Wiltshire is a county in the South West of England, some 70 miles West of London and is noted for its pre-Roman archaeology and wide open chalky plains; a landlocked county covering some 1,500miles2. Avebury, Stonehenge, Caen Locks, Wadworths brewery, Salisbury cathedral, thatched cottages, Castle Combe, Marlborough, and Lacock Abbey all reside here.
Talking of breweries, there are loads! That, unfortunately, must be left for another day or three! But don’t worry, all along this route are some great traditional pubs selling great beers, ales and lagers.
Moonrakers – not the Bond film – is the county nickname derived from local legend of smugglers hiding their liquor from the excise men in the village pond by making the pond ripple trying to rake in the “cheese” from the water! The excise men assumed the villagers all fools and left them alone. This nickname is claimed by many villages throughout the county and it is for this reason that VAT in the UK is so high – teach us to make fools of the customs men!
This is a short ride in terms of miles, 90 or so, but, in terms of history takes in almost 5,000 years starting in the northernmost town of the county, Cricklade – also the first town on the Thames. The river here is no more than 20 feet wide and in the summer time is easily walked across. The source being only four miles away in Ewen over the border in Gloucestershire.
Cricklade is a sleepy Saxon town dating back to 10th Century, and earlier. It had at one time a mint, a glove making factory and at least six pubs in a small high street. It still has two butchers, three pubs, two Indian restaurants, a Thai restaurant, a kebab shop and fish’n’chip takeaway! Adjacent is North Meadow, an uncultivated 30-hectare meadow, which every spring time produces 80% of the UK’s population of the rare Snake Head Fritillary, and is also the local flood plain. North Wall is the site of the Saxon fortification which still keep the town from flooding today!
Up and over Common Hill past the Fiddle heading almost west from Cricklade, we take the B4040 and ride 12 miles to Malmesbury. Along the way passing through small villages such as Leigh (pronounced Lie), Minety and Charlton. As a motorcyclist, this road gives a good taste of what is to come – bends and straights to try out! Watch the speed though through the villages.
As we near Malmesbury, there is a challenging dip and snake combination, followed by a 90degree left over a humped back bridge! The limit here is 60mph but be careful!
Malmesbury is a small market town more recently home to the naked Gardner and his wife whom still weed their patch in the summer months! Sitting in the southern Cotswolds, Malmesbury is older than Cricklade with buildings dating back to the 5th and 6th Centuries; and even further back as Malmesbury being the oldest continually inhabited settlement in England from around 500BC.
At the centre is Athelstan museum and on the edges are the abbey and gardens as well as old textile mills. Parking in the centre, wander up and down some of the narrow streets lined with cottages, shops and visit a local hostelry or two. Malmesbury is home to Dyson and is a real mix of olde worlde charm and modern day technology!
From here, we can explore any number of small roads and villages as we head to the delightful village of Castle Combe which has featured in many Hollywood films, the most recent being Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, TV shows and period dramas and adverts. There are a couple of ways of getting here, either is as good as the other passing through traditional small Wiltshire villages.
Castle Combe is in two parts; upper and lower. It is to the lower most will venture with its chocolate box rows of cottages lining the streets. I suggest parking up and walking down to Water Street. Check out the Old Rectory Tea room as well as the 14th Century market cross. One thing Castle Combe is, is photogenic. Stop to get a photo or two – it’s a must. Then, once you’ve drunk in the sights, pootle on to Lacock and its abbey and the Fox-Talbot photographic museum.
The ride to Lacock will take around 45 minutes; as before there are a couple of routes to take, so suggest using sat-nav to take you the most interesting way!
The ancient abbey at Lacock has also appeared in film and TV. If you are a Harry Potter fan then you will recognise your surroundings! Wander around and see if you can spot which parts were used on the film set – the information signs tell you, but have a guess anyway!
From Lacock we head to Devizes. Now, if you have planned ahead, a tour of Wadworth’s brewery could be taken. If not, then there are Caen locks to look at; this is a steep hill, and whatever goes down, has to come up!
Devizes is a large market town not mentioned in the Domesday book so a relative newbie compared to where we have just ridden from! If you haven’t stopped yet, then maybe this is a good place to do so and with plenty of eateries and coffee shops, you will be spoilt for choice.
Taking the A361 to Avebury, a short run of 8 miles, gives us chance to open the throttle again as this is a nice wide open fast road. Don’t go so fast as you will otherwise miss some of the chalky down scenery which in the summer time is a profusion of colour and smell.
Avebury is my favourite site for standing stones in the area; some other famous stones can be found further south but Avebury stone circle is reputedly older by a thousand years or two! And, there is a good pub here, the Red Lion, which used to be a popular haunt for bikers. Talking of haunt, pop into the newly restored Avebury manor and then take a wander around the stone circle and touch history. Avebury, unlike its younger sibling, no tunnels planned here! Car parking though is expensive! Ouch! Also, watch out for wandering hippies at summer and winter solstice times – they won’t be looking where they are going and could be smoking something more exotic than tobacco – without wishing to generalise or offend any pothead smoking hippy of course!
As you enter Avebury, the limit drops to 30mph. Police are often here checking for speeders!
The National Trust car park is on the left in the dip. You may of course try parking elsewhere in the village, or at the Red Lion car park if intending to lunch here. Wandering around the grounds of the manor is free, but you pay to get into the house. As you do for the old barn behind. Lunch is good here at the National Trust café.
From Avebury, we head to Marlborough along the A4 which is a great chance again to open the throttle and get going. Look out for Silbury hill on the left and if you fancy a stop, park in the layby and wander up to West Kennet Long Barrow. It might take 20 minutes or so to walk up but the views are rather stunning especially on a clear day.
Further along, 6 miles, is the market town of Marlborough, charter 1204, where the High Street happens to be the second widest in England, after Stockton-on-Tees. Full of small quaint shops and eateries and several shopping yards hidden away, stop for a while and wander up and down. The name Marlborough reputedly comes from Merlin’s Barrow – referencing Silbury Hill nearby which is rumoured to be Merlin’s resting place. Or, does the name derive from the Medieval term for chalky ground “Marl” – town on chalk?
From Marlborough, we stay with the A4 heading towards Hungerford, but before we get to Hungerford, take a left turn on the B4192 to Chilton Foliat. Keep going on the B4192 all the way to Aldbourne which is a small village with thatched roof cottages. Blink as you ride through it and you will not necessarily miss it as there is a nasty left and right bend in the middle!
Look out for the barn still sitting on staddle stones!
Aldbourne gently nestles in a valley in the southern slopes of the Lambourne Downs, which are part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. From here an unnamed winterbourne flows and joins the River Kennet 4 miles (6 km) south near the village of Ramsbury.
There are two pubs here, The Blue Boar and The Crown. As with previous villages we have passed through (or soon will do if following this route clockwise), Aldbourne has also appeared on the silver screen. If you remove your riding boots and don some decent walking boots instead, there are a couple of exceptionally good walks that take you out into the wilds of the downs.
Staying with the B4192, we head north turning left just before we hit the bridge over the M4. The route avoids riding along the M4 but, we do use a small section of the Fosse Way along the side of Liddington Hill. At the end of the road, turn right. Then turn left immediately after the petrol station and whizz through Chiseldon (turn right at the mini roundabout) following signs to Wroughton.
At the end of the road, there is an option to turn left and visit Barbury Castle which is an old iron age fort. Good for wandering around and seeing some great views. This road passes near to the old Wroughton airfield, now used as a science museum, and recently the site of the “Ebola” track for “The Grand Tour”!
Turn right though, and head into Wroughton. Follow signs for Royal Wootton Bassett. Left at the mini roundabout, then right at the traffic lights. Turn right at the end of the road some 2 miles away and at the motorway roundabout, take the first left. Over the first roundabout, then left at the next.
This brings us to our last stop, Royal Wootton Bassett. The prefix “Royal” only recently given due to the town’s informal honouring of British soldiers being repatriated via Lyneham as the funeral corteges passed through the high street.
At the south end of the high street stands the old town hall on what looks like stilts. Wander up and down the high street and admire the many shops, and coffee houses.
Parking here is relatively easy, either along the high street if a space happens to open for you, or in one of the side streets.
That’s almost the end, or start, of the ride. From here we head back to Cricklade for our final stop.
Hopefully this has been a good ride and day out. Its only around 90 miles all told but it’s a great little route especially if you take a side road or two as you never know what delights you may find, as often a small village will have a welcoming local pub serving great food.
This is a great ride that takes in 5000 years of history.
For this ride, and all my rides, I use Google Maps and switch off the “Highways” as I want to avoid motorways/autoroutes as much as possible.