Best Town in Wiltshire

Hidden Horrors © David Forward

Hidden Horrors © David Forward

Ominous Clouds Gather

The hustle and bustle of the Monday morning shoppers, I know, I’m kidding, this is Malmesbury. More like a few regular die hard’s, re-stocking after a weekend walled up in the garden, with faces buried in the Sunday newspapers, and the occasional thoughts, of what their long departed offspring, might now be up to half way across the globe.

Shopping in Malmesbury is a bit like, waking up on a desert island and hoping something nice might be inside, that packing case stranded on the high tide line, after last nights storm, only to find it full of cheap trinkets, once destined for a holiday resort gift shop, just when you were needing caviare and champagne.

Oh well I suppose you could always pop into the desperately sad Abbey, with its bleak interior and musac, half shop and half village hall. If you need a dose of real culture, then you’ll have to save up hard for a trip abroad, you will never find your heart racing in this place, it’s a relic from a time past, when Malmesbury was a real pilgrimage destination of the Middle Ages. Now it’s just another tourist backwater for the Middle Aged.

Catherine's Doodle © David Forward

Catherine's Doodle © David Forward

So what exactly has this town got on offer to its residents and visitors? Well we have the Steps from Hell, spontaneous mini traffic jams, parking facilities for ‘extra small cars only’, bused in Big Issue sellers, two buskers per the hundred yards of high street, ten different sets of window cleaners, with numbers still growing, and for the, sadistic sight seeker, we’ve ‘The Long Stay Car Park’ in all its glory.

High Street Busker © Colin Forward

High Street Busker © Colin Forward

Shocking? Well not really, it’s the state our country is now in, sinking below the waves of time. What is a surprise, is developers clambering over themselves, to fight for any green corner, and pack it with squalid little concrete boxes for the claustrophobically challenged. Any poor souls, condemned to these new luxurious plasterboard palaces, will find they have to provide their own support facilities, perhaps a U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier, anchored just off shore will suffice.

Freddy Mercury, once sang, he was the Great Pretender, and that’s just what Malmesbury does at its very best, pretend it is a place somewhere wonderful and idyllic. It may very well be that, but only for a few elderly retired folk, who either have Alzheimer’s, or who were never, very well blessed with grey matter in their prime. This town is in fact, a Norwegian Blue.

To paraphrase a well known sketch:- This town is no more! It has ceased to be! We’ve expired and gone to meet ‘our maker! We’re a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘we rest in peace! If you hadn’t nailed us to the shop counter we’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Our metabolic processes are now ‘istory! We’re off the map! We’ve kicked the bucket, We’ve shuffled off ‘our mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible! THIS IS AN EX-TOWN!

* * *

Sir John Betjeman

Malmesbury is unique in its beauty in England. It is the only hill town in England, and there were never very many, surrounded by streams on three sides and still with its border of natural country. And what attractive country this north Wiltshire scenery is, with its huge elms, hedges, meadows, pasture and stone farms.

From all sides Malmesbury gives you the sense of being a place of pilgrimage, a city set on a hill which cannot be hid. I think my favourite views are from Daniel’s Well, where you can see the skirt of cottage gardens and then the stone roofs and hanging gardens climbing the hill, and from the north near the station, where the bulk of the Abbey rises above the wooded bank below it. Then, as you approach the town nearer, there are the mediaeval entrance ways and from the High Street, the sight of the Abbey with Market Cross in the foreground. In addition to this, except for a chain store and a cinema, Malmesbury is a perfect town, largely of limestone, and a walk along the King’s Wall and up and down the steep lanes reveals a variety of glimpses, each of which would make a good photograph. Always there is quality of weathered stone and many a fine house, Georgian or earlier, with its little garden looking out into Wiltshire and reminding one of the long history of this royal, ancient and holy place.

31 January, 2015
All images and written works by David Forward are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License