I should start with full disclosure. I was born and bred in Wiltshire. With its rolling chalk download and grazing farmland, it really was an incredibly wonderful and rural place to grow up.
I remember hot summers at the Marlborough Jazz Festival and trudging through Savernake Forest, winter walks around Avebury and Stonehenge, and weekends spent at Bowood House and atop Silbury Hill. So deep are the county’s agricultural roots that our houses at school were named Stonehenge, Whitehorse, Ridgeway and Sarum. So, when I decided to spend a long weekend at West Barn Lodge, near Favant, it felt more like a homecoming.
We booked our stay with Premier Cottages. Unlike many of the larger holiday rental websites, Premier Cottages does not add a booking fee to the price of its holidays. This means guests can save 15% or more by booking with Premier as their prices are all-inclusive, with no hidden charges, cleaning fees or service costs. The other element that I rather applaud is that you book direct with the cottage owner rather than through a central reservations team. All the properties are inspected and rated four or five star by the National Tourist Board though.
Having driven from Dryhill Farm on a sunny morning via Marlborough, we arrived at West Barn Lodge in the Maserati Levante at lunchtime, in need of sustenance. West Barn Lodge is no more than a few minutes’ drive from the small village of Fovant, which is most noted for its dramatic hillside of regimental badges carved into the imposing chalk downs. The badges, nine of which are readily visible today, were begun by troops stationed in and around Fovant during World War I. The first badge believed to have been cut was that of the London Rifle Brigade in 1916, the 5th Battalion of which is known to have undergone training at Fovant.
As we turned down the small lane off the A30 leading down towards the lodge, starlings flew through the hedgerows, weaving in and out of the branches as the Levante crackled its way across the gravel. Completed in 2018, West Barn Lodge is a formidable space and can accommodate 20 people in nine en-suite rooms. It wasn’t long before Barney Hitchings arrived to welcome us to the property and show us around the expansive estate.
The barn was originally part of West Farm Fovant and was used for threshing, as a cart shed and for holding livestock. The renovation began in 2016 as an ideal accommodation option for those attending shooting weekends at the Gurston Down Shoot and Hillclimb. Barney went on to explain that the estate has been home to the Gurston Down Shoot since the Sixties. Originally established by David Hitchings in 1965, David laid down the gauntlet in an advert in The Field in March 1973. It read: “So you think you can shoot. The highest pheasant and partridge shoot in England announces the selling of a number of guns at a cost of £100 each for the coming season.” Not surprisingly, the guns were quickly taken and Gurston Down became synonymous with commercial high game shooting and is regarded as one of the best shoots in the country. In 1999, after some 30 years and 607 shooting days that arguably set the modern standard, David and Gwen decided to retire. Thereins were passed to their nephew, Robert, his wife, Jeanne, and their son, Barney.
Not only does the estate cater for those seeking a brace or two, you’ll also find Gurston Down Speed Hill Climb a ten-minute drive away. Settle in for another history lesson readers: the hill was created in 1967, out of a couple of farm tracks. The British Automobile Racing Club picked up the tab for the new tarmac surface and maintenance, of course. There are 9 events a year, and two MSA British Hill Climb Championship are held at the award-winning venue. The course record produces an average speed of just over 85mph, and the fastest recorded speed over the finish is 159mph. The Hitchings were rapidly turning out to be my kind of petrol-and-gunpowder-obsessed people – but I digress. Back to West Barn Lodge.
The main entrance hall gives you an immediate sense of the property’s space. A tremendous Persian rug dominates the room, with doors heading off in every direction. The most noticeable feature is the staircase down to the games room, which comes complete with a pool table and original Wurlitzer. Yes, a Wurlitzer. Your first port-of-call: pop the jukebox on and open the doors out to the terrace. If you prefer your own playlist, there is a Sonos system along with wifi throughout. I urge you to drop your phone though, and take in some of the tremendous views that the property has to offer.
The grand hall became our mainstay area, with its beautiful stonework, high ceilings and wood-burning stove. Above the seating area, accessed by a spiral staircase, is a cinema snug: the perfect place for an afternoon snooze or somewhere to leave the children. Towards the end of the barn was a large, fully-equipped kitchen for self-catering and enough utilities for any chef. The country-chic interior design, leather furniture and natural wood finishes had me reaching for a variety of cameras during my stay. The property’s layout and design have been carefully thought out with wonderful homely touches added throughout.
With only two of us staying at the property, the next decision was which of the nine bedrooms to choose from. Barney suggested Bedroom Three because of its panoramic views across the fields. All the bedrooms on the south side of the property benefit from access to the terrace that wraps around the exterior of the property. The views were so beautiful I moved some of the terrace furniture across so I could sit outside during the evening and watch the sun go down, glass in hand. You’ll also find a sizeable hot tub to the rear of the property with equally good views and space for all. Make every effort to block out any artificial light and gaze up to the stars. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place to see themso clearly. The terrace with firepit and BBQ was an equally wonderful place to take a knee on a warm summer’s evening. If you can pry yourself away from the home-from-home, I can recommend visiting Salisbury, the Pythouse Kitchen Garden, The Beckford Arms, and of course, Stonehenge. If you are in search of a decent pub, you won’t have to ‘walk’ too far.
With a long list of excursions and country walks under our belts during our stay at West Barn Lodge, there was one last thing to do. Robert Hitchings was very kind to show me around Gurston Down Speed Hill Climb, and even let us take the Maserati Levante around the track. The course starts downhill, dropping to Hollow, where the fastest cars around doing over 120 mph. Then round a sweeping left-hander of Little Hollow and Hollow Bend, braking very hard into the sharp and steep uphill section of Karousel. It really is a thrilling place.
With a racing facility on your doorstep and a pioneering pheasant and partridge shoot to boot, West Barn Lodge is the perfect property for anyone looking to sample Wiltshire’s beautiful countryside. Come and spend warm summer’s nights on the terrace with spectacular views across this area of outstanding natural beauty. Then put the children to bed, turn up the jukebox and let the pool tournament begin, before piling into the hot tub for a spot of stargazing. West Barn Lodge is all the more special because of its homely atmosphere and having the wonderful Hitchings family onsite if you need them. I tip my cap to the family.