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DEVIZES, WILTSHIRE

More of us are holidaying at home and this becomes apparent during a trip to Devizes, which is experiencing a booming tourism trade. “We’ve already beaten last year’s bookings and we’re not even half way through the year,” reveals Michael Messam, volunteer at Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, which has just received the Queen’s Voluntary Award.

We board Kenavon Venture, a 30-year-old and 60ft long canal boat – one of four the trust owns. Trust volunteer Jean Cook, one of 450 volunteers, explains about the Flight of Locks, where 29 locks tackle a 367ft drop. These, (as you can see in one of the videos at travelwriter.biz) act a bit like a lift for canal boats to climb sharp inclines.

At nearby Etchilhampton, Jon and Judy Nash run Tichborne’s Farm Cottages. “We’ve held our prices so that we remain competitive and this has helped maintain steady numbers of tourists from as far away as Australia,” says Jon. Jon and Judy have lived there since the 1970s. They converted their barns into three luxury self-catering holiday cottages, recently adding a three-bed house for larger families.

We stay in Kestrel cottage, a cosy two bed property surrounded by 50 acres of countryside. It’s ideal for children or those with disabilities because everything is on one level. Interestingly, all the electricity for these cottages is generated from solar panels while the farm’s water comes from a borehole which provides chemical-free water filtered through the chalk downs of Salisbury Plain.

Two things that immediately strike us about the area are its sheer beauty and how quiet it is. We discover that Wiltshire is famous for its white horses carved in the white chalk. It’s here that the expression ‘chalk and cheese’ originates. This describes the huge contrast between the chalky uplands used for grazing sheep and the lush dairy country beneath used for grazing milk cows.

While Devizes is home to Wadworth brewery, which operates 250 pubs in Wiltshire, JD Wetherspoon has proved that there is still room for another pub in the town. It operates The Silk Mercer in St John Street. Another business enjoying brisk trade is Jimmy Deane’s Fruit, Veg & Salad shop at 19 The Brittox.

Simon Fisher, Deputy Town Clerk at Devizes Town Council concludes: “Devizes is fairly fortunate. It’s a small market town with a good selection of independent traders which, touch wood, have done better than the national chains during recession. Devizes Town Council has a portfolio of properties that it lets out to businesses. We have had high occupancy levels throughout the downturn.”

There’s so much to do in Devizes that it surprises me that this quaint market town does not even receive a mention in the acclaimed Lonely Planet Great Britain book.

Not far away in the National Trust owned village of Lacock, Harriett has the ideal opportunity to roam free without the worry of traffic. Lacock is like a living film set where you can walk in the footsteps of the stars (Cranford, Pride and Prejudice and Harry Potter). There’s also an excellent second hand bookshop where I picked up a Colin Dexter in perfect condition for just £2. Our holiday ends much too quickly. We all loved it and want to return.

Recommended places to visit:

• Kennet & Avon Canal, The Wharf, Devizes. Jazz evenings with professional jazz musician and fish and chips.
• Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbout Museum and village owned by the National Trust.
• Pop in for a pint and a pie at: The Silk Mercer, St John Street, Devizes. SN10 1BL.

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