Hello again, well at last we’ve managed to do a bit of sightseeing, in-between the showers and gales. Wednesday night Patsy 2 was buffeted by some of the worst winds we’ve known in our short time caravanning. Patsy 2’s substantial build – plus the extra 26 or so stone of her occupants – made sure she stayed put.
Anyway, with the promise of a reasonably dry day on Monday we decided to venture forth and see what this county had to offer. We’d already decided to save the south-eastern area for another time – we have that deposit to use against a future booking in Stonehenge, so the likes of Salisbury, Amesbury and so on, will wait until then.
First up was the Caen Hill locks, just outside Devizes. A ladder of 29 locks covering 2.5 miles that lift the Avon & Kennett canal 237ft or 72m up from the Avon valley to Devizes. It was dug by hand and took 16 years to build, the excavated clay being used for making bricks. We could have had a walk along the towpath but neither of us were feeling particularly energetic. The skies above were starting to look threatening and whilst I had come sensibly attired in winklepickers Trev was rather foolishly wearing proper walking shoes.
We settled for taking a few pictures and it was then I discovered that the camera’s memory card was still sitting in the laptop. What a muppet. So all pictures today are from a phone.
Next up was Silbury Hill, a 130ft or 40m high mound of earth situated beside the A4. Oh the excitement. Seriously though what makes it interesting is that construction started over 4,700 years ago or thereabouts. It appears to have been built in three stages over a 400 year timespan and is at least as big as some of the smaller Egyptian pyramids. Experts are still unsure as to why it was built and it was not originally surrounded by water, that’s a fairly recent addition – the last few weeks in fact!
We continued west to Marlborough a pretty and quite affluent looking town with a large wide high street spoilt somewhat by that necessity of the modern age – the car. Having decided not to add to the collection, we parked around the back of one of the rows of shops. The fact that it was free helped….
Smart independent shops jostled for shop frontage with some of the more usual high street chain store suspects. We killed a few minutes looking around one waiting for the recently arrived rain cloud to pass.
The town hall seemed worthy of a snap or two once the rain passed and the sun emerged again as we traversed the opposite side of the street. Coffee was procured at Greggs to accompany the sarnies Trev had made up that morning.
To the western end of the town lies Marlborough College, an independent school that can count young comedian Jack Whitehall among it’s former pupils. I wouldn’t say he’s more or less funnier than any of the current crop of comedians but I do like the fact that he doesn't try and hide his privileged upbringing and (expensive) education but draws on it in his routine.
Swindon was next, a place I knew little about other than that Honda have a big car plant nearby. We should (particularly after reading the guide book) have headed to the old town but happened instead on a multi-storey and emerged a short while later in to the concrete jungle that is Swindons shopping area. There really was very little of note that I could see – but given the prevailing damp and windy conditions we weren't very enthused about exploring off the beaten track.
Having procured a couple bits and bobs for Patsy 2 we took a circuitous route back to the car park and came across an area of beautiful stone built cottages that formed the basis of the the original ‘new town’. Swindon was, for a while, the heart of the Great Western Railway and the cottages were built to house the railway workers and their families in a time when philanthropy was much more prevalent than it is today. The cottages still look smart although here, that other apparent necessity of modern life; the wheelie bin, joins the car in spoiling the view. The once impressive social club, also built for the workers, now stands boarded up.
Our final port of call was Royal Wooton Bassett, famous more recently for the military repatriation processions that passed through numerous times when the wars in Afganistan and Iraq claimed yet another life. The bodies of our serviceman would arrive back at nearby RAF Lyneham and the local Royal British Legion members took to the streets to show respect as the processions passed. They were soon joined by locals all wanting to pay their respects to our fallen. RAF Lyenham closed in 2011 and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire returned to it’s role with the processions now taking place in Carterton.
There was one final stop of the day – an extremely brief one - to take a picture of some scaffolding. Yes that’s right, scaffolding. This was pretty impressive though:
Tuesday afternoon and a break in the weather saw us in Devizes. The focal point of the town not surprisingly – for me anyway – was the vast red brick structure of the Wadworth brewery. We didn’t bother with a tour but I was hoping to find some as yet un-sampled ales to research. I was out of luck…
Talking of grog, one thing Devizes is not short of is pubs, they are everywhere. I would have loved to been able to erm, research them all, but neither my wallet or liver was up to it.
Wednesday brought with it more wind and heavy rain, so with any sort of sightseeing out of the question we fired up Rosie and headed over the border in to Somerset to say hello to James & Tara at The Old Oaks Caravan site near Glastonbury. You may recall that we stayed here before Easter last year and it still remains our number one site. Preparations were continuing for their opening for the new season of Friday but they took some time out for a good chin wag and catch up over coffee. There was concern that the media are painting the whole of summerset as being under water when a relatively small part has been affected. Somerset IS open for business and you will not be disappointed if you book up for The Old Oaks.
The rain had ceased Wednesday evening and we popped back in to Devizes for a bite to eat – and yes, a couple of pints too – for research purposes obviously.
Thursday brought with it more showers but with a break in the weather around lunchtime we headed to Chippenham – a pleasant little town on the banks of the Avon that can boast one Robert Peel as a former MP. He was, as many will recall, charged with setting up the country's first police service. Eddie Cochran’s association with the town is much briefer. It was nearby that the taxi he was in hit a lamppost in the early hours after a concert in Bristol. He was dead by the following morning.
We paused - briefly at Melksham on the way back for some shopping but little else.
And that really is our stay in Wiltshire. It will certainly not go down in Nonsense! history as one of our better trips. In fact had it not been that we had two new toys to play with we may well have stayed at home. The weather has been exactly as forecast – awful - and has made any sightseeing more of a chore than a pleasure. Added to that that I appear to have picked up a bug of some sort, causing me to reach for the paracetamol at frequent intervals and feel even less than enthused about getting out and about in the cold and wet. Our ‘research’ expeditions have not been as frequent or wide ranging either.
I am looking forward returning at some point later in the year when (hopefully) the weather is better to see more of this currently rather soggy county.
On another positive note, aforementioned new toys have performed well. Patsy 2 is nice and warm – and stable in the face of some pretty ferocious winds. Rosie has proved competent and the tow home tomorrow – with more of a trailing wind – should yield much better fuel economy.
So, what’s next. Well the Easter holidays are coming up and for our school at least occur before that actual Easter weekend. The three weeks of will see us up in Durham and then Yorkshire before returning south for the second ever Twittercamp at Rutland. We’ll then head to Cambridgeshire to catch up with friends and family before finishing the trip off with a few days in Essex.
For on line readers I’ll probably knock out one more blog once we get home, looking more closely at our new toys and how they performed. But for everyone else, ‘till the next time…