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Devizes and Caen Hill Locks

A stroll around historic streets and Rennie's famous flight of locks.

Distance 4.2 miles (6.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 180ft (55m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Pavements, canal tow path

Landscape Town streets and canal

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 156 Chippenham & Bradford-on-Avon; 157 Marlborough & Savernake Forest

Start/finish SU 004617 (on Explorer 157)

Dog friendliness Dogs can be off lead along tow path

Parking Devizes Wharf car park

Public toilets Devizes Wharf

1 From the car park, walk back down Wharf Street and turn left along New Park Street, passing 18th-century Brownston House and St Mary's Church. At the roundabout, cross the road and walk down Monday Market Street, passing between the White Bear and Great Porch House. At a crossroads, keep ahead along Sheep Street and then Bridewell Street to reach Long Street. Turn right, pass the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, St John's Church and the Town Hall to enter the Market Place. Pop into the Devizes Visitor Centre, then continue along Northgate Street, keeping ahead at the roundabout by Wadworth's Brewery. At the canal bridge, take the path right, signed 'Caen Hill Locks via subway', and join the tow path. Pass under the road and head west to reach the A361. Cross over and follow the tow path to Caen Hill Locks.

2 Marvel at this amazing feat of engineering as you descend past the locks and large side pounds. At the bottom, turn round and retrace your steps back uphill, possibly pausing at the tea room across the bridge by Queen Elizabeth II Lock. Recross the A361 and walk back to the subway, leaving the tow path to cross the road bridge and join the northern bank of the canal. Follow the tow path to the next bridge, cross it and turn right to pass the Kennet and Avon Canal Museum at Devizes Wharf.

Devizes is Wiltshire's principal market town and takes its name from the Latin ad divisas (at the boundaries), as this old town is at the point where the manors of Rowde, Cannings and Potterne once met. The town grew up around the castle, built by Bishop Osmund of Salisbury in 1080. It burnt down and was rebuilt in 1138 by Bishop Roger of Salisbury, builder of Old Sarum and Malmesbury Castle. It was demolished by Cromwell's forces shortly after the Battle of Devizes in 1645 and the present-day building is a Victorian folly.

Devizes has held a market since receiving its first Charter in 1141, so following the demise of the castle, the large market-place became the focal point and the town prospered on the wool trade and dairy produce from the Vale of Pewsey. In the early 19th century, Devizes held the largest corn market in the west of England and also traded in hops, cattle, horses and cloth. The wool trade's prosperity is mirrored in the wool merchants' 18th-century town houses in St John's and Long Street, and around the fine market-place. Interestingly, the pattern of streets originates from when the first castle was built and survives virtually intact.

Other notable buildings to seek out are the Elizabethan timber-framed houses in St John's Alley, Great Porch House in Monday Market Street, probably the oldest surviving building in the town, the 16th-century Bear Hotel, one of a number of historic inns built when Devizes was a major coaching stop, and the two fine Norman churches.

Filling the air with the aroma of malt and hops is Wadworth's Brewery, a red brick Victorian building dominating the northern end of the Market Place. To learn more about the town's history, pick up the Town Trail leaflet from the tourist information centre.

The famous Caen Hill Locks on the Kennet and Avon Canal are among the great wonders of the canal era. Completed by John Rennie in 1810, in order to carry the canal to a height of 237ft (72m), the flight consists of 29 locks in all, extending over 2 miles (3.2km). In the early days, the canal was so busy that gas lighting was installed so that boats could negotiate the locks day and night.

The canalside at Devizes Wharf has been revitalised in recent years. Signs of industry have gone and today a stroll along the tow path reveals a pleasant scene, enhanced by the former timbered and balconied granary, built in 1810, which is now the headquarters of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust and houses a small canal museum. The warehouse, now occupied by the Wharf Theatre, was equipped with a huge crane that could unload goods straight into the building from the boats.

Where to eat and drink

Among the many pubs in Devizes, most serving Wadworth beers, try the friendly Bear Hotel, the Elm Tree in Long Street, and the Castle Hotel in New Park Street. The Natural Food Café above the Healthy Life food shop (off Market Place) is good for coffee and light lunches. In summer, refreshments are available at the small café above Caen Hill Locks. Just outside Devizes, at Rowde, visit the George and Dragon for innovative pub food, especially fresh fish dishes.

What to look for

As you stroll through the streets, one of the delights of the town to watch for is the regular delivery of the local brew, Wadworth's, by a brewer's dray, pulled by magnificent pair of Shire horses.

While you're there

View an interactive exhibition on the medieval origins of Devizes at the visitor centre in the Market Place. Allow some time to visit the excellent Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Long Street, which boasts one of the finest prehistoric collections in Europe, tracing the history of Wiltshire and its people from the earliest times to the present day through a series of fascinating galleries.


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