Savernake Forest is privately owned and its origins date back to Norman times and much of it today is managed by the Forestry Commission. Click on this link for accommodation around the Forest and the Kennet and Avon Canal
The Forest occupies approximately 4500 acres and lies close to about one mile (2km) southeast of historic Marlborough, itself a destination of historical interest. Large areas of the forest are accessible to the public but this is not a legal right. Savernake Forest is designated an Area of Outstanding Beauty, also a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and contains a rich variety of plants and animals.
The Forest has many Royal connections and it is where Henry Vlll met Jayne Seymour during one of his hunting visits who eventually bore him the son he wanted, later to be crowned Edward Vl, but she died in childbirth.
Savernake Forest is one of the oldest woodlands in England and believed to be well over 1000 years old. There are around 2600 ancient oaks, 2400 ancient beeches as well as over a hundred ancient chestnut trees. One oak, The Big Belly Oak, still standing close to the A4 road, is thought to be 1100 years old. Another particular impressive sight is Capability Brown’s 4 mile long (6.5km) Grand Avenue – now a Private Road - of tall 200 year old beech trees. This was laid out in the late 1790’s and is the longest avenue in Britain. It is particularly attractive during the fall when the autumn colours are quite spectacular. In spring many of the glades are carpeted with bluebells, particularly at West Woods.
In the middle of the forest, a short drive from the Grand Avenue stands the 90ft tall Ailesbury Column. This was erected by the Earl of Ailesbury in 1781 having been moved from Hammersmith London. It stands in a clearing with a clear view across Tottenham House
There are a wide variety of mammals, birds, insects and reptiles and some less common ones. Butterflies such as White Admiral and Purple Emperor are to be found but the Purple Emperors tend to be well out of view amongst upper reaches of the trees. Crossbills, hawfinches, redstarts, woodpeckers and nightjars are also present. As also are nightingales and most British birds of prey. The nightjar is a particularly scarce bird and migrates to England for the summer from Africa. As the name suggests they are rarely seen during the day but can be heard high up in the branches of solitary trees by night.
Camping out - and the lighting of fires - is not permitted in the Forest, but the Forestry Commission has an extensive campsite just inside the northern boundary of the Forest. Leave Marlborough on the A346 (Burbage/Salisbury) Road, and the campsite is on the top of the first hill you come to. It has facilities for both tents and caravans. There are also numerous purpose-built barbeque hearths with tables and chairs provided.
Although the forest is privately owned the Forestry Commission manages the forest and public access is permitted and notices stress that this is not a right of way.
The main access points to a metalled trackway open to the public, known as the Grand Avenue runs from the A4, the Old Bath route east of Marlborough in the north to the village of Durley on the south side. This is a private road and but it is possible to park in the many clearings inside the forest.
The forest is an ideal area for walking and cycling along the many level routes through the forest. These are maintained as access routes by Forestry vehicles. However dogs must be kept on leads and you are advised to ensure that no valuables are left in your vehicle. You are also advised to drive very slowly along this Grand Avenue route as apart from the safety aspect of being very narrow with little space available for passing space you are likely to damage your vehicle on one of the cunningly concealed tarmac traffic calming humps if you are silly enough to speed. You have been warned. Once out of your car and on your bike or feet you will enjoy every minute of this enchanting forest.
An oasis of tranquility and beauty at any time of year Savernake Forest is always worth a visit. Nearby and to the south of this ancient forest is the historic Kennet Avon Canal with its oldest working steam (beam) engine in the world at the Crofton Pumping Station and a working windmill at Wilton village.
This little known area of England is full of interest and surprises for the discerning traveller. From ancient bridleways and White Horses carved into the hillside long ago to the mysteries of the Avebury Stone Circle.
Why not stay awhile and sample a just a little of the vast ancient and modern history that Wiltshire has to offer. Savernake Forest