I am a hopeless history nerd. Yes, I do love wandering through ancient places, imagining all the things that may have happened there and even all the things that did not actually happen. I love touching the old stone, hearing the squeaking sound of floorboards, smelling the dust of centuries gone by. This is what I enjoy most about being back in Europe, and this is what makes me so happy about traveling: not just to explore places but also to imagine the people that used to live there. Picturing all their stories.
England is a country with lots of places that inspire my imagination in this way. The English countryside is packed with quaint old villages, forgotten abbeys, subtle hints of a less complex past. The county of Wiltshire in particular is teeming with historic places. Just look at the mystic stone circles from pre-historic times, the Roman ruins, the ancient landscapes. There are many places you can visit in Wiltshire to dwell on the romance of past centuries.
Of all the places in Wiltshire though one place stands out: Lacock village, a quintessential English village from times gone by.
In fact, Lacock is both, so quintessentially village-y and so quintessentially English, it has served as a backdrop for quite a few TV and movie productions. If you have watched movies like Harry Potter or TV shows like Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice, chances are you will recognise some of the old stone buildings that line the streets of Lacock.
Time truly has stood still here, and it is only the parked cars that give away that we have not accidentally stepped into the wrong century wearing the wrong clothes. This is not a museum, the villagers actually live modern lives here. But still, with only very few exceptions that may distort the picture you are excused to think that you have just been transported back to the 18th century.
The village is lovely in its organic chaos. All of the houses are in wonderful condition. Some of them have timber frame structures with a stone base for the lower floor. Others are completely made of local grey stone, haphazardly put together, graced with screwed openings for doors and windows. Cottages with crooked walls and bending timber beams, a dancing pattern of roof shingles. White framed windows with small panes open to summer gardens filled with roses and begonias. Ivy climbs up the century old walls, reaching for the gables.
There are a few shops in Lacock that are worthwhile investigating. We explore a bakery and some souvenir shops, look at the products on display in a small general store. But the true treasures can be found on window sills and thresholds. They are lining garden walls and are sitting in baskets on the pavement. The villagers in Lacock are quite industrious and have found ways of making some extra income with the tourists that visit the village.
But they do this in a gentle way, unobtrusive and carefully curated. We see pottery and hand-made baskets as well as other small handcrafted items. Leather goods and stained glass, chocolate pops and honeycomb. Home-made cakes and toffees, flower pots with fresh herbs. It fits perfectly into the picture of the village, in fact it enhances the experience. It is impossible leaving Lacock empty-handed and without putting some spare change in some of the mail slots in return, which is the way they do business in Lacock.
A river runs nearby, the Avon. The embankment is not very deep nor slippery. We spend some time on a bench, watch a happy dog take a bath in the shallows, hear the gurgling sounds the water makes as it passes under a foot bright and disappears behind a corner. We pick wild blackberries and pull faces as we find the taste of the fruit quite sour. The scenery is peaceful and quiet, idyllic.
At The George Inn we order some ales and lagers, enjoy a lunch of sandwiches and pies in the surroundings of the 14th century dining room. Along the walls are pictures of the recent film productions that took place around the village. A portrait of Judi Dench, night scenes of Harry Potter.
We finish our visit with a stroll to the village church. It’s a pretty Gothic style building on top of a small hill, surrounded by an ancient graveyard and with large windows and sober wooden pews. The vaulted ceiling is quite spectacular – many years ago they must have been beautiful and colourful. But most of the paint has chipped or faded away, leaving just enough colour to complete the picture with your imagination. In full colour, this ceiling must have been stunning.
A visit to Lacock is deeply satisfying for any history nerd. At this point it would be perfectly fine to just return to your car and go home. But there is more. Just a couple of metres farther there is the associated country house, Lacock Abbey. A former monastic building with a beautiful cloister and some interesting history.
I will share more about this in a separate post. For now, please enjoy the photos of Lacock village on the bottom of this post.