Malmesbury(Last Updated On: 6th May 2020)
Malmesbury’s vibrant history as England’s oldest borough affords this ancient hilltop town with bags of character, including plenty of interesting relics, landmarks and buildings, which any visitor to the town simply must discover. Malmesbury Abbey is a must-see for history buffs and architecture lovers; the town’s iconic 12th Century abbey that sits at its heart, homing the tomb of Athelstan the Glorious, the first King of England. Alongside the Abbey are the vibrant Abbey House Gardens, straddling the River Avon across five acres and housing over 2,000 different roses, 100,000 tulips and 10,000 different plant species that burst to life from March to November each year.
A haven for independent boutiques, Malmesbury’s winding streets are worth exploring of their own accord, with a weekly farmers’ and artisan market taking place every Friday for those who love to indulge in a little retail therapy.
Sightseeing & Activities
Below is a selection of things to do and places to visit while staying in Malmesbury. The best sources of up-to-date information about local events can be found at:
The current Malmesbury Abbey was built in the 12th century. This building is the third abbey to stand on this site. The first was St Aldhelm’s earliest church, before he oversaw the construction of a larger, stone complex of churches located where the current graveyard lies. The present Abbey dates from 1180 and was added to in the following 200 years with a great spire that was the tallest building in England at the time, and a tower at the West End. But in the late 15th century – a generation before Henry VIII’s cull of the monasteries – the great spire fell, followed by the tower 100 years later. Only the nave of this once huge abbey remains. (Extract from Malmesburyabbey.com)
The Abbey House Gardens sit right next to the iconic Malmesbury Abbey and are over 1300 years old, with “the first King of England buried somewhere in the garden, two saints thrown down the well, and now considered one of the great gardens of the world.” A truly spectacular garden that has been the location for TV programmes, hosts weddings, garden yoga and until 2019 was known for the Naked Gardener, Ian Douglas Pollard, who transformed the garden with fellow gardener Martin Roberts from a formal garden to today’s stunning naturalistic riverside garden.
A great local museum located in the Town Hall. The museum is laid out around a timeline which links Malmesbury with national and global events. There is an interactive model of Malmesbury Abbey in the fourteenth century. See Eilmer, the flying monk and Walter Powell, the ill-fated balloonist; learn about Thomas Hobbes, the famed philosopher; look into the town’s lace-makers cottage and learn about the silk industry. There’s an artwork collection, featuring most notably JMW Turner’s painting of Malmesbury Abbey.
An adventure paradise for all ages to enjoy, Cotswold Water Park is an extensive wetland area where a host of outdoor activities such as sailing, rowing, horse riding, shooting and even a purpose-built beach will keep all ages entertained, no matter what the weather.
You may recognise this unique Elizabethan manor house thanks to its on-screen popularity, with the likes of Poldark, the acclaimed Wolf Hall and BBC’s Lark Rise to Candleford all having filmed here. Built in 1383, just two families have owned Chavenage since Tudor times, making this a fascinating family home with relics dating back to the 17th Century.
Stroll around the park and get eye-to-eye with giraffes, watch rhinos graze on the Manor House lawns, walk with lemurs, ride on the train or explore the adventure playground; you won’t run out of things to see and do!
Sitting in the heart of the Cotswolds, Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park has a long-standing reputation as a fun-filled day out where visitors of all ages can interact closely with animals to learn all there is to know about farming. As the home of rare breed conservation, visitors can meet over 50 flocks and herds of farm animals, including Gloucestershire Old Spot Pigs and Highland Cattle. The Touch and Demonstration Barns can be enjoyed year-round thanks to their protection from the elements, with a fantastic Adventure Playground on offer for when the weather is behaving. The on-site restaurant, serving seasonal food and Adam’s own beer, is a hit with the adults.
Time To Relax
Arguably one of the finest spas in the south-west, if not the UK, Calcot Spa offers all you need for a day of R&R with more than a slice of luxury. Housed at the luxurious Calcot Manor hotel, Calcot Spa boasts a beautiful outdoor hot tub with roaring fire pit, a large indoor pool, tranquil relaxation areas and an extensive treatment menu. We can assure you you’ll want to spend the day here… and probably won’t want to leave!
The Aquarius Spa at Whatley Manor is a place to reset and recharge, with an indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy pool, heated stone recliners, salt scrub showers and thermal suite, plus a pampering menu of treatments to enjoy. There’s even a gym, should you want to energise before unwinding.
This unique subterranean spa can be found in the vaults of the boutique Kings Head Hotel, just off Cirencester’s main Market Square. With four treatment rooms, a relaxation room and thermal suite complete with hot tub, infra-red sauna, steam room and experience shower, this is the ideal spot to unwind away from the hubbub of the town centre. Indulge with one of the spa’s pampering treatments, with everything from therapeutic massages and beautifying facials on offer.
For Nature Lovers
This spectacular 600-acre arboretum offers nature lovers of all ages a memorable day-out destination whatever the weather. Filled with over 15,000 trees from around the world, visitors can keep eyes peeled for specific species using the Arboretum’s Tree Spotter’s Guide, wander amidst the treetops on the award-winning STIHL Treetop Walkway or head off on one of the guided walks. Visitors in Autumn are in for a treat, as the trees put on an incredible leaf-changing display which carpets the area in red and golden hues.
The spectacular gardens of Prince Charles’ own Highgrove Estate are open to the public between March and September, making it the perfect opportunity to discover the spectacular gardens which His Royal Highness has worked passionately to create over the past 30+ years. The gardens themselves are a series of interlinked spaces, each with their own character and purpose, bursting to life with a stunning display of colours throughout the seasons. After exploring the gardens, be sure to head to The Orchard Restaurant for a bite to eat, offering up delicious daily dishes created using the finest in organic ingredients.
This historic 3,000-acre estate owned by the Bathurst Family boasts a beautiful 19th Century parkland designed by Alexander Pope, which the general public are free to enjoy at their leisure. Accessible via entrance gates on Cecily Hill, little ones will love stretching their legs here, whilst older visitors will enjoy taking in the stunning landscapes. Dogs are welcome, too, just take care to stick to the designated walking areas.
The World of Music Arts and Dance -WOMAD – festival has been held in Charlton Park in Malmesbury since 2007. It features a fabulous diversity of sound split over six stages and featuring bands and musicians from over 50 countries! There are also workshops, a spa, fantastic food and just a brilliant family friendly feel.
Malmesbury Artisan & Farmers’ Market
The Market is held at the historic Market Cross every Friday from 9am to 3pm. Selling an enticing array of local, fresh and organic produce together with artisan products and gifts at great prices, the market is well supported by visitors and residents alike.
Woolsack Festival (May)
Every year, the second May Bank Holiday plays host to Tetbury’s iconic Woolsack Races; an unusual local festival dating back to the 17th Century, which sees runners tackle Tetbury’s steepest hill (Gumstool Hill) with a very heavy woolsack on their back. With plenty of merriment, fun and food on offer throughout the event, as well as the spectacle itself, it’s a fantastic sight to behold if you’re lucky enough to be in the area at the time.
Badminton Horse Trials (May)
Every year in May, one of the biggest events in the world’s equestrian calendar comes to the spectacular Badminton Estate for three days of thrilling competitions, amazing horse displays and over 500 stands dedicated to food, drink and country pursuits. A great day out for all ages, dogs are welcome to come along, too. Keep your eyes peeled for a royal or two, known to frequent the horse trials every year.
Every year in July, the skies above Fairford come alive with the world-renowned Air Tattoo; arguably one of the greatest airshows in the world. Drawing in over 185,000 people every year, The Air Tattoo welcomes over 300 aircraft from 30 nations around the world, with a thrilling programme of flying air displays taking place over the course of the event. An absolute must-visit for flying fans and adrenaline-junkies, with plenty on offer to keep others entertained, too.
Gatcombe Horse Trials (August)
Another for the horse-lovers among us, August plays host to the annual Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park, HRH The Princess Royal’s personal home. Watch riders test their mettle in many different events over the course of the weekend, discover the fantastic food and shopping village or be sure to be enthralled with the equestrian entertainment on offer in the main ring. Again, dogs are welcome too, making this a fantastic option for the whole family.
Tetbury Music Festival (Autumn)
A celebration of everything from classic to contemporary music, the Tetbury Music Festival offers a wonderful programme of concerts, talks and interviews throughout the town every year, the perfect antidote to nights drawing in. Be sure to visit the website for details of what’s on and how to get tickets.
For Bigger Kids
Boasting no fewer than three courses, Minchinhampton is one of the finest golf courses in the Cotswolds, including two Championship courses and the original ‘old course’. Renowned for their immaculate presentation and excellent drainage, all three courses are open to visitors year-round, with tee bookings available to be made two weeks in advance by calling the dedicated Tee Bookings Line (found on website). Proper golf attire is required to be worn, along with golf shoes and socks.
A year-round, 18-hole course with a rich 125-year history, offering a fantastic day on the course for members and visitors alike. Designed by James Braid, this mature course boasts spectacular views towards Cirencester and the Marlborough Downs and is suitable for all grades of golfer. There’s also a driving range and short-game practice area, with buggy hire available.
The result of owner Greg Pilley’s dedication to his vision to create a sustainable, organic beer which actively contributes to its local community, Stroud Brewery has gone from strength to strength since its conception in 2006. Now a thriving brewery with a fantastic selection of organic craft beers, the Brewery itself boasts its own bar, shop and offers Brewery Tours; the perfect day out for beer enthusiasts.
We recommend the Malmesbury River Walk, a fantastic circular walk which you can join directly from the cottage’s front door. Following the River Avon as it meanders its way around the outskirts of the town, this gentle 2-mile stroll through Malmesbury’s streets and picturesque fields takes in a host of the town’s ancient landmarks, including Daniel’s Well, Malmesbury’s 19th Century Silk Mills, The Old Courthouse and the pretty Abbey House Gardens, as well as giving you the opportunity to experience the beauty of the riverbanks and the wildlife it attracts. The perfect way to discover this Saxon hilltop town’s rich history whilst enjoying as much fresh Cotswold air as you can.
Directions and map for Malmesbury River Walk:
Either head to Daniel’s Well; to reach it from the Town Hall and Cross Hayes car park, firstly head down Oxford Street, towards the Market Cross. Keep heading onwards towards the large mirror on the corner and head down the slope beneath it. Once you reach the bottom, turn right down the slope and at the base of this slope; take an immediate left down an alleyway. This will lead you past the weir and over a bridge, when you can see the small stone footbridge you have reached Daniel’s Well.
- Now that you have found Daniel’s Well (A), cross the stone footbridge and turn left into the fields. There should be a rough path in the grass to follow.
- Keep heading in this direction, past St. Aldhelm’s Mead (B) (used as the local park, you will see two goals marking out a football pitch) and over a series of small wooden footbridges.
- Once you reach the end of the path exit via the wooden gate and turn left over the footbridge. You will see the Silk Mills (C) on your right.
- Head over the footbridge and then turn right through the metal gates (location of Malmesbury’s Second World War memorial).
- Cross the road and head down St. John’s Street, past St. John’s Almshouses (D) and the Old Courthouse (E)on your right.
- Keep following the street and continue over the bridge. Once you have reached the far corner of the bowling green, turn left down the path you will now see.
- Follow the footpath over the weir and across the fields running parallel to the river.
- Cross over the road once you reach the end (you will see the Spice Merchant on your right) and head through the wooden gate leading onto the woodland path.
- Follow the woodland path alongside the river. On your way you will see the old railway tunnel (F) and the Abbey House Gardens (G) on the other side of the river.
- When you reach the end of the path and exit through the gate, turn left down the slope and head across the bridge you see ahead of you.
- Head slightly up the slope but keep an eye out on your right for a small footpath running alongside the house on your right.
- Follow this path alongside the river and head up the slope and steps until you reach Gloucester Road.
- Turn left up the hill and head towards the First World War memorial at The Triangle (H).
- At the memorial, turn right down Bristol Street (I) and walk along the pavement.
- When you reach a fork in the road, turn left down Foxley Road and follow the bend round
- Cross the bridge and turn left to join a footpath running across the fields ahead.
- Follow this and before long you will be back at Daniel’s Well.
For more information about each point of interest along the walk visit Malmesbury.com and click the link Malmesbury River Walk.
The Food Scene
Malmesbury and nearby Crudwell has a wide range of pubs, cafes, and restaurants. Here’s our choice of 10 of the best:
- The Smoking Dog – 62 High St, Malmesbury SN16 9AT Tel: 01666 825823
- The Rose and Crown – The Street, Lea, Malmesbury SN16 9PA Tel: 01666 822053
- Hobbs House Bakery – 3 High St, Malmesbury SN16 9AA Tel: 01666 824866
- The Summer Café – 4 High St, Malmesbury SN16 9AU Tel: 01666 822639
- The Birdcage – 2 High Street, Malmesbury SN16 9AU Tel: 01666 825505
- La Campagna – 9 Oxford St, Malmesbury SN16 9AX Tel: 01666 823227
- The Old Bell Hotel – Abbey Row, Malmesbury SN16 0BW Tel: 01666 822344
- The Dining Room at Whatley Manor – Easton Grey, Malmesbury SN16 0RB Tel: 1666 822888
- The Rectory Hotel – Crudwell, Malmesbury SN16 9EP Tel: 01666 577194
- The Potting Shed- The Street, Crudwell, Malmesbury SN16 9EW Tel: 01666 577833