A county of southwestern England, on a low plateau draining into the basins of the Bristol Channel, the English Channel, and the eastward-flowing Thames. Oh, and home. It is surrounded by the counties of Gloucestershire, Dorset, Somerset, Oxfordshire, Hampshire and Berkshire.

Trowbridge is the administrative centre of Wiltshire for reasons that seem to escape pretty much all of the local inabitants. Trowbridge is, after all, a nasty little hole full of 1970s council buildings and a sausage factory. Surely Salisbury or even Swindon would have been a much better choice?

The administrative, geographic, and historic counties occupy slightly different areas. The administrative county of Wiltshire comprises four districts—Salisbury (in the south), West Wiltshire, Kennet in the east, named for the river Kennet and North Wiltshire. The geographic county encompasses the entire administrative county together with the unitary authority of Swindon. The historic county of Wiltshire is nearly the same as the geographic county but also includes a small area north of Sherston in the Cotswolds, and thus administratively controlled by Gloucestershire, but we'll get it back, damn their eyes.

Much of Wiltshire is made up of chalk hills. Salisbury Plain occupies central Wiltshire but not many people go near there since most of it is Crown Land and reserved for the Armed Forces to play soldiers on. North of the River Kennet are the Marlborough Downs, which make up one side of the Vale of the White Horse. Along the county's western border rise parts of the Cotswolds, a range of limestone hills. Between these two upland areas lie the clay valleys of Wardour and Pewsey. South of Trowbridge the valleys are fairly heavily forested in contrast to the open, rolling countryside of the uplands. Savernake Forest was the last known refuge of the English black bear for a very long time.

Parts of the Marlborough Downs, the Cotswolds, and the Vale of Pewsey have been designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Of course, in real terms all that this actually means is that building a bloody great housing estate there is more expensive than elsewhere, requiring one to own many more politicians and local councillors than one would need to in, for example, Melksham.

In prehistoric times the chalk uplands were the most heavily populated parts of England, and Wiltshire has many prehistoric monuments. Stonehenge, about 8 miles north of Salisbury, dates from the Neolithic Period and its use by prehistoric peoples has been a topic of much debate. The predominant local theory is that either it's a huge bong that no-one's found the mouthpiece from yet or that it was constructed on perfectly good arable land by neolithic Wiltshiremen in a (very successful) effort to irritate their decendants.

There are plenty of other important Neolithic monuments nearby, including those at Avebury and Windmill Hill. The latter is believed by those credulous fools from universities to have been a centre of ritual and of seasonal tribal fasting in the 4th millennium BC but these are the kind of people who say crop circles were made by aliens, so what can you expect? The former is a big stone circle with a pub in the middle and is therefore of at least some value. Long Neolithic burial mounds, or barrows, are all over the place as are round burial mounds from the Bronze Age. The ancient practise of building large mounds of earth over dead people is suspected locally to be a means of making certain that the buggers don't get out.

Durrington Walls, a large ditch-enclosed ceremonial earthwork, dates from the late 3rd millennium BC, apparently. These days it hosts the occassional rave. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. During the Iron Age, hill forts were constructed, such as those at Yarnbury Castle, near Berwick St. James, and at Old Sarum, outside Salisbury.

The county has played a role in national affairs in as much as any county can be said to have done so. There are Roman remains all over the place, and in the Middle Ages, sheep farming by Cistercian monks was probably the most important activity. Oliver Cromwell won a decisive battle against the Royalists just outside Devizes and King Alfred the Great soundly kicked the Danes' collective arse just outside of Chippenham.

Salisbury has long been the ecclesiastical centre of the county and is renowned for its 13th-century cathedral which apparently still has the tallest church spire in Britain. Salisbury is unusual in that the building of elegant crescents in the Georgian period never really caught on there, so the city is still faithfully Tudor in design.

In the Northwest of the county there a couple of places that visitors call "quaint" and think are authentic. Well, there's one born every minute, after all. The first is Lacock, an entire village owned by the National Trust. Lacock is steadfastly 16th Century apart from the Volvos and is regularly annexed by the BBC so they can do yet another interminable Jane Austen costume drama. It has three really good pubs, an abbey that was unabbeyfied during the Reformation and later served as home to the father of modern photography, William Henry Fox Talbot and tourists are available for shooting all year round.

Another is Castle Combe, a wool-village with a working mill and a manor house that stems from the same period but is even more picturesque. I know people who think heaven will look Castle Combe. It is noticeable for, among other things, the largest number of antique shops per capita of anywhere in the world.

The last that i shall mention is the village my family are from. It's a hamlet called Sandy Lane where all the houses are quaintly thatched and there's even a thatched, wooden church dating from the Norman Conquest - the only one of its kind remaining in the UK.

Finally, the one thing that may surprise you, is that Wiltshire is big. It comprises of just over 1,255 square miles. Not exactly Texan but for the South of England, that's pretty huge. In this size, there's room for a lot of cool stuff. Ignore my sarcasm, Wiltshire is well worth a visit.

To add to K9's writeup above, Wiltshire is 'Deep England', magnified to the nth degree. It's made out of rolling hills, retired Colonels and is a Tory Heartland. The Wiltshire accent varies from rural to cut-glass. Until recently the primary employers were farms, the armed forces (who own large tracts of the county and base their land forces headquarters in Wilton), and (in the south at least) Wilton carpet factory; all three have suffered from cutbacks and setbacks in the past decade, with the result that Wiltshire is increasingly becoming an employment black spot.

Thanks to the M4 motorway many of the county's residents commute to London or the IT area around Reading in Berkshire; a major train line runs through the country from Plymouth to Waterloo, with the journey from Salisbury station to Waterloo taking one hour and twenty minutes or so, at a cost of 23 pounds.

Thanks to its inland location, Wiltshire is spared the ravages of much of the English climate; nonetheless, it is very, very cold in the Winter, and only has a fortnight or so of bright sunshine in the middle of the year. Despite this it's very attractive, and at night there are remote places where you can see the stars, although much of it is inaccessible unless you own a car or wellies, or indeed combat boots, and a car that can cope with wobbly roads. Wilshire is one of the few parts of Britain in which it is appropriate to own and drive an off-roader; a proper one. Public transport is restricted to bus routes which serve a multitude of tiny villages, usually arriving and departing only three or four times per day.

Apart from Stonehenge and various other neolothic monuments such as Edward Heath (who lives just outside Salisbury cathedral), Wiltshire is also famous for not quite containing Shaftesbury, a Dorset village famous for providing a steep cobbled street for Ridley Scott's old Hovis commercials, as well as numerous location shots for period dramas. No television cop shows have been set in Wiltshire; despite a village called Compton Chamberlayne and a village called Brixton, no famous hip-hop groups have originated from the area. The crime rate is very low. Old people can indeed walk the street at night. I have no idea whether there is an American equivalent of Wiltshire - the rural bits of Texas, perhaps, or Boston. Salisbury has a large Armed Force careers centre next door to the library and a sporting gunshop opposite the only cinema, two things which would be unheard of in, say, London. XTC come from Swindon; they have never mugged anyone. Swindon itself is a bit rougher than Salisbury and is where the first series of The Office was set; Ricky Gervais' accent is a rough approximately of a Wiltshire burr, although the old country accent is dying off.

Perhaps because of the great number of ancient monuments - particularly Avebury and Stonehenge, as noted above - and also perhaps because there isn't much to do at night, Wiltshire has more crop circles than any other county.

Other vital brushes with fame include the aforementioned Edward Heath, who lives outside the cathedral, Sting, who has a house near Wilton and visits the dentist there every so often (I know this as I walked past him once), and Madonna, who has a large house there. Bryan Ferry used to live in Wiltshire; now he does not. Brian May of Queen and his wife Anita Dobson used to live in Tisbury; they may still, I don't know.

The name itself derives from that of Wilton; the name of Wilton derives from the fact that the river Wylye runs through it, and thus Wiltshire is 'the shire with the town that has the River Wylye going through it'.

Ethnically, there are most certainly non-white anglo-saxon people about, although I can't remember seeing many when I lived there.

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