“Heaven on Earth, this place is in winter,” Mac said to me, in between sips of his Merlot as we sat swinging our legs over the wall of the Market Cross in the centre of the village. I looked over at the salmon-pink sun setting behind the spire of St Andrew’s Church, and the limestone cottages glistening gold, and I understood what he meant.
Bushy-bearded Mac has lived in the village for 20 years. His cottage lies across the way from the medieval Market Cross and is a picture straight from a chocolate box lid, with its table of homemade cakes for sale outside the front door and ivy creeping up the walls. He was just one of many Castle Combe residents who was overjoyed to give me an insight into a place that was once nominated the prettiest village in England.
Castle Combe is gorgeous – a quintessentially English village in a wooded valley, skirted by the Fosse Way, at the southern tip of the Cotswolds. To get to it is to wind your way down narrow green tunnels of interlocking branches and cross a hobbit-like packhorse bridge over the Bybrook river, worried you might scratch or dent the structure with your comparatively oversized car.
Little has changed in Castle Combe in the last 400 years – no houses have been built here since 1617, and most of the original medieval buildings still exist beneath layered facades.
A lot of the stunning architecture, including the church, was built from the wealth generated by the wool trade, and is what attracts the snap-happy visitors in their droves.
Castle Combe’s beauty and history has made it the star of many films including Dr Dolittle, Wolf Man and, most recently, a Spielberg blockbuster called War Horse. Its fame has often led to traffic jams in the summer months, but come winter, it all quietens down and the locals can enjoy having the village to themselves.
There are a number of walking routes around the village that take you along the Bybrook, through woodland and out to historic sites such as the Lugbury long barrow, a lichen-covered monument of three stones dating back to 2500 BC, and the remains of a Roman bath-house on the slopes of Truckle Hill.
Quench your thirst at one of two pubs with an open fire in the heart of the village. The Manor House Hotel has won awards for its decadent afternoon tea, and is a member of the prestigious Tea Guild. Or you can lounge on a sofa in the recently opened quirky tearoom in the old rectory. It smells of burning candles and incense, and has a cushion-throwing ghost.
The clear winter skies are the perfect backdrop to this Wiltshire gem, especially after a dusting of snow. When fairy lights adorn the Market Cross and children from the local schools scrunch together on Christmas Eve to wheeze carols and eat mince pies under swinging lanterns, you can’t help but think this village was built for Christmas.
How to get there
Castle Combe lies between junctions 17 and 18 of the M4 and is a 10 minute bus ride from Chippenham train station on the 35/35A service.
Find out more
Corsham Tourist Information, 31 High Street, Corsham SN13 0EZ
The Manor House Hotel
Castle Combe SN14 7HR
Beautiful and homely accommodation in elegant grounds, serving exceptional seasonal food. I indulged in a gorgeous pumpkin risotto.
Castle Combe Circuit
Castle Combe SN14 7EY
One of the longest established motor racing circuits in the UK, offering thrill seekers a range of track driving experiences.
You can’t visit Castle Combe without stopping by this beautiful city, with its architectural gems, majestic parks and luxurious rooftop spa.