Much like everyone else in the UK, I’ve been desperate to escape the confines of my home this year. After spending much of the past 18 months cooped up, I jumped at the chance to get away for a weekend break with some old school friends. And so, just a few weeks after booking an Airbnb, we hopped into the car and took a road trip to Malmesbury in the Cotswolds.
My grandad has always been big into his history and it's a passion that he has definitely passed down to the rest of us in the family. So, I was amazed when we arrived to find out that Malmesbury is actually England's oldest borough and is home to a stunning 12th century Abbey that sits overlooking the top of the high street. It's quite the sight when you arrive, with its beautiful gothic architecture standing tall about the rest of the buildings in the town.
Staying in Malmesbury
We stayed in a beautiful bungalow that we found on Airbnb. It had stunning views over the fields and as it is located on the historic King's Wall, it was literally a two-minute walk into the centre of the town where there is a whole array of pubs, cafes, and shops!
It worked perfectly as a base for us as it meant we were able to walk out of the door and either explore the high street, grab a takeaway, or head out on a beautiful walk within just a few minutes of leaving the bungalow behind.
There was space for one car to park outside the house (although as the bungalow is on a hill there are two sets of quite steep steps to navigate before you reach the bungalow) and the host then sent us a really detailed message to help us find some more local parking within walking distance for the second car we had with us.
Exploring Malmesbury: What to see and do
Whether you’re a history fantatic, an avid shopper or more interested in pulling on your hiking boots and going for a nice walk, Malmesbury really does tick all three boxes.
Browsing the independent stores
We spent our first morning in Malmesbury wandering in and out of the gorgeous array of shops on the high street. Instead of being full to the brim with chains, the high street in Malmesbury is home to some beautiful independent shops, housing everything from sustainable clothing brands to eco-friendly shampoos, socks, jewellery, and re-fill foods, charity shops and the most gorgeous florists.
I absolutely loved discovering new brands including Seedball and Faith in Nature. A lot of the girls also came home with a selection of plants that they bought from the beautiful Persephone Violet Florists.
Wandering through the Abbey
Of course, it would be madness to visit Malmesbury and not take a peek inside the Abbey. It sits at the top of the high street and it was the first thing we all noticed when we first set off to explore in the morning, so it wasn’t long before we found our way to the top of the street to take a proper look.
Open to visitors from Monday to Saturday (9.30am to 3.30pm), the Abbey is also still fully functioning so there are services on Wednesday and Sundays, plus a morning prayer on Monday to Fridays at 9am.
For those just wanting to explore, there is an adorable little bookshop which also had prints, jewellery and postcards on sale, and a cafe inside.
The Abbey itself dates from 1180 and at one point its great spire made it the tallest building in England, before it fell in the 15th century.
There's something about seeing old buildings such as this one that just humbles me. Standing outside you can really take in its beauty and even now with just the nave of the Abbey remaining, you can appreciate how magnificent it would have been in all its glory when it was first built.
Besides the Abbey, if you’d like to further delve into the history of this town, it is also home to the Athelstan Museum and the Market Cross, which are both of local importance.
Enjoying a countryside walk
Malmesbury is perfectly situated for those wanting to explore some of the lovely surrounding countryside. Depending on your fitness levels and the time you have available, there are plenty of local walks to choose from.
- The White Walls Walk is a 20-mile circular walk, passing by the remains of an ancient Roman town and visiting Alderton, Luckington, Sherston and Malmesbury.
- The Bridges Walk is a much shorter circular walk that will take you across and past the bridges in Malmesbury.
- The River Walk is the one that we personally chose to do as it is a popular short circular walk around Malmesbury. This leisurely two-mile walk takes you around Malmesbury, following the river along the way.
If you'd like to pick up some maps or printed directions for any of these walks, you can get them from the Malmesbury Tourist Information centre in the town for a small amount of money.
Where to eat and drink in Malmesbury
Malmesbury is home to supermarkets, cafes, pubs and restaurants galore, so you definitely won’t be short of choice when it comes to finding somewhere to enjoy a tasty meal.
The Old Bell Hotel
One for the history buffs is The Old Bell Hotel. Sitting adjacent to the Abbey, it is believed to be England's oldest purpose-built hotel. We didn't actually end up having time to eat or even stop for a drink there but our Airbnb host rated it highly.
After our strolls around the shops and before our afternoon walk, we stopped off at a cafe called Coffee#1 in town for some lunch. It was incredibly busy and there was just one waitress working (so we did feel very sorry for her as she was rushed off her feet) but it seemed to be a popular spot, which is always a good sign! Selling a selection of hot drinks, toasties, paninis, pastries and cakes, it was the perfect spot for a quick lunch. I was also pleasantly surprised at the fact that the waitress was more than happy to accomodate our group's preference for plant-based milks, which she accepted with no complaints at all (unlike a few other cafes I've been to in the past). I had the Mozzarella & Tomato Panini, with a Vanilla Latte with sofa milk and it filled me up right through to dinner!
They also had a basket full of bags of compost made from their used coffee grounds, which customers were able to take away with them and I thought it was a lovely touch!
For dinner we decided to make the most of our beautiful Airbnb and stay in for the night. So, after our walk, we headed back to the bungalow to get into cosy clothes, and we ordered an Indian takeaway from Malmesbury Tandoori. Another recommendation from our host and we could all see why after devouring the food that we ordered from there. We decided to get a huge selection of dishes to share, including a vegetable biriyani, saag aloo, tarka dal, vegetable Balti, naans, Bombay potatoes, samosas and, of course, some poppadoms.
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