On the edge of the Cotswolds, near Chippenham, is a place that is described as “The Prettiest Village in England”. They aren’t far wrong.
We visited Castle Combe after a scenic half hour drive from Bath through rolling countryside with the idea of finding the perfect lunch spot. We were exploring possibilities for a day trip during next year’s workshop. When we arrived we found we had to park at the top of a hill outside the village, for a long but beautiful walk in to town.
On one side of the hill were quaint cottages lining the road, on the other a wooded area with an active footpath where several people were taking their dogs out for a wild stroll in the mud.
As we turned the last curve in to town, Castle Combe revealed itself in all its classic English honey-stone wonder.
Everything was there. The church with old churchyard–The Parish Church of St. Andrew. The earliest reference to the church can be found in 1291.
It was also obviously the town center, with all sorts of notices for political actions, events and community dinners posted on its roadside notice board outside the gates. And there was the old post box next to it. Notice the “GR” for George, rather than the “ER” on most modern postboxes for Elizabeth. This is an old one.
A large monument was in the center, where I’m sure they used to market the sheep. It is believed to date from the 14th century, “when the privilege to hold a weekly market was first granted.” The curved stone structure below it sometimes referred to as the “buttercross” was used for mounting and tethering horses.
This village is often used for filming. It is so traditionally old English. It was the center for the movie Warhorse which was filmed in the town. All the tea shops and country inns had photos marking the cinematic events. Dr. Doolittle, Stardust and other films also filmed scenes here.
Part of the reason the village is so timeless and lovely is that there are very few cars parked in town, no satellite dishes, no light poles and no overhead wires or antennas.
It looks very much as it might have many decades ago.
The requisite babbling brook meanders under town and spills out at the end of the high street and into the wooded fields. I’m sure many a sheep was washed in its waters. There are exquisite birds everywhere, and hidden gems behind each hedge.
But the highlight was The Castle Inn Hotel & Pub, smack dab in the middle of town with the door open and a lovely fire going inside. It was so inviting after a bit of a chilly walk through town.
We were greeted at the bar by one of the friendliest barmaids I have ever met in England and put our order in for hot tea, and a pint for the man in our party.
Then we sat down to peruse a menu that featured the classic pub food of a ploughman’s (a cold plate of meat, cheese, salad and pickles) and of course ham, chips and egg.
But it also had my choice of pasta with crushed tomatoes and grilled artichokes, and My Beloved Brit’s cousin’s choice of chicken risotto with tarragon. I never took a photo of the food because my brain went dead when the food arrived and the smell wafted up in sweet steamy curls of delicious flavor and stunned my brain. It was the best meal I had all week.
Other people started coming in, heeding the sign to wipe their muddy boots at the door before heading towards the bar. Soon the little pub was bubbling with talk and conversation about the villages comings and goings.
After a long, happy lunch, we then headed outside and up the long hill, perfectly satisfied with our day.
The walk back up to our car was quite pleasant after a full lunch and the days adventure. Castle Combe fully lived up to all our expectations.