The Market Cross
It has been a while since we did any walking in England, so it was great to have a couple of hours free to visit Malmesbury when we were in the area. We followed "A walker's guide to Malmesbury", 50p from the Tourist Office in Cross Hayes. From there we quickly reached the Market Cross
of about 1500. It is "one of the finest in England" according to Pevsner.
The adjacent Tolsley Gate leads to the celebrated abbey. The gate was once the town gaol and the two doors lead to windowless cells where drunks were thrown to sober. The walk leaflet suggests this as the origin of the expression "blind drunk". Pevsner dates it to about 1800.
Going through the gate, you come to the abbey church. It dates from the 12th century, but was much reduced in size at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. What you see now is part of the nave: the transepts, crossing tower and chancel are missing.
The great south porch is extremely impressive and is "among the best pieces of Norman sculpture and decoration in England" (Pevsner). The interior is monumental and imposing with an early use of pointed arches, massive columns and delicate moldings and sculpture. There is a curious box-like structure on the right hand side which nobody seems to know the purpose of.
To the left of the abbey is the Old Bell hotel, once the abbey's lodging house for guests. A group of lads were enjoying a drink, perhaps getting ready for the Rugby World Cup.
Now along Abbey Row, where we enjoyed this unusual house with its canopied first floor window, tucked between two much larger ones.
At the end St Mary's St led to the pretty triangular area called Horsefair, once the site of an unofficial market.
We walked then along West St and Bristol St to suddenly feel that we had left the town and arrived in the country. Turning into Foxley Rd we crossed a stile and followed a grassy path along the water meadows by the River Avon. At Daniel's Well there was a nice view back towards the abbey on the left and the spire which is all that remains of St Paul's church.
Our route now took us back into the town and past the Market Cross to reach Oxford St, at the end of which is the well-named Tower House. the house itself dates back to the 16th century, while the tower was built in the 19th for star gazing. I had read that Oxford St also contained Jenner's Almshouses (built 1729, rebuilt 1825) [almshouses are a special interest of mine]. They proved to be much altered and in such a cramped site that they were impossible to photograph.
From here Cross Hayes and Silver St brought us to St John's St, where the St John's almshouses of 1694 incorporate the reset arch of the medieval Hospital of St John.
It remained only to walk up the High St and take a right back to the car park. This is the start of the High St, the first house of which has unusual curved walls and is known as the Round House.
Conditions: a lovely sunny afternoon.
Distance: about 2 miles.
Rating: four stars. A delightful town.