We didn’t know in February that in less than a month the country would be locked down but with the hindsight we now have I am so pleased we got away for a ten-day campervan holiday while coronavirus made its way across the world to the UK. We toured around Wiltshire for most of that time and for five nights stopped at the Camping and Carvanning Club site at Devizes. Our average stay on a campsite is less than two nights, so five nights is a chunk of time for us to settle anywhere but in February open campsites were not easy to find and the Devizes site turned out to be a great base with lots of options.
On the way to Devizes we drove up to the high car park near The White Horse of Westbury. It was a windy day and our walk to see the horse carved out of the chalk, although now covered in concrete, and around Bratton Camp blew away the cobwebs after a long drive. On the northern edge of Salisbury Plain, the views from the 17th century Westbury White Horse stretch for miles.
We walked, took the bus and also drove from the campsite. Here are the places we visited.
Taking the bus from the campsite
Leaving the Blue Bus at the campsite, we used the local buses to visit a couple of attractions.
Opposite The Three Magpies pub, at the entrance to the campsite you can pick up a bus to Devizes. Alternatively, a short walk over the canal bridge and along the quiet lane takes you to Seend. Here you can catch the number 49 bus to Trowbridge in one direction and to Avebury and even Swindon in the other.
Bradford-on-Avon – Taking the 49 to Trowbridge, we picked up a train to Bradford-on-Avon on a day of bright sunshine and showers. Visiting this pretty town sitting on a steep hillside by the River Avon was perhaps the highlight of our time in Wiltshire. With stone buildings that are warm and elegant and charming cobbled streets, Bradford-on-Avon has plenty of old weaver’s cottages from its time as a cloth-making town. Overlooking the Town Bridge, which has an old lock-up perched on it with a weather vane known as the Bradford gudgeon, we found Il Ponte Italian restaurant, a great choice for coffee and lunch.
Away from the town centre we explored the enchanting and strangely proportioned Saxon Church of St Laurence with narrow arched doorways and windows and crossed the river to reach the 14th century Title Barn. With sunlight filtering through the slit windows of this monumental building I gazed up at the impressive timber roof, the stories from the past echoing among the beams.
We climbed steep lanes and steps to the highest buildings in the town that have views across the Avon valley to Salisbury Plain and The White Horse. At the end of one lane, perched on the hillside we found the splendidly situated medieval chapel of St Mary Tory. Tory here means hill [tor] and we looked over the town from what was once a pilgrimage site between Glastonbury and Malmesbury. The chapel was restored in the 19th century and more recently the east window was replaced with modern colourful stained glass.
Avebury – Using the bus in the opposite direction we spent a day walking seven miles around the many Neolithic sites of Avebury. After walking around the huge circular bank and ditch with impressive standing stones, we walked to West Kennet Long Barrow, passing the mystery that is Silbury Hill on the way. This long barrow is my favourite site out of the many at Avebury and on a fine sunny day the views from West Kennet Long Barrow were worth the exertion. A burial site for many individuals, along with pottery, beads and a Neolithic dagger, large sarsen stones hide the entrance to the barrow’s 42-foot-long passage which has two side chambers and another at the end. We returned to Avebury by East Kennett and the Sanctuary, another baffling site that you can be creative imagining what it was used for.
Walking from the campsite
The Kennet and Avon Canal runs alongside the Devizes campsite and an easy and enjoyable walk of about two miles each way will take you to Caen Hill Locks, 29 locks rising 237 feet. It is an exhausting trip for boat owners, taking the best part of a day to travel up or down this row of locks and you are bound to spot one or two as you walk.
Carry on a mile or so more and you reach Devizes. We were there on market day which always adds an extra bustle to a town. We admired the outdoor stalls and then walked through the indoor market which has a wide array of goods from cakes and cards to wooden crafts. Chatting to one stall holder he recommended Times Square for the best coffee in this agreeable town. On market day it seemed that everyone had decided to enjoy a break in this friendly cafe but it is big enough to accommodate everyone and the stall holder was right, it was good coffee.
We visited The Wiltshire Museum to see its exceptional collection from the many ancient sites in the county. If you are confused about the timeline of Wiltshire’s history then this is the place to help you get it straight in your head. If you don’t want to immerse yourself in local history then the tour of the Victorian Wadworth Brewery might be more your glass of ale. After walking back along the canal [or you can take the bus] a visit to the Three Magpies pub next to the campsite for a glass of Wadworth was a great way to round off the day .
Walk in the opposite direction and you reach The Barge Inn after just over a mile.
Days out in our campervan from the campsite
As well as walking and taking the bus, we took our campervan out for a couple of days.
Stonehenge – We last visited Stonehenge in our first campervan in 2006. The stones are the same but the organisation of the site has changed massively since then. Today the visitor’s centre is one mile away from the circle and one of the roads alongside the stones has been closed. We purchased timed tickets in advance and arrived at the large car park [with dedicated motorhome parking] with a comfortable amount of time to visit the exhibition before taking the free shuttle as far as Fargo Plantation. This enabled us to approach Stonehenge across the green pasture land, skylarks singing above us and the stones in the distance. Of course, the scene isn’t as it was in the Neolithic era but it is more peaceful than it was.
In 2006 we paid extra to be able to walk among the stones as the sun set, a truly magical experience. Today, the stones are surrounded by a low fence and with controlled visitor numbers everyone has space to walk around the stones and get an uninterrupted view from different angles and in different light. There is no doubt that Stonehenge is a popular place to visit and given the limitations, English Heritage are doing a good job at enabling everyone to enjoy and understand the structure. For me, Stonehenge remains a special place and I look forward to coming back when the A303 is out of sight.
Marlborough & Savernake Forest – If you want somewhere to stretch your legs, enjoy a spell of window shopping followed by some people watching in a cosy cafe then Marlborough, with the second widest high street in the UK, will fit the bill.
Nearby is Savernake Forest, an expanse of woodland with a network of footpaths, deer and a remarkable collection of ancient oak trees, each with a name. In the mixed woodland, with so many paths, we were soon disorientated and only knew where we were when we stumbled upon the sign for one of these gnarled oak trees. We found The Saddle, The Cathedral and Old Paunch; these trees already have character but knowing their names made me consider the features of each tree and admire the ridged bark and dripping moss.
Lacock Abbey & village – Owned and managed by the National Trust, Lacock Abbey is a 13th century abbey that was converted to a family home in the 16th century. If you recognise the building and the village this is probably because you have seen it on a film or TV programme. Downton Abbey, Cranford, Harry Potter and others have all been filmed here. The car park isn’t huge but it does have some large spaces for motorhomes.
The house has plenty of personal touches that retain an intimacy in the rambling building and there are knowledgeable guides in most room. William Henry Fox Talbot lived here and in 1835 captured the first photographic negative of one of Lacock Abbey’s oriel windows. You can see this image and others in the small museum by the entrance that tells the interesting story of photography.
Devizes Camping and Caravan Club site is an open and green site with friendly and helpful wardens. The facilities would welcome an update but are totally satisfactory.
I realise that none of us can travel anywhere just at the moment due to coronavirus but I hope this post and these ideas might contribute to your planning for future trips while we can only dream. Happy future travels!