Wiltshire magazine's Alison Joyce spends 48 Hours in Devizes

PUBLISHED: 13:26 11 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013

Market Cross in Devizes

Market Cross in Devizes

Alison Joyce finds rickshaws and Robbie Williams in Devizes, but a whole lot more besides including cart horses, a back-breaking system of canal locks and a history commemorated in a medieval walk.

Alison Joyce finds rickshaws and Robbie Williams in Devizes, but a whole lot more besides including cart horses, a back-breaking system of canal locks and a history commemorated in a medieval walk.

It doesn't take much to realise why you should spend 48 hours in Devizes. This pretty Georgian market town has a fascinating history, heaps of charming independent shops and restaurants, beautiful countryside to explore and a cinema and theatre too!

The town is surrounded by some of the most picturesque thatched villages in England, as well as the famous Caen Hill locks and canal. It has its white horse, too, on Roundway Hill, where the famous battle between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads took place. There's a green, a crammer, and it's home to Wiltshire's famous moonrakers story too!

The large market square that dominates the centre is lined by beautiful Georgian houses, inns, coffee shops - all of different shapes, colours and sizes, with lots of tales to tell. Retaining some of the most interesting and historic networks of medieval streets in England, Devizes boasts over 500 preserved listed buildings. There is the imposing corn exchange built in 1857 with the famous statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of the harvest, adorning the building and keeping vigil over the Market Place. Of course there is a town hall, too. Rebuilt in 1808, this fabulous Georgian building reflects its Regency grandeur with Adams-style ceilings, magnificent candelabras and oil paintings.

Oh, and the Wadworth Brewery's shire horses still deliver the beer! The brewery has four shire horses, Prince, Royal, Max and Tom, the latest in a long line of shire horses dating back for over 100 years (with a brief hiatus), a mere shadow of the 40 horses that were once used by the brewery. The horses, which deliver to hostelries within two miles of the brewery, are a much-loved attraction for visitors and locals alike, as well as performing a very useful function.

Where to stay

In the Market Square there is the famous Bear Hotel. First registered in 1559, it has a fascinating history and is well known as one of the most prominent hostelries of the Westcountry (www.thebearhotel.net). The Castle Hotel is a friendly, family-run 18th-century hotel situated on nearby Park Street www.castledevizes.com. If you fancy modern, on the outskirts of the town there is a newly built Travelodge or for a selection of self-catering cottages visit www.tichbornes.co.uk.

There are various B&Bs to choose from including Rockley House that backs onto the canal (www.rockleyhouse.com), or just a few miles outside Devizes there is a wide choice ranging from the Old Manor, a delightful Grade II Listed B&B (www.theoldmanor.biz), to the charming Patney Weir Cottage (www.patneyweir.co.uk).

If you like to eat and drink and not worry about the driving why not try The Mill Stream in Mardon (www.the-millstream.co.uk) or The George and Dragon at Rowde (www.thegeorgeanddragonrowde.co.uk). Rosemundy Cottage in London Road which holds a 'Welcome Host Award', is alongside the canal and makes a good base (01308) 727122 (www.rosemundycottage.co.uk).

Three things to take home

Don't miss out on some locally brewed beers from the Wadworth Brewery Shop located within the Visitor Centre, which also stocks a wide range of clothing and gifts. You can find lots of interesting goodies in the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, the Kennet and Avon Canal Shop or the Devizes Visitor Centre. Or, if you wish to look for something different, why not try Urban Rustics or the Emporium?

Eating out

Refreshingly, Devizes has lots of independent restaurants. A local favourite is Franco's Italian restaurant ((01380) 724007 run by Gianni and his family. If that is booked out you can try your luck at the Isola Bella where you can sit outside in the summer (www.thebistrodevizes.co.uk). The bistro is run by Devizes' famous TV chef, Peter Vaughan, who rediscovered the recipe for Devizes cheesecake, a personal favourite of the nieces of Jane Austen, who sampled the delicacy when they stopped off in the town on their way to Bath and made sure they repeated the experience on the way back!

There is the airy Bambou restaurant serving Chinese and Thai food ((01380) 720600 and a modern Bangladeshi and Indian restaurant (www.jalkhabarrestaurant.co.uk) where you can even hire a rickshaw if you want!If you fancy a pub, why not try the Wiltshire Yeoman (www.thewiltshireyeoman.co.uk), The Bridge Inn at Lavington (www.the-bridge-inn.co.uk) or the Bell by the Green in Estcourt Street (www.bellbythegreen.co.uk).There are numerous places to sit and enjoy a coffee or a cup of tea including The Little House of Coffee in the Market Square. There's a Costa too, where Robbie Williams has been spotted several times! Why not treat yourself to a delicious fresh sandwich from Jack Sprat Sandwich Store on the High Street ((01380) 730528 or walk down the canal towards the top of Caen Hill Locks where you can sit and enjoy the view and tuck into a delicious home made cake at the Caen Hill Locks Caf.

Hit the Downton

Since the 12th century, Devizes has held a market every Thursday and there is always a great feeling of excitement and hustle and bustle in the air when people travel from miles around for market day. Stalls selling everything from olives to knickers fill the Market Square and the Shambles. There is a popular flea market in the Corn Exchange to explore too.The varied independent specialist shops are characteristic of Devizes. Leading from the Market Square there are courtyards and alleyways, all with charming names depicting their history. There's the Old Swan Yard, home to Spirit, the popular and stylish boutique designer; the Bluestone gallery, which brings together a wide range of crafts; the Toy Tree, a beautiful toy shop with handmade toys; Dolcepanni where you can sit outside and enjoy a cappuccino - they have just won an award for their coffee; and the fabulous Urban Rustics run by brother-and-sister team Christopher and Kate, who sell wares "from a handful of London-based designers and a sprinkling of choice objects from overseas", which feature "a whole heap of attitude and a small pinch of cool".

In the Ginnel, a narrow alley of charming shops just left off the Market Square, you can find Cinders (www.cindersbridal.co.uk), the Cross Key jewellers and the Ginnel Gift Shop. In the Little Brittox, there is Mystique and the Healthy Life health shop, and St John's Alley, a cobbled street with 15th-century timber-framed buildings, is home to the famous Joan Pressley hat shop. If you love books, why not venture into the second-hand book shop, D'Arcy Bookshop, in the Chequers or the Wellwisher Bookshop, which specialises in children's books, or the beautiful Handel Bookshop in Sidmouth Street, housed in a former music shop.

Things to do

A great way to explore Devizes is to pick up a free medieval town trail leaflet from the Devizes Visitor Centre in the heart of the Market Place. There is an exhibition charting the history of the town with an emphasis on its medieval origins. The trail is lively and informative, taking you around the exceptionally well-preserved medieval street plan of the town and highlighting Devizes' role in the 12th-century civil war.

To complete your Devizes historical experience, a visit to the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Long Street is a must. This fascinating museum features the archaeology, recent history, natural history and art of Wiltshire. The Bronze Age collections are the finest in the country, and include many finds discovered in the World Heritage landscapes of Avebury and Stonehenge. A new Medieval Gallery houses some fascinating artefacts from medieval times.

Visitors can sample the delights of the beers and discover the history and heritage of Wadworth brewing in this free and exciting visitor attraction. Another must is a visit to the famous Caen Hill Locks, the world's longest flight of canal locks: 29 of them all squeezed into about two miles of waterway, just outside the town en-route to Trowbridge.


Events to watch out for are the Devizes Festival, which takes place every June for two weeks. Over the past 30 years, the Festival has brought a lot of internationally renowned artists from a wide spectrum of the arts.

The Devizes Food Festival highlights the wonderful local produce that is available throughout the region and gives local food providers the opportunity to showcase their products.

The Devizes Carnival takes place every August, and on the Green throughout the year there are visiting fairs and circuses. Devizes is very proud of its theatre, The Devizes Wharf Theatre. This charming auditorium, as the name suggests, backs onto the canal, seats about 90 people and is found, unremarkably enough, at Devizes Wharf.


Parking: Limited free parking in the Market Square, paying car parks elsewhere

Wiltshire Heritage Museum: www.wiltshireheritage.org.uk

Wadworth Visitor Centre: www.wadworth.co.uk

Devizes Visitors Centre: Market Place,

(01380) 734669

Kennet and Avon Canal Trust Museum:

The Wharf. www.katrust.org.uk

Wharf Theatre: www.wharftheatre.co.uk

Events: www.devizesfestival.co.uk, www.devizescarnival.co.uk, www.devizesfoodanddrinkfestival.co.uk

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