Where am I Veg Plotting?

The Buttercross, Chippenham Market Place - February 2008

Jodi over at Bloomingwriter has challenged her fellow garden bloggers to provide an insight into their part of the world. My initial reaction was ‘I already write about Chippenham regularly in my blog’, but then realised I’ve only given you anecdotes and brief glimpses, but not introduced my area and town to you properly.

There are 2 Chippenhams in England. I live in the one in the South West, 100 miles west of London and 10 miles east of Bath. It’s in Wiltshire, a rural county of around half a million people – the least densely populated county in the south-west. The county town surprisingly is Trowbridge, most outsiders think it’s Salisbury because of the famous cathedral. The largest town is Swindon, one of the country’s ‘new town’ expansions of the 1960s, now with a population of 115,000.

Wiltshire is a land of mysteries and weird happenings – from ancient monuments like Stonehenge and Avebury, the famous white horses up on the chalk hills, through to more modern phenomena such as UFO sightings and crop circles. Native Wiltshire people proudly call themselves Moonrakers, after the legend of local smugglers hiding their booty in a village pond in the 1700s and telling customs & excise they were raking the water for the big cheese (the moon) they could see there. It seems that every Wiltshire village with a pond lays claim to theirs being the original!

Wiltshire’s geology is described as ‘chalk and cheese’ – the ‘chalk’ refers to the limestones of the Cotswolds to the north of the county and the southern county's chalk downlands (which are really uplands relatively speaking!). Both areas are famous for their sheep and wool production. The ‘cheese’ refers to the river vales incising through the Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks, such as the River Avon of my home town. Cattle farming is the main activity of the ‘cheese’ areas. There’s also strong market gardening activity around the village of Bromham, 5 miles from Chippenham, so this is the source of most of the seasonal vegetables in our local shops.

Like most of England, Wiltshire’s climate is a mild, temperate one owing to the influence of the Gulf Stream – we’re on the same latitude as Canada, yet we’d be classified as zone 9a by the USDA. The prevailing wind is south-westerly, bringing us moist, warm air from the tropical Azores. The influence of the Severn estuary 25 miles west of us, also accentuates the mild, damp climate. So, it’s a great place to have a garden and allotment!

Chippenham is a market town of 30,000 people. The name originates from the Anglo Saxon 'Cyppa's Hamme' meaning - low lying land in a river bend belonging to Cyppa. It’s Town Charter was granted by Queen Mary in 1554, but it goes back much earlier than that. King Alfred the Great had a hunting lodge here in the 800’s and his sister married the King of Mercia in the local church, now St. Andrew’s. Market days are on Fridays and Saturdays, though these are much poorer affairs today since the closure of the cattle market a few years ago. I took my driving test on market day in the 1980s and spent half of it sitting in a traffic jam. That wouldn’t be the case today. Chippenham can be a strange place – anywhere that has an Eddie Cochrane festival each year because the man was killed following a road traffic accident in the town has to be a wee bit odd! It’s quirkiness is reflected in the style of the local newspaper and some of the advertising and graffiti I’ve found recently. It also has an international folk festival at the end of May, when the town has a friendly invasion of folk singers, musicians and dancers – mainly of the Morris variety.

Garden-wise, Chippenham has 2 main public gardens, John Coles Park and Monkton Park. John Coles Park is a typical public space dating back to Victorian times and has regular concerts in the bandstand on summer Sundays. I can hear them on my allotment half a mile away when the wind’s in the right direction. Monkton Park is right in the centre of town and was formerly the grounds of a rather grand house. As a result there are lots of rather stately trees, plus walks by the side of the river. It also houses the local council offices, sports centre and a 9 hole par 3 golf course.

Like most of Wiltshire, I garden and allotmenteer on a limy soil (pH > 7.0) and like most Chippenham gardeners my soil is a clay one. There’s a thriving Allotment and Garden Society, looking after 6 allotment sites in the town. We have a monthly talk or social event, plus access to discounted seeds and plants. Our local garden centre is a couple of miles away and has a Garden Club too.

Chippenham is a fantastic base to explore south-western England. We're close to Stourhead, the world-class landscape garden, and Hidcote Manor whose garden celebrated its centenary last year. Smaller gardens such as The Courts, Abbey House Gardens and Lacock Abbey have their own treasures and pleasures. Many garden enthusiasts also open their gardens to raise funds for charity under the famous Yellow Book scheme. Glorious landscapes; stately homes such as Longleat, Wilton and Corsham Court; plus towns and villages like Castle Combe, Devizes and Lacock add to the county’s riches. You’ve probably seen some of our treasures already as Wiltshire is frequently used as a film location. The next Harry Potter was filmed in Lacock last year, Stardust at Castle Combe and The Other Boleyn Girl at Lacock in 2006. It’s also frequently used for classic television costume dramas, such as Cranford and Pride and Prejudice. Sir Anthony Hopkins will be filming in Lacock next month.

I write about Chippenham regularly. I’m currently documenting the changing face of Chippenham in photographs as the town is undergoing major changes to its infrastructure and way of life. You’ll find these and more under the Chippenham Label. I also have Chippenham related links in my sidebar – map, town guide, weather and the local newspaper. I'm also publishing photos of my garden and allotment on a fortnightly basis this year, under the title Plot Views (note to self - must make that a label now, so you can find them easily -done!). I've also provided plenty of great links in this article, should you wish to explore further. I do hope you‘ve enjoyed your visit to my town and will join me again!


  1. A lovely and informative post VP.

    I've only been to Chippenham a couple of times - Sundays during the Folk Festival, so don't know it at all well. Lacock though was my favourite spring visit and my dad's fists job was as the lowest servant at Stourhead when it was in private hands.


  2. What an enormous amount of work, VP! I don't have time to follow all the links right now, but Wiltshire sounds like my kind of place, even though the chalky soil would be a challenge for my acid-loving garden. Thank you so much for participating!

  3. Hm, sounds like a place for my scientist me. Having a master's degree in religious studies I would visit Stonehenge, the white horses and the crop circles and do some discrete people watching ;-) Then the rest of my family would have to pry me away from the gardens...

  4. I really enjoyed your most interesting post - many thanks. I learned a lot including the fact that there are two Chippenhams in England. Wiltshire is not a county I know well. We have a campervan and have passed through a few times on our way down to Poole ferry bound. We stopped off at Stourhead once on a lovely sunny day and marvelled at how green the lake was. We will have to park up for a day or two instead of passing through next time we are heading that way. Sounds as if there is a lot to see and do.

  5. What a terrific entry! I love ones like this where I can sit down with a cup of tea and a few biscuits and further my ongoing education. Thanks for this and well done!

  6. VP, you made a lot search and linking for this post! wow... good job - it gives great possibility to learn better your neighbourhood :)

  7. Hi - glad you like the posting and the look of my home area everyone! Perhaps I need to set myself up as the local tourist office ;) Or a Bed & Breakfast place :0

    It's a piece I've been meaning to write for some time, but it took Jodi's challenge to finally make it a reality. Now it's written, I'll probably make it a permanent link in the sidebar so that newbies to my blog get a bit of background.

    Anna - we know Poole very well as NAH's aunt lives there. It's a great place too.

  8. dnd - forgot to ask about your dad. What did he do at Stourhead - it sounds like it would be an interesting story...

  9. Mmmmm - mild and mellow! Must be the best place for a perfect english garden!

    Good to meet another UK participant!

  10. Hi Top Veg - I enjoyed your posting too. UK participants Rule!

  11. You live in a beautiful part of Britain. Chalk and cheese, eh? Here we are clay and cheese. :-)

    Thanks for a very interesting post about your neck of the woods.

  12. Wow, your home grounds are just loaded down with history & culture! I've read so many novels that are set in Wiltshire, & one that was inspired by the "White Horse." I had to look it up on Google Earth - yes, it's visible from space. And then there are the great gardens...I really want to visit this part of England. I can't imagine how cool it would be to live there.

  13. wow your place is just has good has our,s we have lovely york to go to with all its history and all of the surounding area well done for all that info thanks

  14. Hi Yolanda - welcome to my blog! I've very happy memories of The Netherkands, we had our honeymoon there :)

    You cats are cuties too!

    Hi Mr MacGregor's daughter - welcome too! You're right - I'm very lucky to be living here.

    Anonymous - hello and glad you like it too. Looks like I might have to open a B&B as a result of this post. Mind you - I love York - hubbie went to school there, so we visit frequently.

  15. WOW!!!
    I will be back when I have more time to read this.
    Great stuff.

  16. Hi VP. I've just read your wonderful post about Chippenham. What a fantastic idea! I'm off to write more about my own village, Loose in Kent (although it won't be as well researched as yours!)

  17. Hi Catherine - thanks for the compliment. I just can't resist finding links for people who want to know more :)

    I look forward to reading all about Loose!

  18. This is a wonderful post to have on a site. I'm a fairly new blogger and missed the suggestion that inspired you. I only visited England once on a garden tour in 1983. It was a wonderful trip and we did get to your part of the world, including Bath and Stourhead which I loved. Both of them actually. Congratulations on your Blotanical Award. That's how I found you. What a treat.

  19. Hi Pat - welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed this post after you'd wandered over from Blotanical. I've been over to your place and left you a Comment there...

  20. This is a wonderfully informative piece on Chippenham (Wilts). I love it. Thanks so much. We have lived here in Australia close to 20yrs now but we are forever Moonrakers. I was born close by (Kington Langley) & it is all so familiar! The greenery of my native land contrasts starkly with the golden sunburnt country I now live in. I love them both but for different reasons.
    I think Wiltshire tends to be a place people travel through to get elsewhere, which means it remains a well kept secret!
    Finally, do you know how hard it is to persuade people that being a Moonraker does not mean you are a James Bond fanatic ?! lol.
    Regards vmw215

  21. Hi Anonymous - so glad you liked the article. Real Moonrakers are the hardest audience to please with this kind of post :)

    Kington Lagley's just a mere hop, skip and a jump from here as we're on that side of Chippenham. I also photographed quite a bit of the village for English Heritage's millenium listed building photography project, so know Kington Langley well. I'm interested to know what led you to moving from such a lovely place to Oz. But then I do love Oz too, so perhaps I already know your answer! I'd love to know where you live now...

  22. It's now 11 months later than the last post but I've only just found you!
    I lived in Salisbury & my Butler ancestors came from Corsham & Calne. Enjoying your blog, thanks

  23. Angie - you're most welcome and I'm glad you're enjoying my blog. It's great when people so far away pop up and say they're connected to the area I'm writing about. It's a great way to keep in touch :)


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