Chippenham is a large market town that makes a great base for exploring northwest Wiltshire. It is particularly well suited as a base for exploring two nearby villages: Castle Combe and Lacock.
A settlement has existed at Chippenham since before Roman times, however, it was the arrival of the railway that saw the town grow to its current size. Its close proximity by rail to Bath, Bristol and Swindon has made it a major commuter town.
With around 45,000 people, Chippenham is large enough to have all you need but small enough to not feel too crowded. As it is not a major tourist town, it can feel more authentic than more touristy cities such as Bath and Salisbury.
Accommodation is better value in Chippenham compared with many other towns in Wiltshire and many travellers stay here and use the town as a base for exploring the region.
The main reason that most people visit Chippenham is to visit the two nearby villages of Castle Combe and Lacock.
Castle Combe, 8km (5 miles) northwest of Chippenham is a small Cotswolds village that is regarded by many as one of England’s most picturesque. The village is divided into two parts, Upper Castle Combe near the Castle Combe motor racing circuit and the prettier part of the village that is nestled in the By Brook valley.
Lacock, 6km (3¾ miles) south of Chippenham is an historic village that is almost entirely owned by the National Trust and most of its houses date from the 18th century or earlier. The tithe barn and St Cyriac’s Church are both 14th-century Grade I-listed buildings, although the main attraction in Lacock is the 13th-century Lacock Abbey, which was home to photography pioneer Henry Fox Talbot.
The National Trust’s ownership of the Lacock village ensures that its historic nature is maintained and there are no street lights, television aerials nor any brightly-coloured signs to be seen. If it weren’t for cars you wouldn’t see any signs of the modern world in Lacock. However, it is a living village and not a museum. People live inside the homes and businesses such as pubs and a post office operate in the village.
Despite being operated by the National Trust, there is no charge to visit the village apart from the car parking fee (which is free for National Trust members). However, there is a charge to visit Lacock Abbey and the Fox Talbot Museum.
Because most of Lacock village has been under the care of the National Trust, it is like stepping back in time and it is a sought after filming location. Many films and television series have been filmed here including Pride and Prejudice (1995), Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), Cranford (2007), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), the Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box (2014), Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald (2018) and season six of the Downton Abbey television series (2015) as well as the Downton Abbey film (2019).
Chippenham lies on the main rail line linking Bristol with London Paddington and it has excellent rail connections with Bath, Bristol and Swindon. It is also served by National Express coaches and also by local bus services to other towns in the region.