Hungerford

Hungerford

Hungerford lies in the heart of the North Wessex Downs with the Kennet and Avon Canal running through it, so it’s the perfect base for exploring the countryside by foot or by boat.  Famous for its antique shops, including the Hungerford Arcade, and often featured on BBC’s Bargain Hunt, it also has an independent bookshop, cookshop and much more to explore.

Events throughout the year include a three-week arts festival in summer and an evening Victorian Extravaganza in December plus it is the only place in the country that celebrates the annual Hocktide festival, an English Medieval tradition celebrated on the second Tuesday after Easter Sunday.

Hungerford is easily accessible by train and has a market every Wednesday.

Marlborough, coaching high st

Marlborough

This handsome former staging post on the London to Bristol road has developed into a stylish and cosmopolitan market town.  With a wide High Street lined with beautiful old buildings and many independent retailers, including The Merchants House dating back to the 17th Century, it’s a great place to come if you are looking for art, old books or antiques.  Explore the back streets and alleyways for even more cafes and interesting shops.

Follow the ‘Blue Plaque Walk’ to explore the town through its connections to people and history or visit the 15th Century Church at the end of the High Street.

Marlborough holds a market every Wednesday and Saturday as well as a communities’ market on the first Sunday of the month.

Pewsey

With its own train station and the Kennet and Avon Canal passing through, Pewsey is a delightful place to stop for a cup of tea or set off for a walk.  It has a pretty wharf where you can watch the narrow boats go by and a wonderful heritage centre based in a Victorian foundry which showcases Pewsey life through the ages.  There’s a music festival in August and carnival in September, which culminates in an illuminated procession.

Whitchurch

Taking its name from an early church built of white chalk and sitting at the head of the River Test, Whitchurch is the southern gateway to the North Wessex Downs.  It’s home to many listed buildings and the UK’s only working silk mill. Built in 1800, the mill is open for visitors and features the original mill wheel and Victorian machinery plus beautiful fabrics on the looms. The shop sells silk products made at the mill and there is a tearoom for refreshment.  Whitchurch has achieved Walkers Are Welcome status, has its own train station and is good base from which to explore the surrounding countryside.

For more information go to whitchurch.org.uk

Wantage

Located just to the north of the Ridgeway National Trail lies this historic market town – birthplace of King Alfred the Great. The Vale and Downland Museum is a great place to discover more about the Downs with galleries covering local archeology, crafts and technologies and children-friendly hands-on experiences. Events in the town include a Summer Arts Festival, Carnival and a Literary Festival.  And if you’re interested in literature the town has many literary connections: Thomas Hardy’s ‘Jude the Obscure’ was set in nearby Letcombe Bassett (where ‘Arabella’s Cottage’ can still be seen) and Sir John Betjeman was a long-time resident. Stretch your legs along the Letcombe Brook – a beautiful chalk stream – where you might see water voles and otters. You can pick up a leaflet about the brook from the museum.

Market days are Wednesday and Saturday with a Farmers’ Market on the last Saturday of the month (morning only).

Roundway Devizes Andrew Perrott

Devizes

Sitting on the Kennet and Avon Canal, at the western edge of the AONB, this charming town has plenty to explore.  Check out the award-winning Wiltshire Museum which has the finest Bronze Age archaeology collection in England while the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust Museum tells the story of the construction and restoration of the canal.  Take a trip to the visitor centre at Wadworth Brewery where you might get to meet the Shire horses who still deliver beer to local pubs. Roundway Down is just to the north of the town: with its Iron Age Hill Fort and 68 acre nature reserve it offers stunning panoramic views along a nature trail.

Devizes have a farmers’ market every 1st Saturday of the month as well as an indoor market every Thursday and Saturday

Goring and Streatley

These two villages lie either side of the River Thames and mark the spot where three ancient routes meet – the Ridgeway, the Icknield Way and the Thames. The bridge between the two villages provides wonderful insta-worthy photographic opportunities or … just stand and admire the view!  Take a boat trip, enjoy breakfast at an award-winning café, browse the shops in Goring High Street, stroll along the Thames Path or, if you’re feeling energetic, wander out into the local countryside for wildlife and fantastic views of the Goring Gap.

Kintbury duck canal, Ann Shepley 2015

Kintbury

Regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in England, Kintbury has its own train station as well as one of the few remaining horse-drawn barges pulled by cross-Shire horses Monty and Drummer. Take a circular walk along the canal from the station, through the churchyard and into the village or visit the newt ponds – home to the nationally-rare and protected great crested newt. Or just enjoy a pint sitting by the canal and watch the world go by!

Lambourn

Taking its name from the centuries-old sheep breeding in the area, Lambourn has more recently become synonymous with the horse racing industry, with over 50 yards and 2,000 horses based around the town. The springy chalk downland and large open spaces are ideal terrain for gallops. At Easter, the annual Lambourn Open Day gives access to many of the yards with many events and family-friendly activities. Marking the half-way point (ish) on the Lambourn Valley Way between Uffington and Newbury it is a good stop-off for refreshment or to hop on a bus!

Search things to do in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

image credits: West Woodhay from Walbury Hill, Peter Orr; Marlborough; Pewsey Market Place; Whitchurch, The White Hart Inn, Jackie Browne;
Pannier King Alfreds Way Route Cycling UK - The Ridgeway; Roundway, Andrew Perrott; Streatley; Kintbury duck, Ann Shepley; Lambourn Goose Green