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Malmesbury and the Bristol River Avon round

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Wiltshire or the County of Wilts is situated in the south west of England and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. Along with the rest of South West England, Wiltshire has a temperature climate which is generally wetter and milder than the rest of the country. Wiltshire, mostly rural, is made up of high chalk downlands, limestone downlands, wide clay valleys and dales providing a beautiful rolling landscape. There are two rivers named Avon that flow through Wiltshire the Bristol Avon and the Hampshire Avon. The largest vale is the Avon Vale with the Bristol Avon cutting diagonally through the north of the county, flowing through Bradford-on-Avon and into Bath and Bristol. The Hampshire Avon rises at Pewsey in Wiltshire flows through the City of Salisbury and the county of Hampshire before entering the English Channel in Dorset.  The Vale of Pewsey cuts through the chalk into Greensand and Oxford Clay in the centre of the county. The Vale of Wardour is in the south west of the county and to the south east are the sandy soils of the northern most area of the New Forest. The highest point in the county is the Tan Hill-Milk Hill ridge at 295 m (968ft) in the Pewsey Vale just north of Salisbury Plain. Wiltshire is known for its pre-Roman archaeology and the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age people built settlements on the hills and downland. Stonehenge and Avebury are the most famous Neolithic sites in the UK. The largest area of chalk is Salisbury Plain a semi-wilderness used mainly for arable agriculture and by the British Army as training ranges. The famous Stonehenge, Avebury stone circles and other ancient landmarks can be found on Salisbury Plain. Wiltshire has many country houses open to the public including Longleat near Warminster and the National Trust’s Stourhead near Mere and the City of Salisbury is known for its mediaeval cathedral.

The Cotswolds are a range of hills covering an area of 25 miles across and 90 miles long and lie mainly within the counties of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire but extend into parts of Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. The spine of the Cotswolds runs southwest to northeast through the six counties particularly Gloucestershire, west Oxfordshire and south western Warwickshire. The Cotswolds have been designated as the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is the largest AONB in England and Wales. The northern and western edges of the Cotswolds are marked by steep escarpments down to the Severn Valley and the Warwickshire Avon and this escarpment is often called the Cotswolds Edge. On the eastern boundary lies the city of Oxford and on the west is Stroud. To the southeast the upper reaches of the Thames Valley and towns such as Lechlade, Tetbury and Fairford mark the limit of this region and to the south the boundary reaches beyond Bath and towns such as Chipping Sodbury and Marshfield. The Cotswolds are characterised by attractive small towns and villages built of the underlying Cotswold stone, a yellow limestone, and drystone walls many built in the 18th and 19th centuries can be seen everywhere in the fields. The most well known towns or villages are Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadway, Burford, Chipping Norton, Cirencester, Moreton-in-Marsh, Northleach, Stow-on-the-Wold, Stroud and Winchcombe. During the 13th – 15th centuries the native Cotswold sheep were famous throughout Europe for their heavy fleeces and high quality of wool. Cotswold wool came at a high price and the wealth generated by the wool trade enabled wealthy traders to leave their mark by building fine houses and beautiful churches, known as “wool churches”. Today the sight of the sheep on the hillside is still one of the most common features of the Cotswolds.

Malmesbury a charming market town on the edge of the Cotswolds, Wiltshire known as Queen of Hilltop Towns lies on a perfect flat hilltop encircled by the River Avon, also known as the Bristol Avon, thus probably making it the country’s best naturally defended inland location. The hill is also dotted with fresh water springs which would not only sustained settlers but were considered holy wells as far back as the 17th century. The town is rich in history as England’s oldest borough. The town flourished during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries as a weaving centre and became known for producing fine silk and lace. Malmesbury with its medieval streets, old courtroom, almshouses, silk mills which have been converted into apartments, a 15th century elaborately engraved market cross and the Abbey and its Gardens makes the town delightful to wander around. The town is home to the Old Bell Hotel the oldest in England which has been offering accommodation to weary travellers since 1220. The Athlestan Museum located in the Town Hall is named after the First King of all England and tells the history of Malmesbury and the area around it. The town is also home to the headquarters of the Dyson Company. There is also a lovely scenic river walk which winds around the town. The honey coloured stone streets with their fine cottages, buildings, shops and inns are over looked by the imposing 7th century Malmesbury Abbey which is one of England’s most historic sites and the town’s star attraction. It is at the centre of Malmesbury and can be seen for miles around.  When St Aldhelm founded the monastery in AD675 it soon became a place of pilgrimage and learning and in the 10th century Athelstan, the first king of England and grandson of Alfred the Great, made Malmesbury his capital. He is buried under the abbey grounds. In 1539 King Henry VIII dissolved the abbey. It was bought by William Stumpe who arranged for it to become the parish church and was consecrated as such in August 1541. The abbey once had a spire taller than Salisbury Cathedral, has gone through three restorative incarnations but today although much is in ruins it is still used as the local parish church.  The Abbey House gardens famous for their beauty, walks, history, a stunning collection of roses the largest in England, tulips and plants are a real pleasure to see with its formal landscaping and wild spaces dotted with fish ponds that overflow into the valley carved out by a tributary of the River Avon. Concerts and events are often held here during the summer.

The River Avon is a river in the south west of England and to distinguish it from other rivers of the same name it is often known as the Bristol Avon. The Avon at 75 miles long is the 19th longest river in the UK even though as the crow flies there are just 19 miles. The river rises just north of the village of Acton Turville in South Gloucestershire before flowing through Wiltshire to its mouth in the Severn Estuary. In its lower reaches from Bath to the Severn Estuary at Avonmouth near Bristol the river is navigable and known as the Avon Navigation. At Malmesbury the river joins up with its first major tributary, the Tetbury Avon, known locally as the Ingleburn. Here the two rivers almost meet but their path is blocked by a rocky outcrop of the Cotswolds almost creating an island for the ancient hilltop town of Malmesbury to sit on.

The Walk

With the Market Cross on your right head forward to the right hand bend in the road and head down the slope opposite. Once you reach the bottom turn right down the slope. At the bottom of this slope take an immediate left down an alleyway to the weir. At the weir we cross over the footbridge. We head forward over a stone footbridge marking the location of Daniel’s Well, named after Daniel of Winchester seen to be one of the great bishops of the early Church of England. We turn left and follow a faint grass path close to the river on our left. We soon bear right to go through the hedge on our right then turn left. Continue close to the hedge on the left. We go through a gate and cross over a series of wooden footbridges. At the end of the path we go through a gate and turn left towards the footbridge. The Silk Mills are on our right. After crossing the footbridge, location of The Second World War memorial, we cross the road and head down St John’s Street opposite past the Almshouses which were built in 1694 for poor and widowed women. Continue down the street and over a bridge. Immediately after the bowling green turn left at the footpath sign. We follow the footpath over the weir and across the fields with the river on our right. At the road we turn right over the bridge and just before the Spice Merchant we turn left and follow the path with the river on our left into the woodland. As we head along we see the old railway tunnel and the Abbey House Gardens on the other side of the river. At the end of the path we go through the gate and turn left down the slope and across the bridge but before we do we go into the picnic area for a cup of tea by the river. After crossing the bridge we bear right and then right again on a small footpath beside the Millhouse. We follow the path alongside the river, now on our right, and head up the slope and steps between two brick walls to the road. We turn left uphill then at the First World War memorial at The Triangle we bear right down Bristol Street. At the fork in the road we turn left down Foxley Road and follow the bend round to cross the bridge. We then take the footpath on the left and continue across the fields to Daniel’s Well and retrace our steps back into the town.

Terrain

This is an easy walk on grass and river paths and tarmac road. There are some stiles, gates and footbridges.

Elevation: approx lowest point 68m (221ft) approx highest point 88m (288ft) approx ascent 69m (225ft).

Distance and Start Point

Approx 2.5 miles allow 1 to 2 hours using OS Explorer Map 168, Stroud, Tetbury and Malmesbury. This walk is done anti-clockwise.

Start point: Market Cross, Oxford Street.

Location

Malmesbury is in Wiltshire.

Directions and Parking

From the M4 take junction 17 and continue on the A429 to Malmesbury.

Parking: at the main long stay car park located at the bottom of a short hill behind the Abbey at Station Yard or the short stay car park in the centre of Malmesbury.

Toilets and Refreshments

There are public toilets in the main car park and within the Town Hall. For refreshments there are a number of pubs, cafes and shops.

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