15 Best Things to Do in Devizes (Wiltshire, England)

The market town of Devizes may be small, but packs more than 500 listed buildings.

Any visit has to begin with the large, crescent-shaped Market Place, still hosting an outdoor market on Thursdays.

You can stand here and look up towards Wadworth’s Victorian tower brewery, and down to the Neoclassical town hall, completed in 1808. There isn’t a modern building to be found among the Georgian townhouses, inns and civic buildings at this magnificent square.

Devizes has a layer of Medieval history to be uncovered on a town trail, while Wiltshire’s abundant Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age history is revealed at the county museum.

Into the industrial era, Devizes is on the Kennet and Avon Canal, close to a majestic flight of 29 locks at Caen Hill.

1. Wiltshire Museum

Wiltshire Museum

Opened in 1873 the Wiltshire Museum was founded by the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, which continues to run the attraction.

The location, a Georgian former grammar school, hasn’t changed, and the museum has since taken over two neighbouring townhouses.

In a county renowned for its Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age history, the museum’s prehistoric collections merit the visit alone.

There are artefacts from Stonehenge and Avebury, as well as the astonishing finds from Bush Barrow.

This early Bronze Age burial mound in the Stonehenge complex was excavated in 1808 and yielded a mesmerising gold lozenge, a gold belt buckle and copper dagger, all on display.

These are accompanied by Neolithic flint hand axes, and yet more gold and amber dating back 4,000 years.

The main exhibition transports you through Roman and Saxon times and goes into detail on the development of Devizes.

2. Caen Hill Locks

Caen Hill Locks

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Caen Hill Locks

The Kennet and Avon Canal cuts through Devizes and had a part to play in the town’s early-19th century development.

Just east of the town is possibly the most scenic piece of the entire waterway as it overcomes a rise of 72 metres with the help of a flight of 29 locks.

The locks are in three groups in the course of two miles, ascending into the town.

These are all the work of the renowned Scottish engineer John Rennie, and the flight was the last portion of the canal to be completed before it opened in 1810. As with the rest of the canal the locks went into decline after the Second World War before a long-term restoration from the 60s to the 90s.

In 1996 a pump was built at the bottom of the flight in Foxhangers, able to lift seven tonnes of water to the top of the hill each day.

The Caen Hill Locks are an easy and very picturesque stroll west along the towpath from Devizes.

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3. Wadworth Brewery

Wadworth Brewery

Ever present in Devizes since 1875, the Wadworth Brewery is still a mainstay of the local economy, known nationally for its 6X amber ale.

Wadworth runs dozens of pubs across Wiltshire and the South of England, while many more will have their beer on tap.

In a quaint tradition, the brewery still uses shire horses to deliver barrels to pubs within five miles of Devizes.

The current base is a classic Victorian tower brewery, dating to 1885 and with an award-winning visitor centre just next door, open six days a week.

Here you can book a place on a tour through the tower brewery, taking more than two hours and learning about the gravitational brewing process across four floors.

You’ll hop from the very old to the very new at the cutting-edge 21st-century copper house.

There’s beer-tasting at the Harness Bar and a unique collection of hand-painted pub signs produced at the brewery’s own studio.

4. Kennet and Avon Canal Museum

Kennet And Avon Canal Museum

Before Brunel’s Great Western Railway, the Kennet and Avon Canal was the way to transport coal and grain across Somerset, Wiltshire and Berkshire.

The canal, opened in 1810 and restored in the last decades of the 20th century, links navigable sections of the Avon and Kennet, from Bristol to Reading, where it meets the Thames.

At a historic bonded warehouse on Devizes Wharf you can pore over documents and photographs relating to the canal, mapping its initial plans, mid-1800s peak, gradual decline after the railway was constructed and then its 20th-century rebirth.

In another industrial building here is the Wharf Theatre, booking musicals, touring musicians, comedians and famous speakers.

5. Roundway Hill

Roundway Hill

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Roundway Hill

The major natural landmark near Devizes is this chalk hill on the west flank of the North Wessex Downs.

Like most of the summits in the region Roundway Hill has lots of signs of prehistoric activity.

It’s easy to detect the strange furrows in the covert, which are Iron Age earthworks more than 2,000 years old.

Since the 17th century the Iron Age hill fort has had the name Oliver’s Castle, as it was here that a Parliamentary force besieging Devizes was routed by Royalist soldiers during the Civil War in 1643. Some 600 Parliamentarians were killed at this site, and more than 1,000 were captured.

There are also a handful of much older Bronze Age round barrows, protected as scheduled monuments.

There are distant vistas south and east of Roundway Hill, taking in Devizes and the Vale of Pewsey.

6. Wansdyke

Wansdyke

Set off for Morgan’s Hill to the north of Devizes and before long you can get onto the Wansdyke Path, which traces the eastern section of an enigmatic early Medieval earthwork.

Composed of a rampart and ditch, this eastern part of Wansdyke runs from Morgan’s Hill east for about 10 miles through the Marlborough Downs to Savernake Forest.

The earthwork is mostly on unspoiled chalk grassland and is still impressive, with a rampart up to four metres high and a ditch as deep as 2.5 metres.

But why it’s here remains a bit of a mystery.

One explanation is that it was built by Romano-Britons to keep the West Saxons out of the upper Thames Valley in the 6th century, like a southern version of Hadrian’s Wall.

7. Hillworth Park

Hillworth Park

In 2018/19 Hillworth Park was awarded a Green Flag Award, the benchmark for UK parks, for the fifth year in a row.

The park is slightly removed from the centre of town, because it used to be the landscaped grounds of Hillworth House, still standing on the north side, before being sold to the council in 1945. One charming reminder from this period is the Garden Pavilion, dating to the 18th century and most likely intended as a banqueting house out in the grounds.

There’s also a 19th-century Ha-Ha, a ditch designed to keep grazing animals away from the house while preserving views.

Being a Green Flag park, there’s no shortage of facilities, like a cafe open every day, an aviary, a new Park Centre building, tennis courts, a fenced playground for under sixes, a skate park and a multi-use games area.

If you’re in town check the calendar as there are occasional twilight movie screenings at Hillworth Park in summer.

8. Church of St John the Baptist

Church Of St John The Baptist

Looking up Castle Road you can make out Devizes Castle atop its Norman mound.

The building was given a fairytale Victorian reconstruction and is private, but the Church of St John the Baptist off the High Street behind the Town Hall has close ties to the original Medieval castle.

Founded in the 12th century, this is thought to have started out as the castle’s chapel and has lots of Norman Romanesque detail from that time, with big round windows and decorated arches.

These can be found in the crossing (east and west), portions of the transept and the chancel, which has low rib vaulting, blind arcading with zigzag patterns, and capitals carved with foliate and scalloped designs.

In the Beauchamp chapel on the chancel’s south wall check out the corbel table, still embellished with 12th-century grotesque heads.

9. Medieval Trail

Devizes Market

Source: Peter Titmuss / shutterstock

Devizes

At the Wiltshire Museum or the Kennet and Avon Canal Museum below you can get hold of a leaflet for a walk around Devizes highlighting the town’s Medieval sites and the stories attached to them.

You’ll loop around the former castle, site of a siege by Stephen, King of England, during the Anarchy from 1139 to 1154. You’ll also learn how the Earl of Kent, an opponent of King Henry III was dragged in chains from the Church of St John.

Climbing to the highest point of where the castle’s fortifications used to be, you’ll be standing on the site of the Medieval gallows.

Monday Market Street was the scene of the town’s original Medieval market, while on New Park Street, harking back to a historic deer park, you’ll find St Mary’s Church, which has a pelican carved inside the main entrance.

Lastly at Northgate Street, you’ll be close to where the town’s fortified northern entrance stood.

In 1141 Empress Matilda, Stephen’s opponent in the Anarchy, granted the townsfolk freedom from tolls for their help defending against the King.

10. Market Cross

Market Cross

Source: Peter Titmuss / shutterstock

Market Cross

Where the town’s Medieval market cross once stood, this monument was designed by the famed Gothic Revival architect James Wyatt and was erected in 1814. Raised on six stone steps, the cross has four pointed arches below a delicately buttressed openwork steeple, itself crowned with trefoil arches, pinnacles and crockets.

The panels in the four lower arches tell the story of a Ruth Pierce, who declared that she should drop dead if she hadn’t paid fair and square for a sack of corn she had taken.

She said this three times, promptly dropping dead, and the cash for the corn was found in her hand.

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11. Rowdey Cow Farm Cafe

Rowdey Cow Farm Cafe

On a dairy farm with fabulous views of Roundway Hill, the Rowdey Cow Farm Cafe is a few things rolled into one.

You can visit for afternoon tea or a proper sit down meal, while there’s an ice cream parlour with 16 flavours on offer, all made at the farm.

Being homemade these will change by the season and from day to day.

There’s ample outdoor seating, as well as a play area for children.

Smaller family members will also have a great time getting close to the farm’s animals, including cows, sheep, goats and miniature Shetland ponies.

12. Drews Pond Woods

Drews Pond Woods

By the new housing estates on the south side of town there’s a pair of connecting nature reserves.

The closest is Drews Pond Woods, a tract of coppiced broadleaf woodland, managed for centuries as a source of timber.

The woods are kept completely clear of rubbish and are threaded with well-maintained paths.

There’s a stream, pond and places to take a picnic in warm weather.

To the south is another reserve, Orchard and Old Cricket Field, on the grounds of the old Wiltshire County Lunatic Asylum (later Roundway Hospital), which opened in 1851 and closed in 1995. The hospital buildings have become private homes, but an old Bramley apple orchard has been preserved, as has a former cricket pitch first mentioned in 1880. Green woodpeckers, long-tailed tits, nuthatches and buzzards are all regularly sighted in this habitat.

13. Kenavon Venture

Volunteers at the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust operate this traditional narrowboat based at Devizes Wharf.

The Kenavon Venture schedules public trips every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday from early April to the end of October, with an additional departure on Thursdays during school holidays.

The cruise takes a little under two hours, gliding away from the Caen Hill Locks between the town’s picture perfect gardens before entering the countryside of the Vale of Pewsey.

Check the boat’s website for special cruises, taking you through locks, or involving afternoon tea, a quiz night, music or a pirate theme for smaller sailors.

14. Devizes White Horse

Devizes White Horse

Source: Stephen Barnes / shutterstock

Devizes White Horse

White Horses are a Wiltshire tradition and a symbol for the county, thought to go back to the Iron Age and revived in the 18th century.

They are made by removing the layer of grass and soil to reveal the gleaming chalk on the upper parts of downs.

Devizes White Horse is one of the newest dating back to 1999 and cut for the new millennium on the scarp slope of Roundway Hill.

This is actually the second white horse on Roundway Hill, as in 1845 local shoemakers carved a figure that was covered over with grass by the 1920s, although you can spot the outline in summer.

The new horse is 45.7 metres long by 45 metres high and has been added to the 90-mile White Horse Trail, linking Wiltshire’s eight hillside monuments.

15. Devizes Market

Devizes Market

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Devizes Market

The outsized marketplace in Devizes is the grand venue for the town’s weekly market on Thursdays.

The market has been held on this day since Devizes was granted a charter by Empress Matilda in 1141. There was a livestock market here for centuries until the end of the 20th century, but now you can shop for fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, fresh fish, hand-raised pies, bread, fashion and home appliances.

There’s also an indoor market at the Shambles (former slaughterhouse), trading five days a week and usually busy.

Then on the first Saturday morning of the month you can buy produce direct from farmers, well worth doing in an agricultural county like Wiltshire.

Where to stay: Best Hotels in Devizes, England
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15 Best Things to Do in Devizes (Wiltshire, England):

Market Cross