Wiltshire (abbreviated Wilts) is a ceremonial county in the south west of England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon. The county covers 858,931 acres (3476 km²). Wiltshire is characterised by its high downland and wide valleys. Salisbury Plain is famous as the location of Stonehenge stone circle and other ancient landmarks. The city of Salisbury is notable for its cathedral. The county town is Trowbridge (originally Wilton).
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 Wessex nobleman who had seized the throne of Queen Saxburga, and King Wulfhere of Mercia. In 878 the Danes invaded the county, and, 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 decisive Royalist victory, was fought near Devizes.
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, thumbnail histories, faqs, and information on schools and churches.
Wiltshire is a mostly rural landscape, two thirds of the county lying on chalk, giving it a high chalk downland landscape. This chalk is part of the Southern England Chalk Formation that underlies large areas of Southern England from the Dorset Downs in the west to Dover in the east. The largest area of chalk in Wiltshire is Salisbury Plain, a semi-wilderness used mainly for arable agriculture and by the British Army as training ranges. The highest point of the county is the Tan Hill-Milk Hill ridge in the Pewsey Vale on the northern edge of Salisbury Plain, at 294m (965 ft) above sea level.
The chalk runs 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 (668 square mile) conservation area.
In the north west of the county, on the border with 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.
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 south east of the county lies on the sandy soils 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.
As with the rest of South West England, Wiltshire has a temperate climate which is generally wetter and milder than the rest of England. The annual mean temperature is 10 °C and shows a seasonal and a diurnal variation. January is the coldest month with mean minimum temperatures between 1 and 2 °C. July and August are the warmest months in the region with mean daily maxima around 21 °C.
The number of hours of bright sunshine is controlled by the length of day and by cloudiness. In general December is the dullest month, June the sunniest. The south-west of England has a favoured location with respect to the Azores high pressure when it extends its influence north-eastwards towards the UK, particularly in summer. Convective cloud often forms inland, especially near hills, and acts to reduce sunshine amounts. The average annual sunshine totals 1600 hours.
Rainfall tends to be associated with Atlantic depressions or with convection. The Atlantic depressions are more vigorous in autumn and winter and most of the rain which falls in those seasons in the south-west is from this source. In summer, convection caused by solar surface heating sometimes forms shower clouds and a large proportion of rainfall falls from showers and thunderstorms at this time of year. Average rainfall is around 800–900 mm. About 8–15 days of snowfall is typical. November to March have the highest mean wind speeds, with June to August having the lightest winds. The predominant wind direction is from the South West.
Wording courtesy of http://www.wikipedia.org/
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