, which was cleared as early as (...)

South Whales

Mild climate, bays and cliffs

The idyllic coast of South Whales is dotted with sandy beaches, resorts and Norman castles. The massive fortress at Pembroke with its fantastic panoramic views (...)

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