Cricklade

First published in Town guides by

When you step onto the streets of Cricklade, you can be sure that you're placing your feet where many a dignitary from history has passed.

It may have been a Roman nobleman, during the occupation, who once meandered around its doorways; it can certainly date its history back to these civilised invaders, and who knows what treasure and relics are still lurking beneath its pavements and surrounding fields? It's an intriguing thought.

If we move on apace, there are even more possibilities of forgotten gold, for in Saxon times a mint was located here: potential riches indeed.

Certainly, the Normans were heavy investors in the town. They brought their heritage with them when they founded the town's church. They dedicated it to St Samson, a Breton saint, born in 465.

The main building dates back to the 12th through to the 15th Centuries, though the impressive tower was added during Tudor times, in 1553, by the Duke of Northumberland. Inside the church, many Norman details remain, some rare heraldic carvings, and an Elizabethan altar table. A highly regarded music festival is held at St Samson's each September.

But alongside all this ancient civilisation, lies an equally rich fund of natural phenomena. If you wander down to the north end of the High Street, where the River Thames flows under a bridge, there is a stile with an old footpath, beckoning, the other side. Follow this down, and you will find North Meadow, an ancient water meadow which, since 1973, has been designated a nature reserve.

Probably the best times to see the delights which it promises, are late spring and summer. Then you will see at their best the beautiful plants and flowers, many of which you will struggle to find elsewhere. It's not only the combination of plants that is unique, but so is Cricklade's position.

It's the only town in Wiltshire to lie on the River Thames, though it should be born in mind that this old waterway is less of a river and more of a stream at this point.

A visit to the town's small, but interesting, museum in Calcutt Street will fill you in on these facts, and more. You'll be able to discover details of Cricklade's famous school, founded by a London goldsmith, Robert Jenner, in 1651.

Cricklade also has another church, of St Mary's, which nestles near the remains of a 13th Century priory and hospital. The priory now has another life, as houses.

If you ever find yourself in Cricklade on Boxing Day, make your way to the White Hart Hotel. Here many locals meet on December 26, an ancient custom which dates back to the days when the hunt would start from there.

Though the sight of excited horses and baying hounds, held in check by the smart members of the hunting fraternity, may no longer be on offer, townspeople still gather there to chat and enjoy the remains of the festive season together.

Cricklade is a thriving, busy sort of place which promises shopping, sightseeing, and some lovely walks. It may not be the obvious stop on the tourist route, but it's worth putting on any itinery. After all, it was considered somewhere of importance by the Romans, the Saxons and the Normans - and you can't get much more of a recommendation than that.

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