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Wiltshire
County
County Flag of Wiltshire.svg Coat of arms of Wiltshire Council.jpg
Flag Coat of arms
Wiltshire within England
Wiltshire in England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country England
Region South West
Established Ancient
Ceremonial county
Lord Lieutenant Sarah Rose Troughton
High Sheriff David Hempleman-Adams (2016-17)
Area 3,485 km2 (1,346 sq mi)
 • Ranked 14th of 48
Population (2005 est.) 630,700
 • Ranked 34th of 48
Density 181/km2 (470/sq mi)
Ethnicity 96.7% White
1.3% Asian
1.2% Mixed Race
0.6% Black
0.2% Other
Unitary authority
Council Wiltshire Council
Executive  
Admin HQ Trowbridge
Area 3,255 km2 (1,257 sq mi)
 • Ranked 3rd of 326
 • Ranked of 326
Density [convert: needs a number]
ISO 3166-2 GB-WIL
ONS code 00HY
GSS code E06000054
NUTS UKK15
Website www.wiltshire.gov.uk
Wiltshire Ceremonial Numbered 2009.png
Districts of Wiltshire
Unitary
Districts
  1. Wiltshire
  2. Swindon
Members of Parliament List of MPs
Police Wiltshire Police
Time zone GMT (UTC)
 • Summer (DST) BST (UTC+1)

Wiltshire (/ˈwɪlər/ or /ˈwɪlɪər/) is a county in South West England with an area of 3,485 km2 (1,346 square miles). It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. The county town was originally Wilton, after which the county is named, but Wiltshire Council is now based in the new county town of Trowbridge.

Wiltshire is characterised by its high downland and wide valleys. Salisbury Plain is noted for being the location of the Stonehenge and Avebury stone circles and other ancient landmarks, and as a training area for the British Army. The city of Salisbury is notable for its mediaeval cathedral. Important country houses open to the public include Longleat, near Warminster, and the National Trust's Stourhead, near Mere.

Toponymy

The county, in the 9th century written as Wiltunscir, later Wiltonshire, is named after the former county town of Wilton.

History

Wiltshire is notable for its pre-Roman archaeology. The Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age people that occupied southern Britain built settlements on the hills and downland that cover Wiltshire. Stonehenge and Avebury are perhaps the most famous Neolithic sites in the UK.

In the 6th and 7th centuries Wiltshire was at the western edge of Saxon Britain, as Cranborne Chase and the Somerset Levels prevented the advance to the west. The Battle of Bedwyn was fought in 675 between Escuin, a West Saxon nobleman who had seized the throne of Queen Saxburga, and King Wulfhere of Mercia. In 878 the Danes invaded the county. Following the Norman Conquest, large areas of the country came into the possession of the crown and the church.

At the time of the Domesday Survey the industry of Wiltshire was largely agricultural; 390 mills are mentioned, and vineyards at Tollard and Lacock. In the succeeding centuries sheep-farming was vigorously pursued, and the Cistercian monasteries of Kingswood and Stanley exported wool to the Florentine and Flemish markets in the 13th and 14th centuries.

In the 17th century English Civil War Wiltshire was largely Parliamentarian. The Battle of Roundway Down, a Royalist victory, was fought near Devizes.

In 1794 it was decided at a meeting at the Bear Inn in Devizes to raise a body of ten independent troops of Yeomanry for the county of Wiltshire, which formed the basis for what would become the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, who served with distinction both at home and abroad, during the Boer War, World War I and World War II. The Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry currently lives on as Y (RWY) Squadron, based in Swindon, and B (RWY) Squadron, based in Salisbury, of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry.

Around 1800 the Kennet and Avon Canal was built through Wiltshire, providing a route for transporting cargoes from Bristol to London until the development of the Great Western Railway.

Information on the 261 civil parishes of Wiltshire is available on the Wiltshire Community History website, run by the Libraries and Heritage services of Wiltshire County Council. This site includes maps, demographic data, historic and modern pictures and short histories.

The Moonrakers

The local nickname for Wiltshire natives is "moonrakers." This originated from a story of smugglers who managed to foil the local Excise men by hiding their alcohol, possibly French brandy in barrels or kegs, in a village pond. When confronted by the excise men they raked the surface to conceal the submerged contraband with ripples, and claimed that they were trying to rake in a large round cheese visible in the pond, really a reflection of the full moon. The officials took them for simple yokels or mad and left them alone, allowing them to continue with their illegal activities. Many villages claim the tale for their own village pond, but the story is most commonly linked with The Crammer in Devizes.

Geology, landscape and ecology

Cherhillwhitehorse
Cherhill White Horse, east of Calne

Two-thirds of Wiltshire, a mostly rural county, lies on chalk, a kind of soft, white, porous limestone that is resistant to erosion, giving it a high chalk downland landscape. This chalk is part of a system of chalk downlands throughout eastern and southern England formed by the rocks of the Chalk Group and stretching from the Dorset Downs in the west to Dover in the east. The largest area of chalk in Wiltshire is Salisbury Plain, which is used mainly for arable agriculture and by the British Army as training ranges. The highest point in the county is the Tan Hill–Milk Hill ridge in the Pewsey Vale, just to the north of Salisbury Plain, at 295 m (968 ft) above sea level.

The chalk uplands run northeast into West Berkshire in the Marlborough Downs ridge, and southwest into Dorset as Cranborne Chase. Cranborne Chase, which straddles the border, has, like Salisbury Plain, yielded much Stone Age and Bronze Age archaeology. The Marlborough Downs are part of the North Wessex Downs AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), a 1,730 km2 (670-square-mile) conservation area.

In the northwest of the county, on the border with South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset, the underlying rock is the resistant oolite limestone of the Cotswolds. Part of the Cotswolds AONB is also in Wiltshire, in the county's northwestern corner.

Between the areas of chalk and limestone downland are clay valleys and vales. The largest of these vales is the Avon Vale. The Avon cuts diagonally through the north of the county, flowing through Bradford on Avon and into Bath and Bristol. The Vale of Pewsey has been cut through the chalk into Greensand and Oxford Clay in the centre of the county. In the south west of the county is the Vale of Wardour. The southeast of the county lies on the sandy soils of the northernmost area of the New Forest.

Chalk is a porous rock, so the chalk hills have little surface water. The main settlements in the county are therefore situated at wet points. Notably, Salisbury is situated between the chalk of Salisbury Plain and marshy flood plains.

See also: List of hills of Wiltshire

Climate

Along with the rest of South West England, Wiltshire has a temperate climate which is generally wetter and milder than the rest of the country. The annual mean temperature is approximately 10 °C (50.0 °F). Seasonal temperature variation is less extreme than most of the United Kingdom because of the adjacent sea temperatures. The summer months of July and August are the warmest with mean daily maxima of approximately 21 °C (69.8 °F). In winter mean minimum temperatures of 1 °C (33.8 °F) or 2 °C (35.6 °F) are common. In the summer the Azores high pressure affects the south-west of England, however convective cloud sometimes forms inland, reducing the number of hours of sunshine. Annual sunshine rates are slightly less than the regional average of 1,600 hours. In December 1998 there were 20 days without sun recorded at Yeovilton. Most the rainfall in the south-west is caused by Atlantic depressions or by convection. Most of the rainfall in autumn and winter is caused by the Atlantic depressions, which is when they are most active. In summer, a large proportion of the rainfall is caused by sun heating the ground leading to convection and to showers and thunderstorms. Average rainfall is around 700 mm (28 in). About 8–15 days of snowfall is typical. November to March have the highest mean wind speeds, and June to August have the lightest winds. The predominant wind direction is from the south-west.

Demographics

The county registered a population of 680,137 in the 2011 Census. Wiltshire (outside Swindon) has a low population density of 1.4 persons per hectare, when compared against 4.1 for England as a whole.

Wiltshire Swindon Total
Usual Resident Population 470,981 209,156 680,137
Age 65 or over 18.1% 13.7% 16.8%
Density (persons per hectare) 1.4 9.1 2.0
Households 194,194 88,360 282,554

Historical population of Wiltshire county:

1801 1851 1901 1951 2001
185,107 254,221 271,394 386,692 613,024

Principal settlements

See also: List of settlements in Wiltshire by population

Wiltshire has twenty-one towns and one city:

Wiltshire.bridge.750pix
A bridge over the River Avon at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire

A list of settlements is at List of places in Wiltshire.

Places of interest

Caen.hill.locks.in.devizes.arp
The flight of 16 locks at Caen Hill on the Kennet and Avon Canal.
Key
National Trust Owned by the National Trust
English Heritage Owned by English Heritage
Forestry Commission Owned by the Forestry Commission
Country Park A Country Park
Accessible open space An Accessible open space
Museum (free) Museum (free)
Museum Museum (charges entry fee)
Heritage railway Heritage railway
Historic house Historic House
Places of interest in Wiltshire include
  • Arc Theatre, part of Wiltshire College, Trowbridge Campus Drama-icon.svg
  • Ashcombe House Historic house
  • Arch by Ismbard Kingdom Brunel GWML – Chippenham
  • Avebury, Neolithic stone circle Accessible open space
  • Avebury Manor & Garden
  • Avon Valley Path Accessible open space
  • Barbury Castle Country park
  • Beckhampton Avenue
  • Bentley Wood Accessible open space
  • Biddestone
  • Bowood House Historic house
  • Butter cross – Chippenham
  • Burlington, city-sized nuclear bunker with accommodation for 4000 people
  • Caen Hill Locks, Devizes
  • Castle Combe
  • Castle Hill, Mere Accessible open space
  • Cherhill White Horse
  • Chisbury Chapel AP Icon.svg
  • Coate Water, East Swindon Country park
  • Corsham Court Historic house
  • Cotswold Water Park
  • Courts Garden
  • Crofton Pumping Station
  • Edington Priory AP Icon.svg
  • Fonthill Abbey AP Icon.svg
  • Great Chalfield Manor
  • Iford Manor and gardens Historic house
  • Kennet & Avon Canal Museum, Devizes Museum
  • King Alfred's Tower
  • Lacock Abbey AP Icon.svg
  • Littlecote House Historic house
  • Longleat Safari Park Country park Historic house
  • Ludgershall Castle, Ludgershall
  • Lydiard Park & House, West Swindon. Country park Historic house
  • Malmesbury Abbey
  • Maud Heath's Causeway
  • Mompesson House
  • Old Sarum, the former cathedral Accessible open space
  • Philipps House & Dinton Park
  • Richard Jefferies Birthplace and Museum (The Old House at Coate) Museum
  • River Thames Accessible open space
  • Salisbury Cathedral AP Icon.svg
  • Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum Museum
  • The Science Museum at Wroughton
  • Shearwater Lake
  • Silbury Hill
  • Stonehenge
  • Stourhead
  • Swindon and Cricklade Railway Heritage Railway
  • Swindon Steam Railway Museum Heritage Railway
  • Trafalgar House Historic house
  • Wardour Castle Castle
  • West Kennet Long Barrow Accessible open space
  • Westbury White Horse
  • Westwood Manor
  • Woodhenge Accessible open space
  • Wilton House Historic house
  • Wilton Windmill
  • Wilts and Berks Canal
  • Wiltshire Museum Museum
  • Win Green Down Accessible open spaceNTE icon.svg
  • Wroughton
Areas of countryside in Wiltshire include

Transport

Road

Roads running through Wiltshire include The Ridgeway, an ancient route, and Roman roads the Fosse Way, London to Bath road and Ermin Way. National Cycle Route 4 and the Thames Path, a modern long distance footpath, run through the county.

Routes through Wiltshire include:

  • A4 road
  • M4 motorway / M4 Corridor
  • A303 trunk road
  • A350 road
  • A417 road

Navigable Inland Waterways

Canals subject to restoration

  • Thames and Severn Canal
  • North Wilts Canal
  • Wilts & Berks Canal

Rail

Three main railway routes, all of which carry passenger traffic, cross Wiltshire.

  • Great Western Main Line (Swindon & Chippenham)
  • Wessex Main Line (Bradford on Avon, Melksham, Trowbridge, Westbury, Warminster, Salisbury & Connects to Chippenham)
  • West of England Main Line (Salisbury)

Other routes include:

  • Reading to Taunton Line
  • Heart of Wessex Line
  • Golden Valley Line
  • South Wales Main Line (Swindon & connects to Chippenham)

The major junction stations are Salisbury and Westbury, and important junctions are also found at Swindon, Chippenham and Trowbridge.

There is also the Swindon and Cricklade Railway in the Thames Valley.

Air

Airfields in Wiltshire include Old Sarum Airfield, Clench Common Airfield and Redlands Airfield. RAF Lyneham was an air transport hub for British forces until its closure in 2012. Airports for scheduled airlines near Wiltshire include Bristol Airport, Bristol Filton Airport, Gloucestershire Airport, London Oxford Airport, London Heathrow Airport and Southampton Airport.

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