Malmesbury – Things to see and do

Malmesbury, a captivating hilltop town nestled in the southern Cotswolds, is a treasure trove of history. It proudly holds the title of the oldest borough in England, a distinction bestowed upon it in 880 AD by Alfred the Great’s charter. 

Perched on the grounds of a 2,800-year-old Iron Age hill fort, Malmesbury transformed into a bustling market town during the Middle Ages. It gained prominence as a hub of learning, with Malmesbury Abbey at its heart. The abbey, a rare survivor of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, stands as a testament to the town’s rich history. 

The Abbey guest house, now the Old Bell Hotel, dates back to 1220 and claims to be England’s oldest hotel. Athelstan Museum, with its collection of artefacts, tells the fascinating history of Malmesbury.

Malmesbury natives can be nicknamed Jackdaws, and they originated from the colony of these birds that inhabit the Abbey walls and roof. Indeed, for a few years in the early part of the 21st Century, there was a community newspaper in Malmesbury called The Jackdaw. 

The current population of Malmesbury is about 5,400, and the area’s main employer today is Dyson, which has its headquarters on the edge of the town and employs around 1,600 people. However, it is mainly a design base, with manufacturing carried out in Malaysia.

Historical Attractions

  • Malmesbury Abbey: A magnificent Benedictine abbey dating back to the 12th century. Explore its beautiful architecture, stained glass, and unique features like the tomb of King Athelstan, the first king of England.
  • Malmesbury Market Cross: Located in the town square, this impressive stone structure dates back to the 15th century and is a symbol of the town’s medieval heritage.
  • The Old Bell Hotel: Known as England’s oldest hotel, this historic building is a great spot for a meal or drink while soaking in centuries of history.

Cultural Highlights

  • Athelstan Museum: This local museum showcases Malmesbury’s history through a range of exhibits, including Roman artifacts, medieval manuscripts, and local memorabilia.
  • Malmesbury Town Walls: Take a walk along the remaining sections of the town walls, which offer a glimpse into Malmesbury’s fortified past.

Outdoor Activities

  • Abbey House Gardens: These stunning gardens are located next to Malmesbury Abbey and are renowned for their beauty and variety. Stroll through the themed sections and enjoy the lush plantings and sculptures.
  • Walking Trails: Malmesbury offers several scenic walking routes, such as the River Avon Trail, which takes you along the river and through the countryside surrounding the town.

Local Shopping and Markets

  • Malmesbury Artisan and Farmers’ Market: Held regularly in the town square, this market features local produce, crafts, and artisanal goods. It’s a great place to experience the town’s community spirit.
  • Independent Shops and Boutiques: Explore the high street and surrounding areas for unique shops offering local crafts, clothing, and gifts.

Food and Drink

  • The Smoking Dog: A traditional pub serving classic pub fare and a selection of real ales. It has a cozy atmosphere and a beer garden for outdoor dining.
  • The Summer Café: A quaint café offering a range of light meals, teas, and homemade cakes. It’s perfect for a relaxing break during your visit.
  • The Old Bell Hotel Restaurant: Enjoy a fine dining experience in a historic setting. The restaurant serves contemporary British cuisine with a focus on seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.

Nearby Attractions

  • Westonbirt Arboretum: A short drive from Malmesbury, this famous arboretum features an extensive collection of trees and plants. Visit during different seasons to experience the changing colors and scenery.
  • Tetbury: A nearby town known for its antique shops and the beautiful Chavenage House, often used as a filming location for period dramas.
  • Cotswold Water Park: Located to the north, this vast area offers a range of outdoor activities, including sailing, wakeboarding, and birdwatching.

Events and Festivals

  • Malmesbury Carnival and Festival: An annual event featuring a variety of activities, including a parade, live music, and family-friendly entertainment. It’s a highlight of the town’s social calendar.
  • WOMAD Festival: A major world music festival held near Malmesbury, attracting artists and visitors from around the globe. Enjoy live music, dance, art, and cultural performances.

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