PEWSEY Daily commuters have risen dramatically in number – at least 100 hop on regularly now. The trains that serve Pewsey are mostly Inter City services from the west. There are special commuter trains each morning and evening, otherwise it is always possible to get a train to Newbury and change.
Pewsey is a pretty agricultural town between Salisbury Plain and the Marlborough Downs. Some of the shops are still roofed in thatch, and a statue of Alfred the Great stands in the centre, overlooking the young River Avon and its resident ducks. It has a few supermarkets, an estate agent, bank, bakery and so on, and its own comprehensive school, playing fields and sports centre. The old hospital has been converted and the grounds filled with new houses. One of Wiltshire’s six white horses was cut into the chalk hillside in 1785 and provides a potent local landmark.
Starter homes with two bedrooms cost £175,000 and will let at £530 a month. At the new Coopers Court development of 100 homes, a four-bedroom detached house will sell for £365,000. A five-bedroom Grade II listed thatched cottage in need of renovation will cost rather more at £675,000.
The pretty villages nearby in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty include Manningford Bruce, two miles away, where thatched cottages cluster around the church and there is a post office. A three-bedroom cottage with orchard and paddock costs around £695,000; a Seventies’ four-bedroom semi, £355,000. A few miles to the north-west you come to Stanton St Bernard. The Pewsey Vale Riding Centre is here, and there are plenty of weekend cottages and larger country houses. A six-bedroom neo-Georgian mansion with indoor swimming pool and views of the Alton White Horse was recently on the market at £875m.
Urchfont, though 10 miles from the station, is also extremely popular. It contains all the ingredients of the ideal village – thatched cottages, a couple of good pubs, 16th- and 17th-century houses around the greens, one of which is next to the church and has a duck pond. There is also a William and Mary manor house. A rose-covered 18th-century three-bedroom cottage off the green will cost £290,000.
One of the advantages of living to the west is that you are within reach of Devizes, which is so attractive that it is a treat to go shopping there. The market square is surrounded by houses that are older than their Georgian facades. The town has good small butchers and bakers, a Morrisons and a Tesco, and a new shopping centre is planned. Markets abound, with an outdoor market on Thursday, antiques on Tuesday, a farmers’ market once a month and an indoor market from Thursday to Saturday. A small period terrace house will cost around £125,000; a three-bedroom period property £200,000 to £230,000. On the numerous new estates, prices start at £130,000 for a two-bedroom coach house and rise to £400,000 for four bedrooms. The Kennet and Avon Canal has a flight of locks, 29 over a two-mile stretch, rising 237ft to the town.
Less than three miles to the east of Pewsey is Wootton Rivers, where you pay a premium for prettiness. A two-bedroom thatched cottage here costs £475,000. There is only one street, running up from the bridge over the Kennet and Avon Canal, and a delightful pub called The Royal Oak. Along the towpath are the restored lock and lock-house. The character of the place is so rural that even the churchyard seems merely an interruption in the farming landscape. The church itself is distinguished by a wooden belfry containing an unusual clock with a broomstick for a pendulum. Just to the north, for those in search of sylvan solitude, are the 4,500 acres of Savernake Forest.
East Grafton, a few miles further east towards Hungerford, offers slightly larger houses. A four-bedroom period house with land and (stables) pool would command £850,000; a three-bedroom semi-detached cottage £299,000. The A338 runs through it, but it keeps away from the village proper, where there is a large green and a Victorian church edged with thatched cottages.
To the north is Marlborough, the old halt for 18th-century stage coaches on the run from London to Bath. Today the town is dominated by the boys’ public school (it now takes girls) and the tea rooms where they buy their sticky buns. Marlborough is an extremely popular place to live – it is close enough to the M4 at Swindon, it has a good range of small specialist shops (though Pizza Express and Caffè Uno have arrived) and it is surrounded by spectacular countryside.
Georgian houses are the most sought after, though there are plenty of half-timbered houses hidden down the small back lanes off the broad High Street. Two-bedroom Victorian terraced cottages sell at around £230,000; detached houses on newish estates £285,000 to £350,000; while an eight-bedroom Fifties’ country house in landscaped gardens recently went on the market at £1.55m.
There is a jazz festival each summer and a fair in October, but there is no cinema. The church is strong. There is a choral society and railway society that has restored the old railway track to Swindon as a cycle path. The Scouts and Cubs have taken it upon themselves to clean the chalk outlines of the white horses in the area.