This beautiful little town sits atop a small but steep rise in the middle of the rural Wiltshire countryside. It is surrounded completely by the meandering River Avon and its tributaries and this has made it naturally a position that has been easily defended throughout history.
Its roots go back to before Roman times but the Saxons fortified the hill with walls and it was an important defensive position in King Alfred the Great’s campaigns against the Danes in the Ninth Century. Malmesbury was the capital of England in the reign of Alfred’s grandson, Athelstan and the layout of the town today is the same pattern as it was then; it’s just the wattle and daub building materials have been changed for more substantial stone ones now.
On the highest part of the hill is what remains of the monastic abbey which is visible all around. The abbey was inaugurated by King Alfred in the Ninth Century, abolished and partially sacked by Henry VIII in the 1530’s but given back to the townspeople as a parish church soon afterwards. It is now less than half the original size; but it is a marvellous example of early Norman architecture with its large bulky round columns surrounded above by numerous heavy but plain, semi-circular arches. The interior is still quite awe inspiring.
I have been here since last Wednesday, staying with my son Alex and his wife Catherine. They live in a lovely little grey stone cottage and altogether they are very cosy and happy. Consequently I’ve been very content being here too, even though for much of the time, since they have to work, I have had to keep myself occupied. This I have done most satisfactorily.
I’ve done a lot of walking in the area and recently I spent the whole day in Bath shopping and visiting the abbey. Alex commutes there every day to work so I cadged a lift with him in the morning and returned with him in the evening in the little Smart car.
The week before I caught a train from Wolverhampton after the two mile walk along the towpath and the half an hour bus from Brewood (Brood) into the city, to High Wykham where my daughter Eejay met me in her car and took me to the house that she shares with husband Steve on the side of the hill in the steep valley overlooking the M40 motorway.
The weather was perfect with wall to wall blue skies on every day that I was there, for the whole week. She is a child minder by profession and early each morning parents would arrive at her door and leave their little ones in her tender care. This enables her to earn a decent living and yet be with her own son whenever he is not at school.
My grandson George is seven now and it was a delight to see him again as well as all his little friends in Eejay’s charge. Because George calls me ‘Grampy’ I was quite flattered to hear all the other little ones calling me ‘Grampy’ as well. We were all quite sad when I had to leave to return to the ship a week later.
In the Chiltern area the RSPB have been re-introducing the ‘Red Kite’ over the last number of years and today the breed is very extensive. It has flourished most encouragingly. All the time in the skies above Eejay’s house these large raptors hover just like large Chinese kites and it is very easy to understand why they have their name.
Tomorrow I travel with Alex again to Bath to catch the train to Wolverhampton and the return journey back to the ship. It will be lovely to see her again but I hope that everything is as I left it. I need to phone engineer John when I arrive to try to arrange a visit to his workshop. I would understand a lot more about the engineering he keeps talking to me about over the phone if only I could see the application he means on the actual engine.
It’s a long journey back but the break has been very beneficial and I have enjoyed it enormously.