Bill Dupre spends 48 Hours in Malmesbury, Wiltshire

PUBLISHED: 16:04 07 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:09 20 February 2013

Malmesbury Abbey

Malmesbury Abbey

Bill Dupre goes flying (without wings) in a town that retains a special character all of its own

Bill Dupre goes flying (without wings) in a town that retains a special character all of its own

Malmesbury, 'queen of the hilltop towns' is a beautiful north Wiltshire market town, steeped in history spanning many centuries and recognised as the oldest borough in England. From the beginning, the Abbey, which dominates the skyline, has played a pivotal role in nurturing the creative and innovative character of Malmesbury. The first church organ was built here, man made his first recorded flight here (Eilmer, a monk at the Abbey, flew a primitive hang-glider from the Abbey tower in AD1010), and the first King of All England was crowned here.War and peace, prosperity and decline, have been part of Malmesbury's rich history. Old industries have come and gone. Today, its 17th- and 18th-century Cotswold stone cottages integrate seamlessly with traditional pubs and shops and with the new generation of boutiques, delicatessens, bistros, coffee shops, and local arts and craft shops. Great advances in electronics and IT have become the new economy and tourism also makes its own contribution. Malmesbury has beautiful surrounding countryside and, being the gateway to the Cotswolds, provides a unique opportunity for visitors to explore further.

Where to stay

There's a wide choice of accommodation in and around Malmesbury, be it camping and the great outdoors or pure unashamed luxury. Burton Hill Caravan Park (01666 826880) in Arches Lane is a small family-run site providing excellent, secluded facilities. A seven-minute scenic walk from town, it accommodates tents, caravans and camper vans.

For self-catering, The Great Tythe Barn (01666 502358, at nearby Tetbury offers beautifully appointed cottages within its grounds. The complex is only a five-minute walk from the town centre, but fully secluded in peaceful surroundings.

The Kings Arms Hotel (01666 823383) is the only B&B in High Street, comfortably appointed and central to all the town's amenities. For those looking for B&B outside the town, try family-run Marsh Farm House (01666 822028), about a mile from Malmesbury on the Crudwell Road.

The Old Bell (01666 822344,, built in 1220, is reputed to be the oldest purpose-built hotel in England. Eight hundred years later, it offers quintessentially English warmth, comfort and unrivalled hospitality.

Half an hour's drive away on the A4, between Chippenham and Calne, is Bowood Hotel and Spa (01249 822228,, a newly opened luxurious hotel complex incorporating a 15m infinity swimming pool, hot pool, crystal steam room, rock sauna, gym and spa bar. The hotel is set in extensive grounds on the Bowood House estate.

Hit the downtown

Head for the Town Hall in Cross Hayes and visit the local Tourist Information Centre housed inside the main foyer. There is a useful leaflet which highlights all the places of interest, and a route that is easily followed, with all the places within walking distance. The Athelstan Museum shares the same building.

A short walk away, at the bottom of High Street, The Old Silk Mills and the Cotswold stone cottages give way to the town's old pubs and diverse range of traditional and specialist shops in High Street. Worthy of note is The Wild Food Co health store (01666 82443) and That New Shop which has an ever-changing range of clothes, gifts and lifestyle items (01666 825098 ). Tempt your taste buds and visit Capers amazing delicatessen (01666 824744).

In the town centre, the awe-inspiring Abbey dominates, and the nearby 15th-century Market Cross is still used as a shelter and meeting place for the farmers' market, which is held on the 2nd and 4th Saturday each month.

The Abbey House Gardens, lovingly restored by Ian and Barbara Pollard (The Naked Gardeners) is in the near vicinity, and adjacent to the Abbey is The Old Bell.

Some of the interesting places to be found in the TIC leaflet include Betty Geyser's Steps, the quaintly named area of Horsefair and the grave of Hannah Twynnoy, who revels in the distinction of being the first person to have been killed by a tiger in England!

Three things to take home

In the past, Malmesbury had a thriving wool and lace industry. Sadly it is no more, but the skill of lacemaking lives on today. Each Monday in the Athelstan Museum a lacemaking demonstration takes place, allowing the visitor to sample the lace and purchase some of the related items.

The Abbey View Alpacas have, in a small way, regenerated the wool industry. Alpaca wool socks are a must for the oncoming winter.

Clive and Christine King, and fellow potter Graham, share a working environment at The Malmesbury Pottery in Cross Hayes. Specialising in stoneware hand-thrown pottery, each item is unique, making it the perfect gift.


Malmesbury has a close-knit community spirit, so there is always something going on. Throughout the year the surrounding area hosts a number of well-known national events, such as the Badminton Horse Trials (May), the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford (July) and not forgetting WOMAD (July), the world-famous music and dance festival.

The highlight of the year for Malmesbury must be the annual carnival. This is not just a one-day event, but one that encourages activities throughout the year to raise money for charity. This year, it culminates in a traditional carnival procession on 5 September but there is a full progamme of events throughout August and September, making a stay in Malmesbury doubly worthwhile. See the website at for a full list of what's going on.

Eating out

Eating out in and around Malmesbury couldn't be easier, whether for a simple coffee or a more substantial meal. On warm sunny days, Summer Caf (01666 822639) in High Street allows the visitor to sit outside and watch the world go by. Just around the corner in Oxford Street is Amanda's Bistro (01666 829356), where the courtyard garden is perfect for chilling out.

2A (01666 824040) in Silver Street is a modern restaurant offering lunches, tapas and gourmet-style meals.

For those looking for a traditional English pub in an unspoilt village, try The Rose and Crown (01666 822302) at Brokenborough. It is an ideal place to enjoy local cask ales with lunch or dinner, and it's only a ten-minute journey from Malmesbury.

Fact file

Tourist Information Centre: Town Hall 01666 823478.

Car Parking: Short term in the centre at Cross Hayes. Main car park down in Old Station Yard. Both are pay and display.

Buses: Nearest National Express (01249 665970) pick-up point to London and other main routes is Chippenham. Local service operators serve outlying villages and provide links to Cirencester, Bath and Bristol.

Trains: Malmesbury is served by First Great Western at Kemble and Chippenham. Contact National Rail Enquiries 08457 484950.

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