When you think of the county of Wiltshire what things do you associate it with? I know for me it would be Stonehenge, Salisbury cathedral and Wiltshire cured ham. It therefore may come as a surprise to you that actually a large part of the Cotswolds encompasses Wiltshire.
After visiting Bath, Salisbury and Stonehenge in 2017 I always intended to come back and explore the South West in more depth, in particular the Cotswolds. So for my birthday this year I thought I would treat myself to a trip down South with one particular place in mind…Castle Combe.
Castle Combe is located on the Wiltshire/ Gloucestershire border, 5 miles North West of Chippenham and 12 miles North of Bath. It has proved to be a very popular location for film makers with films such as Doctor Dolittle, Stardust, The Wolfman and War Horse all set in the village.
The village dates back to around the 10th century and is made up of two parts- Upper Castle Combe and Lower Castle Combe. Upper Castle Combe is located along the B4039 road, with a motor racing circuit further South of the village, however it was lower Castle Combe that we were to explore.
The drive to Castle Combe took just under 3 hours. A relatively simple drive- M6, M5 and M4. When we arrived there was the option to park in the large free car park in Upper Castle Combe, however we eventually ended up getting a space along the road just before Lower Castle Combe.
As soon as we arrived it was very easy to tell why this place was voted the prettiest village in England in 1962. It was as if time has stood still in Castle Combe for the past 500 years… the closest thing you will get to experiencing 15th century village life for sure!
The most famous landmark in the village in arguably the Manor House which was built in the 14th century. The house is now a hotel but from the 14th century to 1947 it was owned by the Lords of the Manor. The only other landmark that predates the Manor House is the Norman Castle but unfortunately only the earthworks and the dungeon now remain. The castle was built by Reginald De Dustanville during the English civil war, hence the name Castle Combe- Combe meaning valley.
The 14th century Market Cross is the location of the weekly market. The market is stapled within Castle Combe’s history, with the first one being held in the 15th century; it is also the largest market in North Wiltshire. Traditionally peasants would lay their vegetables and cheese out on the floor whilst the more wealthy traders set up their stalls and traded local produce such as cloth, meat, cheese and butter.
What I did find odd about Castle Combe was the fact that there is a large cross in the middle of the road. I later found out that this is to mark the site of a 15th century Market Hall which was knocked down in 1840. The upper floor of the Hall was raised on pillars
to ensure that the market was covered.
The 15th century saw the rise in the cloth industry which came as a huge benefit to Castle Combe. It is often said that the invention of the blanket originated in the village. The Weavers House was the home of the Blanket brothers who invented a warm cover for their beds by using a gig mill to raise the nap of the cloth. However, after the 15th century the cloth industry started to decline and as the flow in the Bybrook began to diminish, the cloth manufactures decided to move to areas surrounded by powerful rivers such as the River Avon.
There are two pubs in the village, the Castle Inn and the White Hart. The Castle Inn was originally a resting place for monks who had made the pilgrimage from Malmesbury to Glastonbury. Nowadays it is used as a hotel, serves food and drink and also specialises in a range of local beers. The White Hart is the only Inn in Castle Combe on it’s original site; in medieval times there were around seven or eight Inns! Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to go in and visit either of these pubs, we opted to go for a bite to eat in the cafe instead.
The stables cafe is located just off Water street and as you can imagine the cafe did used to be in fact… stables! We were instantly greeted by two adorable dogs who go by the names of Twiglet and Bumble. The cafe serves a range of different food including freshly baked cakes, savouries and snacks. I had been craving a scone all morning so I was over the moon when I saw that they sold scones. The scone was in the shape of a heart and was served with clotted cream and jam- the jam going on first of course!
We then made our way down to the bridge that crosses the Bybrook. The Bybrook itself was the main water source used when the cloth industry was booming in Castle Combe in the 15th century and it is actually believed that it powered three water mills at the time of the Doomsday Survey in 1086. The bridge is arguably the most photographed place in the village and the classic view of the village is from across the bridge by the Weavers cottages which looks up Water street.
As we were walking back up Water Street we noticed a stand full of cakes outside one of the houses. Cakes included carrot cake, brownies, lemon drizzle and shortbread and each slice was priced at around £2. You would cut yourself a slice and then place your money through the letterbox of the house with all the proceeds going to the society for the blind. I thought that this was a really nice touch and I ended up buying a slice of carrot cake and a shortbread (my favourites!).
The Parish Church of St Andrew is believed to date back to the 12th century. The effigy of Walter Dunstanville lies in the North Aisle of the church and it is also the location of the smallest priest door in the country, standing at just 5 foot 2 inches tall! The church also contains a 14th century faceless clock that is still working today and a 15th century font.
Inside the church is an exhibition on the 2012 film War Horse. Michael Morpurgo was my favourite author growing up and i went to see War Horse at the cinema when it first came out so it came as a pleasant surprise to me when i found out that part of the film was recorded in Castle Combe! We both then added a comment to the church’s visitor book and noticed that four other people from Cheshire had visited the church that day- what a small world!
Castle Combe really does epitomise the beauty of the Cotswolds- a real quaint, chocolate box village. Walking through the village is like walking through history; if you are looking for a place to visit in the Cotswolds then i would really recommend a trip to Castle Combe!
I think it’s fair to say that my second ever visit to the Cotswolds was my best one yet!
Thanks for reading,